Development of literary disciplinarity

A study of high achieving students in upper secondary school in literary conversations on poems

Aslaug Fodstad Gourvennec

The Norwegian curriculum is often referred to as a literacy reform. The idea of literacy is rooted in five basic skills (reading, writing, oral skills, digital skills, and calculation), which are understood as interdisciplinary and disciplinary skills simultaneously. Here, I will present the broad lines of my PhD-project on disciplinarity in the literary part of mother tongue education. In approaching high achieving students in upper secondary school, the project allows a study of engaged students at an interesting stage in their disciplinary development; the students entering upper secondary school are opening a gate to a more academic approach to the disciplines, when leaving the same school three years later, some of them are fully mastering the disciplinary practices at this stage of the development. In the project, 21 literary group conversations from different points in these three years are examined, in order to identify crucial features of literary disciplinarity concerning reading and oral skills.

The project is situated in a dialogical position between phenomenology and sociocultural theory, with a theoretic framework constituted of Bachtinian dialogism, Vygotsky’s notion of development, and James Paul Gee’s approach to Discourses. Within this framework, the analysis may be understood as dialogical discourse analysis.

In the beginning of the data collection, the Norwegian lessons in three different classes (two first year and one third year) were observed for 4-5 weeks. During this period, the classes were focusing on the genre of poems (first year) and modernism (third year). The observation data (video recordings, field notes) form an ethnographic background for the following analysis. In the last lesson of these weeks, literary group conversations about a poem took place – in focus groups (9) as in the rest of the class. The instruction was open, in order to make the students find their way through the 20 minutes available for the conversation. The first year classes was revisited at the end of their first, second and third year, in order to collect similar conversations.

The preliminary results from the analysis of the first year student’s conversations, shows that engagement/involvement and depth are crucial features of the conversations as meaning making in dialogue with the literary text. The conversations from second and third years are yet to be analysed, the hypothesis being that the students internalise a methodology for approaching new texts; a practise that might be more effective on the way to an interpretation, but also leaving less place for exploring the text openly – reading it on its own premises.

The results of this PhD-project may contribute to a qualitative description of literary disciplinarity, particularly at this stage of its development. The project may also lead to pedagogical implications of the findings for the teaching of literature in school.


Aslaug fodstad Gourvennec

Aslaug Fodstad Gourvennec (Photo: Elisabeth Tønnessen)