Rethinking approaches to intercultural competence and literary reading in the 21st century English as a foreign language classroom
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Rethinking approaches to intercultural competence and literary reading in the 21st century English as a foreign language classroom revolves around an issue which has been pivotal in educational research in recent years: how may the aims and methods of education be redefined in order to promote learners’ ability to meet the challenges and opportunities of our contemporary world? As a consequence of the fast-paced societal changes brought about by processes of globalisation, migration and technological developments over the past twenty years, promoting learners’ ability to cope with notions of conflict, complexity and ambiguity has been highlighted by scholars as an important task for the School of the Future (Burbules, 2009; Eisner, 2004; Graddol, 2006). The overarching aim of the work presented here has been to provide insight into how intercultural competence (IC) and literary reading may be reconceptualised in order to take into account such concerns. With a particular focus on the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language (EFL), this topic has been explored through both theoretical and empirical perspectives.
The thesis is article-based and comprises three articles and an extended abstract. As the articles shed light on different aspects of the research problem, the extended abstract serves to illuminate the links between the respective articles and to position them within a broader context of research. In addition to presenting the rationale and background of the project, it establishes the theoretical framework for the investigation, and elaborates on the research design and methodological issues. Furthermore, the extended abstract deliberates the contributions of the research to the field of EFL didactics, summing up the main findings of the articles and discussing these in relation to previous research and current trends in EFL education.
Article 1 seeks to expand current knowledge about the interrelationship between interculturality and the concept of Bildung by focusing on Byram’s model of intercultural communicative competence (ICC), a conceptualisation which has had considerable impact on curriculum development and pedagogical practice in EFL education over the past two decades. The article examines how this model corresponds to Bildung theories in its description of the ideal encounter between Self (own culture) and Other (foreign cultures), and discusses the learning processes which may be involved. Relying on the theoretical perspectives of Gadamer, Bakhtin, Ricoeur and Klafki, the article argues that, while central aspects of Bildung are evident in Byram’s model, its emphasis on harmony and agreement may lead to superficial learning processes in the classroom. The article further stresses the importance of regarding conflict, disagreement and difference not solely as challenging aspects of the intercultural encounter, but as potentially fruitful conditions for profound dialogue between Self and Other.
Article 2 proposes a reconceptualisation of ICC through a focus on literary reading, arguing that the reader’s engagement with foreign language (FL) literature may be regarded as a particularly multifaceted form of intercultural communication. In doing so, it addresses aspects of text interpretation upon which Byram’s model and other conceptual models are unclear. To delineate how the competent intercultural reader engages with FL literature, the Model of the Intercultural Reader (MIR) is introduced. With a basis in hermeneutic literary theories as well as recent perspectives within the research field of intercultural pedagogy, the MIR illustrates how the text interpretation process may operate at three interlinked levels of communication. All three levels involve the reader’s cognition and emotion in addition to her consideration of the effects of narrative style and structure as well as the cultural, historical and social subject positions of different readers and texts. A practical example of how the fostering of intercultural readers may be promoted in EFL educational settings is provided.
Article 3 reports on a qualitative, collective case study which has explored literary reading as an aspect of FL classroom practice. By relying on the MIR as an analytical framework, the study has examined how intercultural issues are implicated in socio-cultural approaches to literature in four upper secondary EFL classes in Norway, and the article illuminates how the text interpretation processes which unfolded were a result of a complex interplay between literary text, tasks and classroom participants. With a particular focus on strands of analysis related the intertextual and emotional dimensions of the literary experience, the article argues that an explicit pedagogical focus on intertextual matters may enhance learners’ personal engagement and intercultural understanding by drawing into play their previous encounters with a wide range of other texts, among which new media texts may be central. Furthermore, it stresses the importance of encouraging learners not only to express their emotional response to the text but also to examine critically this response, or lack thereof. The important, yet demanding, role of the teacher in guiding socio-cultural reading processes is discussed.
In sum, the articles bring the research on IC and literature didactics forward in a number of ways. All three articles demonstrate why intercultural learning in general and literary reading in particular must be recognised as unpredictable, complex and potentially conflictual processes. By addressing some limitations of Byram’s model in terms of its representation of the ideal intercultural encounter, the thesis draws attention to how certain approaches to otherness may be insufficient in a context of recent societal developments. Furthermore, by concretising and exemplifying how notions of conflict, complexity and ambiguity may be navigated in the intercultural encounter with FL literature, it brings awareness to how pedagogical approaches to literary reading in the English classroom can incorporate aspects of learning associated with the development of 21st century skills, such as creativity, reflexivity, critical and innovative thinking as well as in-depth learning. Since the MIR combines an experiential and analytical approach, the model can also hopefully play a role in integrating culture and literature in (E)FL education, both as a tool for informing and for examining socio-cultural reading practices. Finally, by shedding light on opportunities and challenges related to the fostering of competent intercultural readers in the EFL classroom, the thesis contributes to an area of empirical research which has been underdeveloped in both an international and a Norwegian context.