Literacy as a Collaborative Experience. Fostering Learner Autonomy in the Foreign Language Classroom
In Literature Circles. Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups (2002) Daniels posits that literature circles – “small, peer-led discussion groups whose members have chosen to read the same story, poem, article, or book” (p.2) provides the basis for a love of reading and life long independent reading habits (p. 20). Fostering positive attitudes towards reading English literature whilst at the same time integrating language skills are important aims when it comes to teaching literature in the foreign language classroom. Eisenmann (2011) and Surkamp (2007) suggest that we should integrate literature circles as differentiating means to facilitate students’ access to literature in increasingly heterogeneous classes. However, there is a lack of empirical research on cooperative learning approaches to teaching literary texts that investigates how literature circles work in the foreign language classroom and how we can structure them so that “they make heterogeneous classrooms work (p.36).” Drawing on the results of a qualitative case study, this dissertation project provides insight into how learners deal with an unknown novel, “experience” (Rosenblatt) literature in small group and whole class discussions and how they perceive this experience. This study argues that differentiating means – such as cooperative learning approaches – foster both learners’ personal dialogue with literary texts and their interactions amongst each other within the classroom. They use literary texts, discussion and various forms of interaction as means of reflecting upon their own learning and steering their own learning process. It is particularly the element of learner autonomy – learners choosing their own material and group members, running their own literature circles, evaluating their progress and setting up new goals that leads to learners cooperating with each other naturally. At the same time, implementing cooperative learning structures provides the “context” as learners put it for experiencing, exploring and expanding their autonomy. This personal interaction between the individual and social structures ultimately sets free the potential of learning with literature, that is adopting a multiperspective view on self, others, and the world, fostering dialogue skills and an “openness” toward learning as the most important goal characterized by learners themselves.