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Interdisziplinäre Forschung in der Deutschdidaktik

«Fremde Schwestern» im Dialog


Edited By Iris Winkler and Frederike Schmidt

Viele aktuelle Forschungs- und Entwicklungsfragen der Fachdidaktik Deutsch sind nur interdisziplinär – z. B. in Kooperation mit Bildungswissenschaften und anderen Fachdidaktiken – zu bearbeiten. Die Deutschdidaktik forscht deshalb immer öfter in fächerübergreifenden Projekten. Die Beiträge des Sammelbandes gehen der Frage nach, wie sich deutschdidaktische Fragestellungen und Untersuchungsmethoden einerseits und Forschungsparadigmen der kooperierenden Disziplin(en) andererseits produktiv aufeinander beziehen lassen. Vor dem Hintergrund unterschiedlicher Konstellationen und Ziele der Zusammenarbeit diskutieren die Autorinnen und Autoren Erkenntnisse sowie Herausforderungen und bringen dabei die Perspektiven von Forschenden aus der Deutschdidaktik und aus anderen Fachkulturen miteinander ins Spiel.

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Irene Pieper, Florentina Sâmihăian - International Research Cooperation in What Used to Be Called Mother Tongue Education. The Example of LiFT-2

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Irene Pieper, Florentina Sâmihăian

International Research Cooperation in What Used to Be Called Mother Tongue Education. The Example of LiFT-2

Abstract The paper explores the challenges and potentials of international research cooperation in the field of L1 (first language, language of schooling/of education, e. g. German in Germany, French in France; French, German, Italian and Romansh in Switzerland) by looking at general developments in L1-research since the 1980ies and at the project LiFT-2 as an example.

1 Introduction

While the history of research in Deutschdidaktik or Language and Literature Education is still young, international approaches in the field are even younger and certainly less expected than in other fields of research. The frame of reference of the discipline seems national rather than international: The discipline originates in a particular philology (German language and literature) and a particular school subject (German), and in both domains processes of language cultivation with regard to a national language or mother tongue were originally part of the program. Though the rise of the discipline in the second half of the 20th century was no longer framed by an ideology of nation-building, Deutschdidaktik has since then focussed on the German language and literature, and the main protagonists would be experts of German as a specific language and of learning this language as mother tongue (for the history of the subject German see Roberg et al. 2010). International cooperation would be more or less restricted to cooperation of experts from German speaking countries and surroundings. However, for the last thirty to forty years researchers and practitioners in the field of language and literature education have put considerable effort into the internationalisation of the domains – at the beginning still labelled Mother Tongue Education (MTE). Before turning to specific networks, the general characteristics of such a cooperation need to be considered.

1) By definition various national, linguistic and cultural contexts are involved. Thus, diversity and plurality of contexts are at the bottom of every attempt to cross national or linguistic borders in the field (though not always acknowledged in the same way). ← 153 | 154 →

2) Making reference to inter-national research cooperation in MTE is still unspecific in what concerns research approaches, disciplinary starting points and educational paradigms.

3) Agents of such cooperation are both researchers and practitioners, experts in teacher education at various stages and more or less close to the field of action (the actual teaching and learning in class). Their academic origins are manifold. Disciplines cover language and language education, literature and literature education, educational sciences, psychology, sociology and Fachdidaktik. A variety of academic cultures is involved. This becomes particularly evident with regard to Fachdidaktik which is a German concept that can also be found in Scandinavian contexts (as an export), but seldom anywhere else.1

4) The border between research and development is – like in Fachdidaktik in general – often not clear cut. Curriculum design and the design of tools that prove useful for teachers can be as much in focus as empirical research into language learning or the evaluation of interventions.

Protagonists of cooperation in the field of ‚MTE’ would generally share a common field of interest and a number of aims. However, they do not necessarily share a common style of thinking (Denkstil) in the sense of Ludwik Fleck (1935). Thus, there is a certain risk that understanding among agents is restricted by a somehow hidden factor, that is by differences in conceiving of the world they are not aware of.

