Working with Literature in Lower Secondary School. A study of the interplay between complex texts and readers in group interactions

Submitted by: Margrethe Sonneland
Abstract: Problem-focused teaching and in-depth learning in education has been pointed to as central for developing skills needed for the 21st century. This study is a multiple case study (Yin, 2014) of literary classroom work at a Norwegian lower-secondary school where three classes are invited to discuss text presented to them as open problems. The purpose of the study is to understand what happens when lower-secondary students get to work on their own with complex texts. The problems that these students encounter and talk about, are three short stories that in various ways resist unequivocal answers. Primary data consists of classroom observations and audio recording of students’ literary conversations in small-groups. The analysis is conducted in three steps. First, the attention is drawn to the classroom and to all the conversations understood as a phenomenological whole. Secondly, through various forms of double-voiced discourse (Bakhtin, 1984) and the discursive building-task significance (Gee, 2014) the analysis aims to assess how the students are relating to the task. Thirdly, to ask what they respond to and how they do it, Bakhtin’s concept of addressivity (2013) is activated. The first case study carried out showed that the text and the task had the power to attract and the ability to generate student engagement. The second case study identified variation in student engagement based on a description of intensity and an analysis of students’ discursive valuation mechanisms. The third study found that various kinds of complexity where present in the interaction between each text and the students’ conversations, suggesting that what attracts attention are different forms of literary complexity, which can be seen as the basis for the engagement shown by students in conversations. Based on these findings, this study aims to contribute to the debate on problem-focused teaching and in-depth learning in L1 classrooms.

Keywords: problem-solving, literary conversations, literary text, problem-focused teaching

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