Teaching Literature/Reading: A Dialogue on Professional Growth

Article excerpt


From 1999 to 2002, two university professors, one trained in language education and French and the other in Hispanic literature, undertook a comparative qualitative study of their parallel third-year reading course. Using a variety of data sources, most importantly extensive interviews, they documented their teaching beliefs, practices, and perceptions of themselves and each other. The results report conceptual and curricular changes and the implementation of new ideas in classroom practice. In engaging in critical inquiry and dialogue about their professional lives, these two seasoned teachers add to the growing body of teachers' stories. This study also meaningfully addresses the issue of professional regard between literature and language education faculty.


In the spring of 1999, the authors undertook a comparative study of their parallel third-year reading courses.1 This research explored how two colleagues with dissimilar academic backgrounds approached such a course: Burnett's background in French and second language acquisition (SLA)/teacher education contrasted with Fonder-Solano's in Hispanic literature. The data from this study showed some surprising similarities, but also revealed marked contrasts stemming from the above-mentioned differences in academic training. A resulting publication examined disparities between beliefs about teaching, course goals, course organization, and teaching practices (Burnett & Fonder-Solano, 2002). One salient point of interest that was not addressed, however, was how this study inspired both conceptual and curricular changes.

Given the professionwide disconnect between foreign language faculty in literature and pedagogy, the examination of how the researchers' teaching beliefs, practices, and perceptions of each other changed over time brings insight to the issue of how teaching practices are shaped. At present, now several years since its inception, the researchers are better able to draw conclusions about how this collaboration has had an impact on their work in terms of changes in teacher beliefs and goals, and the implementation of these new ideas. Although some professional practices have remained intact, the changes documented over time meaningfully address the issue of professional regard between literature and language education faculty, a topic which continues to merit discussion (see Bernhardt, 1995; Scott & Tucker, 2002).

With this overarching goal in mind, the following research questions guided the study:

1. How do our present beliefs and practices compare with our initial expectations?

2. How have our beliefs, assumptions, and knowledge of teaching these courses ("FRE 340: Reading in French" and "SPA 341: Introduction to Hispanic Literature") been impacted by participating in this study?

3. How has course organization been influenced by changes in conceptions of practice and how has it evolved?

4. How have our practices changed to reflect this conceptual change?

5. How do our current self-perceptions as teachers of reading differ from those we used to hold?

6. How did engaging in the research process and dialogue affect us as researchers, as teachers, and as colleagues?

These questions also provided an opportunity to reflect on our changing perceptions of self and one another, and on how former training and teacher beliefs affected curricular decisions as well as collegiality. By engaging in critical inquiry and dialogue about their professional lives, the authors applied a concept developed by Johnson (1999) in the field of teacher training and development, termed robust reasoning. Johnson explained:

Teachers who seek out opportunities to expand their understandings of the landscapes within which they work, who continually reflect on their own practices, and who critically assess the consequences of their teaching practices on their students' learning know what to do. …