The concept of Denkstil refers to the common ground a thought collective would share. The style of thinking is a result of a socialisation process and in continuous development, though not radically changing. It applies to the general approach to the world, to specific phenomena or to issues of a discipline and comes about by the circulation of thought and social practices. The frame of thought that is thus provided is not explicit, but powerful in conceiving of the world and can potentially enact constraints in understanding. At the same time, according to Fleck, the style of thinking forms the necessary basis of understanding. Shifts within a thought collective can lead to changes in the Denkstil and dynamics in a style of thinking are more likely where different thought collectives interact. ← 154 | 155 →

Following Ludwik Fleck, there is thus a considerable risk that thorough understanding cannot be achieved. However, it can be argued that there is also a considerable potential for making the implicit explicit and for clarifying and developing approaches to research and practice.

In our experience, international encounters between researchers and other experts in the field not necessarily (or even: seldom) start by clarifying the various backgrounds of the protagonists which makes it likely that the general frame of thinking is even more implicit than in interdisciplinary research where the disciplinary anchors are given explictly right from the beginning or form the basis of cooperation. This is somehow balanced by the shared aims. However, it should be acknowledged that the clarification of what to assess and/or what to explore is all the more necessary the broader the scope of agents and contexts.

1.1 Two Networks: IAIMTE and IMEN

All in all, international cooperation in mother tongue education (MTE) or first, second and standard languages as languages of schooling (L1) has an epistemic potential. In a way, this is the experience of members of the two central associations resp. networks that have promoted this cooperation in the past: the International Association for the Improvement of Mother Tongue Education, IAIMTE (now: ARLE), and the International Mother Tongue Education Network, IMEN. By briefly describing aim and scope of these two networks we aim at demonstrating recent developments in what concerns international cooperation in MTE and L1. Both networks also served as a platform for the form of international cooperation that came into practice in the LiFT-2-project.

The International Mother Tongue Education Network, IMEN, mainly worked between 1984 and 2007. Here, international cooperation starts from the acknowledgement of difference in the various national contexts. The epistemic element is particularly strong. Protagonists aim at comparative approaches in order to explore and specify diversity in the field of MTE. Comparison in IMEN is the path to gaining deeper knowledge of MTE in its various forms, on a methodological level the empirical approaches are close to ethnography (cf. Herrlitz et al. 2007, the editors being key protagonists of the IMEN). The work is close to the field (e. g. classroom visits by multi-national teams, close cooperation with teachers). Besides curriculum research was carried out. Though the network no longer stages conferences or other activities the approaches developed by IMEN are still present in current research (e. g. Doecke/van de Ven 2011).

The International Association for the Improvement of Mother Tongue Education, IAIMTE, was founded by Gert Rijlaarsdam and Ken Watson in 1996. It has ← 155 | 156 → been transferred into the International Association for Research in L1 Education (languages, literatures, literacies), the ARLE, in 2014. International cooperation in the IAIMTE is based on the conviction that it is beneficial for MTE to share expertise and to develop a common knowledge rather than work on the same or on similar issues in ‚splendid isolation‘. It is generally acknowledged that there is linguistic, cultural and educational diversity and there is room for exploring these differences, too. But the main aim is to allow for exchanges in research and development in a field where, this is a central assumption, researchers and practitioners from various places of the world can benefit from each other’s work and make progress by cooperation. Thus, there is no common methodology, but a common concern. The mission statement of the IAIMTE reads accordingly:

„Divided as we are by our distinct languages and cultures, we do share a common concern: the quality of the teaching and learning of mother tongues. Throughout the world, education systems are confronted with major challenges. Societal demands for literacy and communicative competence are growing and at the same time, there is an increase in the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity of school populations. In response to these trends, promising research and development in the learning and teaching of mother tongues is done in many countries … in splendid isolation. A pity, for national work in the improvement of language education can profit enormously from international exchange. This, in a nutshell, is the mission of the IAIMTE: the International Association for the Improvement of Mother Tongue Education.“ (cf.

