Going off the rails with Sally Jones: Promoting literary understanding in character-focused read-aloud discussions
Keywords:disciplinary literacy, literary understanding, picture books, primary school, reader response
Although discussion-based approaches to literature have been researched extensively, there has been little qualitative research on read-aloud discussions focusing on specific aspects of literature. Moreover, considering the current bias towards comprehension and analytical skills in language arts curricula, an on-going discussion about different dimensions of literary understanding in classroom practice is necessary. Therefore, the present study seeks to contribute knowledge about possibilities for literary understanding in character-focused classroom discussions. Data, comprised of field notes and transcribed audio recordings, were collected throughout 12 lessons in a Swedish Grade 4 during the reading aloud of the picture book Legenden om Sally Jones (The Legend of Sally Jones). The analysis was guided by thematic content analysis and reader-response theories, enabling a broad view of literary understanding. The result shows that character-focused discussions promoted evaluating the characters, making inferences, and considering important events. Occasionally, the students made analytical remarks about how the story worked. In addition, the students were encouraged to empathise with the characters while making connections between the text and their lives. Furthermore, the students drew on intertextual knowledge to use the text in creative expressions involving pleasurable narrative deaths. Implications for teaching and language arts curricula are discussed.
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