Sharing literature: the contribution of conflicting interpretations to inclusive education
Diversity of literary interpretations is a valuable means of developing an understanding of human diversity in our pluralistic societies. This is why the ability to read and appreciate literary works is at the heart of French language teaching in secondary schools. Yet, at the end of their compulsory education, for a large proportion of Québec students, reading at school consists of answering quizzes or writing summaries.
How can teachers encourage students to express their subjective reactions and fully develop their ability to react to, understand and interpret complete works, involving the resolution of complex problems on a cognitive, as well as an affective and ethical, level? Our research shows that interpretative debate can achieve these aims. How and why should interpretative debate be taught in upper secondary school? Interpretative debate (ID) is a collaborative oral activity led by the teacher on a work that the students have read ahead of time.
Our results reveal common teaching practices despite the variety of school contexts and effects due to individual differences between the eight participating teachers and the specific nature of the works studied (which were from three different genres). The more varied the teachers’ didactic practices and interactions, the more the students co-constructed and justified multiple acceptable interpretations.
Contrary to argumentative debate, the aim of ID is not to persuade others to adopt a particular point of view, but to collectively search for acceptable, and sometimes contradictory, interpretations. Through ID, students learn to express empathy for the characters, to nuance their understanding of complex human situations, to recognize the validity of interpretations other than their own, and to take part in a regulated manner in a constructive debate. In this respect, ID is a promising tool for developing democratic skills.
Marion Sauvaire, Université Laval
Deposit of the research report: April 2021