Year 8 students' responses to literature : the development of reading comprehension and literary awareness : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The objective of this project was to investigate the responses to literature that two Year 8 class groups
made over the course of an academic year, to understand more fully how students of this age develop
both comprehension and literary understandings of texts. Specifically, the questions this research
1. What do Year 8 students’ responses to text reveal about the development of their reading
2. What do Year 8 students’ responses to text reveal about the development of their literary
Using a qualitative case study design, responses to literature were collected by the teacher-researcher,
over a normal year’s teaching. This meant the recording of 40 literature discussion groups over the
school year, as well as collecting written responses related to those discussion groups. In addition,
data from PAT Reading Comprehension assessments in March and September were used to further
corroborate development of reading comprehension in the students. The classroom environment is
described, illustrating the ways in which the characteristics of early adolescent learners are met, both
in terms of their increasing drive for autonomy and ability to think in more abstract ways, and in
meeting the curriculum requirements for students who will graduate into secondary education at the
end of the school year.
The rich data gathered were organised into three illustrative case studies, demonstrating examples of
the progress in both literary understanding and reading comprehension that students made. Students
worked together in literature discussions to construct new understandings of the texts they were
reading. They were also agentic, within the learning environment, using literature discussions to
address their unique ‘noticings’ and questions about texts, and challenging the views of their peers.
Written responses revealed that students actively listened and then developed ideas further, after their
discussions, elaborating and clarifying responses into ‘defensible interpretations’ of texts. Their
responses were indicative of a developing ‘literary literacy’, as described by Lehman (2007), whereby
the literacy goals of reading comprehension and the literary goals underpinning developing literary
understandings are compatible and often develop in conjunction with each other.
The findings show that Year 8 children are capable of developing sophisticated understandings about
texts. The findings suggest that a learning environment designed to foster a literary cycle of reading
and interaction with literature, promoting literary growth, and sharing responses to literature with
other students (Lehman, 2007) can provide Year 8 students with the opportunity to be engaged,
motivated readers; meet their early adolescent drive for autonomy; and address increasingly
sophisticated curriculum requirements in preparation for the disciplinary reading required for
secondary education. These results have implications for classroom practice for Year 8 students.