How can teachers stimulate interest in reading? Recent PISA studies found that Swiss and German students did not have as high a reading literacy level as might have been expected – in response education research and policy has focussed on reading competence in everyday life. Does this come at the cost of an encompassing literary education? We spoke to Professor Andrea Bertschi-Kaufmann about her and her collegues work in this area.
The 2000 PISA
Figure 1: Emphasis on literature and reading comprehension
Number of classes
study found that Swiss and German children did not have as high a literacy level as might have been expected in developed countries with wellestablished education systems, findings that were backed up by subsequent editions of the study. This prompted intense scrutiny of reading competence related to everyday and non-fiction texts. However, there is concern that the question of how students deal with literature is neglected – a topic that Professor Andrea Bertschi-Kaufmann and her colleagues are addressing in the TAMoLi (Texts, Activities and Motivations in Literature Education) research project. With their new interdisciplinary study combining quantitative and qualitative research, the TAMoLi team is building an evidence base in this area. “One of the questions we asked in our study was, what are the priorities of individual teachers?” Professor Bertschi-Kaufmann says. “Are they aiming primarily to improve reading competence, and to help students read effectively in everyday life? Or are they concerned more with giving them an education in literature?” The initial findings show that the answer to this depends to a significant degree on the students’ academic abilities. In Switzerland, secondary school students are separated into three streams (A, B and C) according to ability. While teachers in all three streams facilitate access to literature, the balance between training reading competence and literary reading varies according to the streams and academic level of their students. “Teachers of students in level C primarily focus on training reading competence. In level B, more teachers give attention to literary reading, but training reading competence still
Access to Literature
Both areas are equally important
Promotion of reading comprehension of everyday texts Figure 1 shows teachers’ answers to the question how they weight access to literature on the one hand and promotion of reading comprehension on the other, for school types A, B and C for Switzerland and Germany combined. In type A (progymnasium and gymnasium) literary education is more pronounced compared to a sole focus on reading comprehension of everyday texts and than literary education in types B and C. Teachers in type A schools also most frequently balance both goals. In type B and C schools, literature is not prioritized. In type C, which primarily develops basic competences, reading comprehension of everyday texts clearly outweighs the focus on literary education as well as the balanced weighting of literary education and reading comprehension of everyday texts.
dominates. In level A teachers mostly treat both goals equally: they promote literary reading as well as train students’ competence to read,” explains Professor Bertschi-Kaufmann. “One can interpret this strong emphasis on reading competence as an effect of PISA, which has however not resulted in a complete eclipse of literature.” A survey of the types of texts that teachers select for their classes clearly shows that, although the distribution is uneven, literary texts do play some role in all the streams and a considerable part of the learning time is devoted to them (see Figure 2). “From the perspective of literature education, this is a gratifying result, as in literature you find the big ideas, the language and concepts that help you form your worldview,” points out Professor Bertschi-Kaufmann.
Improving reading motivation This research centres on students in the eighth and ninth grade, an age group that is of interest for several reasons. On the one hand, adolescents are at a critical reading age, as they begin to engage in shared activities with peers, which may crowd out reading. On the other hand, this period towards the end of compulsory schooling is an opportunity to offer students from all three streams access to reading and literature education. “It’s crucial to know if students access literature during their education. And how that access is linked to their reading motivation,” says Professor Bertschi-Kaufmann. A student’s reading ability is closely linked to their motivation, and their perception of their own progress. “There is a clear connection between reading activities and reading interests on the