“She doesn’t consider it to be real literature”

Student Conceptions of the Term ‘Literature’ and the Notion of Literary Competence


  • Jeroen Dera Radboud University




literature education, literary competence, student conceptions of literature, reasoning about literature, comparative reading


Starting from the premise that there may be a discrepancy between how teachers and students understand the term ‘literature’, this article explores the ability of 10th grade students to define the concept of ‘literature’. It argues that such an undertaking is relevant in light of a similar discrepancy between literary studies and literature: while the first adopts an increasingly inclusive definition of ‘literature’, publications on the concept of literary competence still employ a strongly normative view of literature.

Drawing on empirical observations from a Dutch research project in which students discussed the literary quality of text fragments in jury groups, the article demonstrates that students hold highly heterogeneous ideas about the definition of literature. The analysis of survey responses, transcribed student conversations and jury posters reveals that a minority of students are able to provide a reasoned definition of ‘literature’, while a significant portion equates literary texts with books in general or stories amenable to narratological analysis. Based on these observations, the article suggests expanding the operationalization of literary competence in Alter & Ratheiser’s recent model to include the concept of ‘taxonomic competence’, which encompasses students’ ability to differentiate between literary and non-literary texts through reasoned argumentation.




How to Cite

Jeroen Dera. (2024). “She doesn’t consider it to be real literature”: Student Conceptions of the Term ‘Literature’ and the Notion of Literary Competence. L1-Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 24(1), 1–25. https://doi.org/10.21248/l1esll.2024.24.1.611