1.2 From IAIMTE to ARLE and from Mother Tongue Education to L1 Education

The IAIMTE has been continuously active with international conferences every two years, several Special Interest Groups and frequent seminars in different places of the world. Though with a particularly strong basis in Europe, the IAIMTE also goes overseas (e. g. to Hong Kong in 2014) and has active members in all continents. Besides, it provides an international peer reviewed journal since 2000, which is published online with free access and offers a platform for communicating research contributions from the various domains within language and literature education: ‘L1 Educational Studies for Language and Literature’ ( The network has been growing ever since it came into existence and the conferences have continuously been attracting more and more delegates. A general tendency to internationalisation in educational research and development, the corresponding university policies and international research funding programs by the EU and other bodies probably have supported these developments. ← 156 | 157 → On an informal level, members appreciate the opportunities for encounters of various sorts within the network and its general openness, not always characteristic for academic life. In order to further strengthen the association, its visibility and scope of action, it was decided by the members in Paris 2013 to formally establish the association and at the same time adapt its name and mission to meet developments since the late 1990ies. The new name thus shows the shift from the concept of mother tongue to a concept of language learning that takes into account the variety of linguistic backgrounds in today’s classrooms and the diversity of situations regarding the languages of schooling. L1, which is also the acronym of the journal, refers to the language of schooling, which often is the learner’s first language, but increasingly a second language or one among different languages available (cf. the explanation of the concept at

We thus argue that the shift towards L1 education characterises the current situation with regard to what used to be mother tongue education: The growing awareness of plurality on both the national and international level calls for a consideration of languages, literatures and literacies. Key concepts are no longer linked to the homogeneous notion of mother tongue, but rather to diversity, to plurilingual and intercultural education and to the languages of schooling, as it is reflected by the project Languages in Education, Languages for Education. A platform of resources and references in plurilingual and intercultural education by the Language Policy Unit of the Council of Europe (cf. Council of Europe/Language Policy Unit 2006–2016). Currently, the common emphasis is indeed on sharing insights into the various fields of practice (which share an inert diversity), but also on communicating research and development in order to benefit as best we can on what has already been achieved. An example in this respect is the project LiFT-2.

2 LiFT-2

LiFT-2 was funded by the EU-Comenius-Program between 2009 and 2012. The aim of the project was to design a Literary Framework for Teachers in Secondary Education, LiFT-2.2 The Framework is meant to assist teachers in ensuring progression in literary reading with secondary students. It focusses on narrative texts (novels and extensive/longer narratives, e.g. novelas). As an international framework it potentially reaches out to teachers in many European countries so that the insights and tools on offer can be shared and used not only on a national ← 157 | 158 → level, but across language borders. Besides, LiFT-2 encourages a broader notion of literature teaching, since it refers to national, international and world literature.

2.1 The project in general

Key principles of LiFT-2 are to be close to praxis with all the instruments it has been providing and to be accessed easily, namely via a website. In the project, researchers and teacher educators from six European countries worked together and finally drafted the Framework that has been available since 20123: from the Netherlands (Theo Witte, University of Groningen, project leader), from Romania (Florentina Sâmihăian, University of Bucharest), from Germany (Irene Pieper, University of Hildesheim), Finland (Raisa Simola, University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu), Portugal (Regina Duarte, University of Braga) and Czech Republic (Stepanka Klumparova, University of Prague). An implicit assumption of the endeavour probably was that the project partners, all experts in literature education, would be sharing a common style of thinking – at least to such an extent that the Framework would be achievable. Three key concerns are at the heart of LiFT-2:

1) The main aim was to develop a framework that helps to describe and to moderate progression in literary reading. It should answer the question how to lift students from a certain level of literary development to another in a way which is close to literary praxis in the various classrooms.

