Introducing QUINT PhD Fellow Anna Nissen
Anna Nissen is passionate about developing reading comprehension. Being part of QUINT's Lisa Nordic study allows her to compare how teachers discuss fiction with students across the different Nordic countries.
As a reader you get to use your imagination and creative thinking. These are important skills to practice, Anna Nissen points out. Photo: Karolina Löfving
Anna Nissen has a background in teaching Swedish, English and music in upper secondary school for nearly 30 years. She finished her master thesis in didactics in 2018. She is part of QUINT's Nordic PhD network and is based at the Department of Educational Studies at Karlstad University.
What led you to study reading comprehension?
Reading fiction has always been one of my interests, and naturally I have always let my students read and work with novels and short stories. However, I began to consider this as even more important when I realised that Swedish teenagers’ reading comprehension was deteriorating.
Reading comprehension is important in all subjects, but when you teach language arts you have a special responsibility, and it is vital that you help your students develop this skill.
The problem is that this is not an easy task. Among other things it is difficult to help children and teenagers to find the motivation to read stories, especially now that so many of them prefer watching films and playing video games.
One of the reasons why I wanted to focus on reading and reading comprehension is that it is a field where more knowledge is needed. I believe that teachers in different countries focus on different aspects and use different methods in their work. Therefore it will be very interesting to compare instructional practices in the Nordic countries.
Can you tell us about your PhD project?
In my PhD project I intend to study how teachers and students in different Nordic countries work with fiction. Naturally it is important that students can read and understand all kinds of texts, but I think that fiction has a good potential for awakening the students’ interest in reading. That is one of the reasons why I want to focus on fiction. I am also concerned about the fact that literary texts are sometimes used as “tools” that are supposed to teach students other things.
Literary texts can, and should, be seen as pieces of art. They are special since they demand readers to interpret them. When meeting novels, short stories and poems it is important to “read between the lines”. As a reader you must use your imagination as well as your own creative thinking. I think these things are very important to practice, especially since we live in a world where we often overvalue things that are purely practical.
Why is this focus on literary texts especially interesting and relevant?
In my MA project I studied how students can develop their ethical awareness when discussing fiction. In my PhD project I will most likely study how teachers and students discuss literary texts. This time I will probably not focus on ethical questions as such, but I think that one of the things that makes fiction so interesting is the fact that the characters we read about face different problems and have to make ethical decisions. This is one of the reasons why a literary text can catch a reader’s interest. Also, when the reader feels empathy for the character, the text becomes more interesting. This can make the reader more motivated.
How is being part of a Nordic PhD network supporting your project?
Linking Instruction and Student Achievement in Nordic Schools (LISA Nordic) is a large scale video study, drawing on videotaped lessons from more than 150 different classrooms in all five Nordic countries. Besides for the data from Sweden and Norway that Anna is using in her study, there are data sets from Denmark, Finland and Iceland as well.
The project aims to investigate the quality of teaching and to understand in what ways different instructional practices in language arts, mathematics, and social science contribute to student learning.
I am really looking forward to learning more about the Nordic context. It will be interesting to find out what kinds of differences and similarities there are.
Being part of a Nordic PhD network also means that there are other people working with similar questions, and there are conferences, webinars and seminars where we can meet.
I am a part of the LISA Nordic-project, which means that I will have access to a unique and truly authentic material; in my case, more than 300 video recorded language arts lessons from Sweden and Norway.
It is important to learn what kinds of instruction are used in schools, and, if possible, see what works and what does not work. Since the lessons in the LISA-material are “normal” lessons that the teachers themselves have planned, they can give a true, although not complete, picture of Swedish and Norwegian teaching today.
What do you do to relax?
I am usually an active person, so perhaps I do not “relax” as much as I should. However, spending a lot of time outdoors makes me feel good, and I often go for a walk in the forest just outside my house. Reading fiction is another way to relax.