Reading Challenging Literary Texts in School An Interview Study with Swedish Teachers at the International Baccalaureate Program

Submitted by: Maritha Johansson
Abstract: Keywords: literature, challenging texts, reading, literature teaching, International Baccalaureate Program

Former research has shown that Swedish upper secondary school pupils have difficulties reading and understanding more complex literary texts (Johansson 2015). Recent studies within the L1-field indicates that reading challenging texts can lead to increased motivation (Blok Johansen 2015; Sønneland & Skaftun 2017) and deeper understanding of literary texts (Guthrie & Lutz Klauda 2015; Johansson 2017; Skaftun & Michelsen 2017).

The aim of this study is to investigate how teachers describe their work with challenging texts. To be able to do so, the study focuses on a context where reading of literary texts is in the centre of interest, where literature studies are important and where the teachers are forced, by regulations, to choose certain literary texts, namely the International Baccalaureate Program. The study tries to understand what factors are the most important to motivate pupils and make them work with challenging literary texts.

The study has a qualitative design and uses a semi structured interview method. 12 Swedish teachers have participated in the interviews, performed by the researchers. The interviews have been transcribed and analysed through a thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke 2008). The teachers were asked to develop their view on teaching literature at the IB-program, i.e. its’ advantages and inconvenients, their text choices, their teaching methods and the final exams.

The theoretical framework for the study is Bruners (1986) notions of syntagmatic (linear) and paradigmatic (non-linear) thinking. Syntagmatic thinking in literature reading is linked to identification and empathy, while paradigmatic thinking activates analytic and scientific aspects.

The results show that all of the teachers enjoy teaching literature at the IB-program, mostly because of the possibility to work with challenging texts. They also say that, even though not all of their students are readers when they start, they develop an interest in reading and a deeper understanding of literary texts, which is explained both by close reading and reader response perspectives on literary texts. In this way, both syntagmatic and paradigmatic thinking are activated in the classroom. The final exams are also described as important, both for the mixed methods used in the classroom and for the students work with the texts. The key to success when working with challenging texts seems to be related to time; the time to help students develop a deeper understanding of the texts, and the necessity of re-reading.


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