2) Texts and their characteristics should be related to learners and their characteristics. One aim is indeed to provide suggestions of literary texts suitable for specific levels of the learners.

3) Texts should also be addressed with regard to their learning potential. Thus, we intend to offer instruments that help to describe challenges a text might provide in the light of their potential to progression in literary reading.

The project did not explicitly focus on the potential challenges of achieving these aims in an international context. It was not part of the program to explore literature and literature teaching as culturally bound.

In order to meet the concerns just spelt out the project worked on three key-questions:

1) What can be considered as typical for learners of a specific stage of schooling/school-age in the field of reading narratives? ← 158 | 159 →

LiFT-2 distinguishes four to six levels of literary development.

2) What can be considered as typical for the texts that seem adequate for the respective levels?

LiFT-2 recommends particular texts for particular levels.

3) How can progression be designed in such a way that learners can reach the next level?

LiFT-2 has designed transitions that should help teachers to ensure literary development in the context of education.

It could be argued that the project thus works on the most challenging topics of research in literature education. The empirical basis of describing (and modelling) progression in literary reading has long been considered as weak. Thorough models of competence in this field are not available. Both the richness of literary texts and the individuality of interpretative processes seem to hinder. On the other hand it is part of the teaching of literature to ensure progression with students and project-partners would argue that there is a need for an instrument that assists teachers in designing the learning with literature in a developmental perspective.

The project could go back to a model that was designed by project-leader Theo Witte. In his dissertation Witte had designed a system of levels for teachers in upper secondary education (Witte 2008). His starting point was the introduction of a portfolio-approach in the Dutch literature classroom of Upper Secondary. According to this approach, students should set up their individual reading list by choosing from a list of texts. They should perform tasks individually and hand in a portfolio to their teacher. Witte observed a need of support for both learners and teachers in making adequate choices, perform tasks and ensure progression. In order to describe students’ development and also provide an instrument that would assist the teachers he drew on the pedagogical content knowledge of the teachers (cf. Shulman 1986). Via work group discussions and focus group discussions with the teachers (cf. Witte et al. 2012) he aimed at making their implicit knowledge on learner characteristics and book features explicit. The data collected via these discussions at the same time made it possible to stay close to the teachers’ language when designing the levels of literary development. These levels by now structure Dutch literature education to a large extent.4 ← 159 | 160 →

Thus, LiFT-2 serves as an example of how to profit from international exchange in L1 education. The project team adapted a model which had proved sensible in a national context, the assumption being that such a transfer is possible despite the differences in the various countries, the educational systems and potentially in the style of thinking, too. Evidence for a common basis could be found in the work of the language policy division of the Council of Europe which refers to a shared understanding of literature education (see Aase et al. 2007) and in a curriculum comparison which was carried out in LiFT-2 (see 2.2). Besides, the procedures of the project were meant to ensure that project results could be shared and offered room for adaptations (see below and point 2.3).5 To explore the differences in the process of development and implementation was, however, not an aim in itself and was beyond the scope of the project and its funding. However, traces of tensions and differences were discovered in the course of the project and should be followed up (see below and part 3).

Under the presupposition that there is a sound common basis it seems most sensible to adapt an existing model in an international context. On the level of improving education this is both practical and economical. Still, it may be considered problematic in the frame of research as quality here is connected to originality and innovation (cf. Wiemer 2011). There is some innovation in LiFT-2, though, since it extended the Dutch model designed by Witte and provided new perspectives for the research community and the community of practitioners: LiFT-2 covers both lower and upper secondary education, starting at the age of 12.6 Hence, the impact of development of the learners is stronger. Besides, LiFT-2 puts more focus on designing progression via teaching in class. The model is thus moving beyond its usability in a portfolio-approach that focusses on individual reading processes and meets the different teaching cultures. The model of transitions is an original contribution of LiFT-2. The third aspect concerns the reading lists and recommendations: One aim of LiFT-2 is to balance the national reading lists (more or less canonical and more or less fixed) with an international choice of text that covers world literature, too. LiFT-2 thus aims at contributing to intercultural understanding via a more varied choice of texts. A fourth aspect concerns curriculum research: in order to ensure a common basis for the work of the partners and the design of a European framework the curriculum comparison mentioned above ← 160 | 161 → was carried out and published for an international audience (Witte/Sâmihăian 2013). Before turning to the empirical part and the main procedures of the project we describe the comparative analysis.

