Literature's Lasting Impression
What lasting impression does the experience of reading in school have on people and how do current students feel about it? What makes reading novels together rich and enjoyable for everyone involved and what teaching techniques help?
This research, supported by the British Academy, focusses on students’ responses to literature in English education across primary, secondary and university levels. It is also interested in how reading groups and book clubs talk about novels together. This research informs, influences and improves English teaching by understanding how teachers and students share responses to novels in conversation, and how different approaches to teaching shape students’ experiences of literature.
Through collaboration with Norwich Millennium Library, Norwich City Football Club and schools in the UEA PGCE(M) school partnerships, the research has involved members of the public, current students of literature, teachers and teacher-educators in surveys, interviews, café events and workshops.
The most significant findings of the research are:
- The importance students place on enjoying novels as stories for their own sake, even when they must also analyse texts according to the conventions of literary study
- How skilfully teachers elaborate and enliven novels, offering students distinctive experiences of stories very different from reading in private
- How skilfully teachers use spoken quotations in guiding classroom conversations around literature.
Dr Gordon has visited the universities of Cambridge, Glasgow, Plymouth Marjon and King’s College London to introduce teachers to effective approaches highlighted by the research and has books and articles forthcoming which share the principles with national and international teaching communities. The research supports vibrant and inspiring experiences of novels for all students, fostering literature’s lasting impression across their lives.
What happens in school, and how students experience novels in the classroom, could have a lasting impact on their enjoyment of reading. While many adults enjoy ‘reading for pleasure’, there are many who do not share the habit – and often their experience at school is a cause. In my survey of the public, I was interested to find out what people of all ages could tell us about the value of reading in class.
I hoped their insights might help guarantee shared reading as an enjoyable, powerful and enriching experience. They might also inform our approach to curriculum design around reading, and to examination requirements.
Dr John Gordon leads this research focussed on literary response in education and developed since his appointment to UEA in 2000. His research has developed from an initial focus on literary education in UK secondary education, especially around poetry, to this more expansive and professionally oriented current focus on the pedagogy, professional development and improved practice of teachers of literature nationally and internationally.
How to Find Out More About This Research
A book about this research, Researching Interpretive Talk around Literary Narrative Texts: Shared Novel Reading, will be published by Taylor and Francis in 2020. The book describes innovative approaches to reading research developed by Dr Gordon since his doctoral study examined students’ responses to heard poetry (2008). Across journal articles and invited book chapters, Dr Gordon has developed new research methods attending to classroom discourse around literature. He has and adapted and applied Conversation Analysis to literary study, extending its more common use in research around learning additional language. In particular, he has examined how texts enter discussion when spoken aloud and quoted, and how participants in conversation present them and make sense of them together.
This research offers findings and resources that can help beginning teachers to understand the subtle machinery of excellent teaching around literature. Looking at transcripts of classroom discussion affords close attention to language – the object and medium of English teaching – and helps us see precisely how teachers guide and frame students’ encounters with the narratives novels present.
Dr Gordon’s British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (2016) afforded application this approach to shared reading of narrative prose fiction, usually in the format of studying a ‘set text’ or ‘class reader’ in school. This informed his most recent work on English literary pedagogy around narrative texts, where research findings signal considerations for teachers and research data, usually in the form of transcripts, provide exemplar material for developing teaching practice when used in professional development workshops and training events.
A particularly important dimension of the research is the correlation of classroom fieldwork research with interviews and questionnaires inviting participants now beyond formal, compulsory education to comment on their experiences of studying literature in school. Dr Gordon’s research thus sets the implications for practice in a long-term frame, responding to the immediate circumstances of literary study in schools but also framing findings relative to lifelong learning and experiences of reading outside institutional contexts.