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Variant readings: A cross-cultural study of reading comprehension and literary texts

O'Neill, Marilyn Heather (1995) Variant readings: A cross-cultural study of reading comprehension and literary texts. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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English examination practices related to the assessment of reading comprehension characteristically assume that there are correct responses to, or 'right readings' of texts. This assumption relies on particular theoretical positions, such as Formalism and New Criticism, and on particular pedagogical practices, such as Functionalism and Heritage. This thesis challenges this assumption and these theoretical positions.

This challenge is supported empirically through an investigation of variations of students' readings of short fiction and through a critical sociocultural analysis of those variations. The students were all engaged in English courses in which success was critical for graduation from secondary schooling and admission to tertiary studies. Four groups of students, comprised of urban white Australians from schools located in middle-class areas, English as a Second language (ESL) students studying in Australia, urban white Canadians from schools located in middle-class areas, and Cree students located on a relatively isolated reservation in northern Canada participated in the study. The findings indicate that inter-group and intragroup differences in the readings of selected texts can be explained in terms of sociocultural practices that are related to particular discourses differently available to individual readers.

Through analyses of the responses, specific problems of assessment with important implications for practice are identified. It is argued that reading comprehension cannot be defined as the production of the right response to texts. Alternative teaching and reading practices that make explicit the means by which various readings are produced are suggested. The thesis makes recommendations for changes in assessment and marking procedures which allow for variation in response, but require students to explicate their production of readings. Social and cultural issues in relation to literary practices are addressed in this context, and further directions for research are identified.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Andrich, David and Patterson, Annette
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