Teaching the reading experience : upper secondary teachers’ perspectives on aesthetic aspects of literature teaching

Abstract: Written fiction is a cornerstone in upper secondary Swedish first language (L1) studies. However, in a time when international assessments in education create and maintain a focus on measurability, non-measurable aspects of literature teaching might not be given the same attention in the literature classroom. One of those aspects is the reader’s immersion in a text through an aesthetic experience, which is often why readers turn to fiction. This would mean that one of the main incentives to read fiction is separated from literature teaching in school.In my thesis, I examine the experiential nature of Swedish upper secondary L1 literature teaching from teachers’ perspectives, and the role of the Reading Experience—that is, the immersion in a text through thoughts, feelings, and reactions that readers experience during reading—in the literature classroom. In doing so, I employ focus group interviews, an online questionnaire, individual interviews, and participant observations within a theoretical framework comprising ideas by Dewey about art as communication, Felski’s theory about modes of textual engagement, Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory, and Langer’s concept of Envisionment. Although stipulated learning goals in the curriculum and the current focus on measurability downplay experiential aspects, the findings indicated that individual teachers create a space for it in their literature teaching. This means that students’ access to the Reading Experience is dependent on individual priorities, which entails a risk of arbitrariness and inequivalent education. Thus, if all students are to be granted a holistic teaching approach that regards the measurable and the instrumental as well as the intangible and experiential, all teachers have to take it into account in their teaching. Without this holism, there is a risk that students will attain literacy proficiency at the expense of their literature proficiency.