Academic journal article Babel

'Visual Learning Is the Best Learning-It Lets You Be Creative While Learning': Exploring Ways to Begin Guided Writing in Second Language Learning through the Use of Comics

Academic journal article Babel

'Visual Learning Is the Best Learning-It Lets You Be Creative While Learning': Exploring Ways to Begin Guided Writing in Second Language Learning through the Use of Comics

Article excerpt


This study investigated the use of comics (Cary, 2004) in a guided writing experience in secondary school Italian language learning. The main focus of the peer group interaction task included the exploration of visual sequencing and visual integration (Bailey, O'Grady-Jones, & McGown, 1995) using image and text to create a comic strip narrative in Italian. A group of 26 year 9 students participated. The 26 students had very limited experience in writing in Italian. This investigation represents phase two of a larger study that explores the development of visual literacy in languages learning (Rossetto & Wyra, 2006). Two sources of data are discussed. Firstly, the students' ability to use key vocabulary productively is assessed, in consideration of the quality of the narratives produced. Secondly, both the students' and the Italian teacher's written reflections on the guided writing experience are analysed. The reflective analyses of the year 9 students were collated and compared to gauge whether the participants considered that working with image and text, in peer group interaction, enhanced or detracted from their ability to express themselves through writing in the target language. The study finds that, in the light of the increasingly visual nature of communication, visual modalities can be an important part of meaning making in second language learning.


visual modalities, comics, Italian language, creative writing, peer interaction


Scoping the terms

This paper draws on Cary's classification when defining comics and adopts the terms 'comic strips' and 'comic books' as the terms of reference to be used. Comic strips 'tell their stories in sequenced, horizontally arranged blocks of three to five panels' (Cary, 2004, p. 11) and comic books 'take the strip format and stretch it to twenty to forty pages' (Cary, 2004, p. 11). These classifications matched the general understanding of the participants in this study who accepted the term 'comic' to mean either a comic strip (as found in the newspaper) or a comic book (purchased from a newsagent). The generic term 'comic' (as used by the participants) will be used throughout this discussion to refer to both comic strips and/or comic books.

Comics are 'composite visuals (visual modalities), visuals which combine text and image' (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006, p. 177). The term 'modality' itself is a linguistic term that refers to the truth value or credibility of statements. In addition, modality is "interpersonal' ... it produces shared truths aligning readers and listeners with some statements and distancing them from others' (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006, p. 155). Visual modalities work in a similar way. They can represent reality or imagined fantasies but, importantly, they are interpreted within a social context: 'modality judgements are social, dependent on what is considered real in the social group for which the representation is primarily intended' (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006, p. 156).

Conceptualising the field of visual learning and comic book culture

Research has reflected on the role of visual modalities in authentic assessment and the merits of comic book culture in second language learning (Krashen, 1993, 2005; Marsh & Millard, 2000; Norton, 2003; Norton &Vanderhaden, 2003; Versaci, 2008).

Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) have observed that the visual element of text is receiving more prominence wherein:

most texts now involve a complex interplay of written text, images and other graphic and sound elements, designed as coherent (often at the first level of visual rather than verbal) entities by means of layout. (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006, p. 16)

They likewise reflect on critical literacy issues and the fact that 'materials made for children make intense representational use of images; [whereas] in materials demanded from children--in various forms of assessment particularly--writing [without images] remains the expected and dominant mode' (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006, p. …

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