What literature are students reading in school?
New study shows that the choice of literature used in Norwegian classrooms is limited and stems from the textbooks.
Schools provide meaningful arenas for children to experience literature (Illustration photo, Colourbox).
A key ambition for the language arts subject across the Nordic countries, and elsewhere, is to provide meaningful arenas for children and young people to experience literature.
The texts that students encounter in their Norwegian language arts (L1) subject is an underexplored topic. In a newly published article in the Norwegian journal Edda, QUINT researchers Ida Lodding Gabrielsen and Marte Blikstad-Balas, explore which literary texts students from 47 different classrooms in the 8th grade from the LISA material read in four consecutive video recorded lessons (178 lessons). Their major findings are that the repertoire of literature made available to students is limited and stems from subject-specific textbooks, not from books actively chosen by the teacher for that particular class – even tough all Norwegian teachers have this possibility. Further, Gabrielsen & Blikstad-Balas find extensive use of literary excerpts, and that when students read entire novels, these are self-chosen and intended for individual reading, not shared literary experiences. The literary texts are all typical of their literary genre, e.g. typical short stories – and never challenge classical genre features, which distances school literature from contemporary literature. The article can be read as an argument for reevaluating the role of literature in the classroom, and it is a part of Gabrielsen's PhD on the role of literature in the Norwegian classroom. We have asked her and key QUINT researchers in this topic to comment on the article.
Ida Gabrielsen – what surprised you the most about these findings?
– Teachers in Norway are, in theory, free to choose what they want their students to read. I was a bit surprised that so few teachers chose what literature to bring into the classroom and just relied on the textbook and the many excerpts found there.
What do you think the main take home message from this article is – what do you hope to accomplish with it?
– We show in the article that many literary texts are typical examples of specific genres, intended to show students particular ways of writing literature. This is understandable.
– However, if literature is reduced to a tool for learning something else, it is hard to claim the value of literature itself and establish its position in the curriculum.
– I really hope that the article will contribute to further debate and research on why students read fiction in school, across the Nordic countries.
Anna Nissen - you are researching literature across the Nordic classrooms for your PhD. Are you surprised about the findings from your Norwegian colleagues?
– In Sweden narrative texts such as short stories and novels are much more common than other genres. Teachers use literary texts that they seem to have chosen themselves, and subject-specific textbooks are seldom used in language arts.
Nikolaj Elf –you are an established researcher in the field, and know a lot about the Danish approach to literature. What do you think of the findings presented in the article?
– I am not surprised to learn about these findings from a Norwegian context. To some extent, I would expect similar findings from the Danish context analysing similar kind of material, he says.
– As the authors point out in the state of the art section, earlier Nordic research, such as Sylvi Penne’s, has made similar findings in smaller case studier from a Norwegian context. Similar results are found in Sweden by Maria Ulfgard and Katrin Lilja Waltå, among others. What makes the LISA study really interesting and important, is that it has a broader empirical base and is thus able to offer more representative findings substantiating such case study findings.
–Due to a literary canon and a long-lasting literary paradigm, literature in the traditional version does dominate.