Meningsdannelse og diversitet: En didaktisk undersøkelse av elevers lesninger av norskfagets litterære tekster
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In my dissertation, I examine upper secondary students’ discourses regarding fictional texts presented to them in the Norwegian classroom. The research topics are: By which cultural discourses/frameworks/codes/identities is meaning produced when students encounter academic content presented to them in the Norwegian class room? How are the fictional texts included in the students’ meaning making processes? Which consequences may different cultural discourses/frameworks have for students’ experiences with the fictional texts? In my sociocultural and phenomenological approach, the research topics are examined from the perspectives of linguistic research and literature research. In other words, I consider both the readers’ interpretation of the texts and language used in the discourse; both what is said and how it is said. The research data consist of transcribed recorded interviews with 21 students in upper secondary school, five interviews with each student. The students come from different cultural backgrounds, ten of them have Norwegian background and 11 of them have backgrounds form different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and South-America. The first interview investigates the informants’ preunderstanding, their attitude towards school, academic content, as well as other social arenas outside school. The next four interviews address texts from different literary periods: the Enlightenment, The modern breakthrough, psychoanalysis in the 20s and 30s and feminism in the 70s and 80s. The most important finding of this dissertation is the great diversity of the group. Diversity among students is a well-documented phenomenon in quantitative studies, but this dissertation points to the nature of this diversity, particularly regarding meta-language. This diversity is described as a continuum between student identities including language, which mediates affinity at the one end and students who relate to school, texts and other academic content through meta-cognition and metalanguage at the other end. Students of both genders and different cultural backgrounds are to be found at both ends of the continuum. Furthermore, the findings point to a great complexity within identities at both ends of the continuum, a complexity that is often under-communicated in pedagogical research. This complexity reveals among other aspects a frequent discontinuity between loyalty to outer (questions of more disciplinary nature) and inner (academic content) conditions of school. Furthermore, the findings show a close link between meta-language and learning modes. Language is therefore regarded as the key factor for learning in this dissertation. The purpose of the first interview was to investigate the informants’ pre-understanding. The informants were for instance asked to talk about texts they had read in Norwegian at any earlier point in their school biographies. Out of 21 informants, only four could remember particular texts, while all could tell about a favorite film. The informants’ stories about films reveal why the fictional texts were hard to remember. In order to make sense in a text, there is a need for context and coherence. The films, in contrast to the fictional text, fulfill both conditions. Regarding context, the films (with one exception, “American blockbusters”) communicate values that the students recognize, both when it comes to gender ideology and the strong belief in the individual’s capacity to make autonomous choices. These ideologies are prominent discourses in the informants’ self-presentation; the films and the informants see the world through the same ideologies, and the films confirm values that the informants recognize. In other words, the contexts of the films are the same as the informants’ contexts. Secondly, the films represent narrative units with a beginning, middle and end. The tradition of using excerpts of fictional texts is prominent in Norwegian texts books. This reduces the coherence and complicates the relationship between the reader and the text. When, in addition, the context does not confirm what the reader already knows, the meaning-making process is made difficult in the students’ encounters with the texts. The ideology referred to as the ethics of the autonomous individual is further investigated in four chapters of the dissertation. This ideology is prominent in all the informants’ self-presentation. They all believe that their life prospects and opportunities depend solely on themselves; that they have free choice, and if they work hard, they will achieve their goals in life. This discourse is projected on to the academic content, both on to their account of Norway’s historic development and on to the fictional texts. Norway’s history from the Enlightenment and forth is presented as a narrative about a steadfast, continuous development towards increased individual freedom and a society governed by reason, a narrative that is “crowned” with a happy ending: the informants’ own freedom of choice. Their self-image as autonomous individuals is also projected on to the fictional texts. This produces plausible readings of texts from Realism, texts that highlight personal choices and the characters’ struggle to become independent individuals. There are less plausible readings of Naturalistic texts that emphasize determinism, and psychoanalytic texts that highlight the individual’s lack of control. The findings of the four chapters have two important didactic implications. Firstly, both in the European Bildung tradition and the more recent American literacy tradition, fictional texts are regarded as didactic tools for expanding students’ thinking; their ability to enter into new contexts and to discover other perspectives than their own. The ability to understand, interpret, create, and use written material associated with various contexts is the central skill described in UNESCO’s definition of literacy. The inflexibility regarding the use and understanding of other contexts than one’s own here-and-now is particularly perceptible at the affinity end of the continuum. This indicates a literacy problem at this end of the continuum. Historical readings of fictional texts challenge the ability to enter into new contexts. This is evident at the end of the continuum where the informants encounter the text with a meta-perspective. These readers take the historical context into account when they interpret the texts, and by this they exceed their own her-and-now perspective when reading. This dissertation indicates a need to reinforce historical readings as a mean to increase students’ ability to use and understand text in context. Secondly, there is no scientific evidence that the autonomous individual exists. Instead the idea of the autonomous individual seems to function as a cultural tool for harmonization. Social sciences indicate that children from middle-class homes are freer in the sense that they have greater opportunity to succeed in the school system, and therefore in their professional careers. Critical voices in the informants’ discourses would therefore be expected, but the strong belief in their own opportunity to act on free choice, seem to harmonize potential criticism. In the dissertation’s selection all informants seem to have taken over the middle-class’ belief in this kind of freedom. There seems to be a surprising match between the continuum and the categories “non-reader” and “reader”. The self-proclaimed “non-readers” often use language that mediates affinity and feelings when talking about the text. This language gives little access to new contexts and interpretive modes. These student identities have less mediated actions than the “readers”; they have less explanations of why they are supposed to read fictional texts, they give few interpretations of the texts and the films, they don’t see the texts as relevant to their own social arena. They present few arguments and explanations, and there are few examples of explicit reasoning in their discourse. Instead of arguments, their reactions to the academic content are justified in an emotional language and the distinctions used for evaluating school are the same as when evaluating other social arenas. School does not appear as an arena for learning for the identities at the affinity end. The most frequent distinctions for evaluating school and academic content is “boring” and “fun”. “The readers” approach the subject content as well as the films with meta-language that give access to new contexts and they show an ability to use these contexts when interpreting the texts. At this end of the continuum, frequent distinctions are “interesting-uninteresting”, “important – not important”, “relevant – not relevant”. Altogether, this suggests a different learning mode at the different ends of the continuum. The empirical data brought forth by this project show that students of different genders and cultural diverse backgrounds are to be found at both ends of the continuum, an indication that “all” students are part of the same discursive problem area; the question of access to different aspects of metalanguage. This access seems to be vital for learning. Recent studies on this access indicate that metalanguage is a matter of social class. The empirical data give little information on the informants’ social background, but there are indications that several of the informants who approach academic content with meta-perspectives have parents of higher education. This dissertation promotes the idea that meta-language must be a central feature of vocational training, and also that Norwegian as a school subject has a particular responsibility for the training of such levels of discourse. The students with a rich meta-language have the ability to create versions of the “world”, of the films and the texts that they can give grounds for and explain. This is not possible through a language that mediates feelings and affinity. Meta-language must therefore be regarded as a more powerful symbolic system, a system that mother-tongue teachers have a particular responsibility for developing in order to create equal opportunities for children and adolescents.