Tranformative Dialogic Literature Teaching fosters students’ insight into human nature

Submitted by: Marloes Schrijvers
Abstract: Who are we, and how do we relate to others? Now that globalization, equality, tolerance, and polarization are prominent issues in society, such questions appear to be more relevant than ever. Education has often been considered an important place for young people to learn to reflect on what it means to be ‘human’ (e.g., Nussbaum, 2010). Simultaneously, empirical research has shown that reading literature can affect our insight into self and others (e.g., Fialho, 2018). The question that rises, then, is whether literature education may affect adolescents’ insight into human nature.

In 10th literature classrooms in the Netherlands, we assessed the effects of the newly developed Transformative Dialogic Literature Teaching (TDLT) intervention on 15-year-old students’ insight into human nature and the extent to which they considered this insight an important reason for reading (eudaimonic reasons). Six TDLT lessons centered around short literary stories about ‘justice and injustice’. Students were stimulated to engage in internal dialogues with stories and in external dialogues with peers about stories and reading experiences. Furthermore, as teachers in one of our previous studies indicated that students’ limited strategy use and a lack of motivation are prominent challenges in their literature classrooms, we aimed to alleviate these challenges. TDLT therefore attented to ‘incomprehension’ as a genuine response during internal dialogues with stories. Moreover, it was designed as a reader-oriented approach, for such approaches have been shown to have positive effects on motivation-related aspects (e.g., Henschel, Meier, & Roick, 2016; Janssen, Braaksma, & Couzijn, 2009).

In a quasi-experimental study with pretest, posttest and delayed posttest, TDLT students (n = 166) were compared to students who received regular literature lessons, focused on analysis of literary texts (n =166). Results of questionnaires and a written story task showed that TDLT fostered students’ insight into human nature, their support for eudaimonic reasons for reading, their reported use of strategies during reading, and their motivation for literature education. Four months after the intervention, effects on insight into human nature and eudaimonic reasons for reading were still statistically significant. We discuss the implications of our findings for future research and literature classroom practices.

Keywords: insight into human nature; literature education; intervention study; secondary school; motivation


Fialho, O. (2018). Deepening readers’ perceptions of self and others: The role of enactment-imagery, resonance and sympathy. Paper presented at the IGEL Conference, Stavanger, Norway, July 27, 2018.

Henschel, S., Meier, C., & Roick, T. (2016). Effects of two types of task instructions on literary text comprehension and motivational and affective factors. Learning and Instruction, 44, 11-21. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2016.02.005

Janssen, T., Braaksma, M., & Couzijn, M. (2009). Self-questioning in the literature classroom: Effects on students’ interpretation and appreciation of short stories. L1 – Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 9, 91-116. doi:10.17239/l1esll-2009.09.01.05

Nussbaum, M. (2010). Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. New Jersey, NJ: Princeton University Press.