2.2 A comparative analysis of the formal literature curriculum in six European countries7

2.2.1 Aims, points of reference and methodology of the research

The comparison of eight European literary curricula aimed at: identifying the theories behind the curricula in different countries; comparing the ways in which a developmental line is present in the analysed curricula; ensuring a common basis for the framework (by identifying the curricular perspective on the three dimensions on which the LiFT-2 framework is built: students, books and didactics); becoming aware of the differences and specificities of studying literature in the six European countries that participated in the project.

The first point of reference in our comparative analysis consisted of the four paradigms of studying literature we tried to identify in the analysed curricula. These paradigms are (Ongstad et al. 2004; Rijlaarsdam/Janssen 1996; Sawyer/Van de Ven 2007; Verborrd 2005; Witte et al. 2006):

1) the cultural model which emphasizes the idea that literature is part of the cultural development and stresses enrichment of students’ cultural knowledge

2) the linguistic model which focuses on text’s autonomy and on developing students’ analytic skills of interpreting a text

3) the social model which states that literature is part of reality, offering different perspectives, and that students should be encouraged to develop their social awareness and critical thinking through reading and discussing what they read

4) the personal growth model/reader oriented model which focuses on the impact literature has on readers; as a consequence, students are encouraged to give personal responses to the text they read and to clarify their own values in confrontation with those induced by a literary text.

A more comprehensive presentation of these four models is presented in the following table: ← 161 | 162 →

Tab. 1: Curricular aspects of four paradigms of teaching literature8


The above description of the four paradigms of studying literature is a theoretical one, which can take different shapes in nowadays practices, as teachers have to adjust their strategies to a generation of students labeled as ‘homo zappiens’ or ‘digital natives’ (Prensky 2010; Veen/Vrakking 2007). From this point of view, even if in a curriculum the dominant paradigm is the cultural or the linguistic one, the approaches need to be extended to or combined with methods derived from the social and personal growth model; also the teachers’ role, classroom ← 162 | 163 → management or assessment strategies will be informed by the social and personal growth models. If the dominant model is social or personal growth, then teachers may feel the need to make some extensions in what aims of teaching and content are concerned.

The second point of reference was a line of development of the literary competences (Witte et al. 2012), which we built based on the features of the four paradigms and also on the idea of the continuity and accumulation of paradigms, with shifting dominants, starting from a naïve dependent reader (low literary competence) who can become, at the end of the road, a sophisticated autonomous reader (high literary competence). The sense of this developmental model is presented in Figure 1.

Fig. 1: The cumulative paradigms of teaching literature in the literary framework


In our study, we compared this cumulative model of literary paradigms with the line of evolution in the formal curricula of the six countries. We tried to find answers to the following questions:

(1) What are the dominant paradigms in teaching literature in Europe, bearing in mind students, books and didactics?

(2) How do the curricula relate to the development-oriented framework?

Our study is a descriptive one and followed three steps: collection of data regarding the documents of formal curricula for literature in each country; grouping the data for comparison, according to the four paradigms of studying literature; presenting and evaluating the results. The members from our project team served as experts for their respective curricula – available in the respective language – and provided the group with the necessary information. A guideline was used ← 163 | 164 → to collect the data. The information was shared in our project meetings so that a common understanding could be achieved.

The researched documents were the official curricula for secondary education in use at the time of research (2009–2012) in six European countries participating in the project: Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, The Netherlands, Portugal and Romania. For Germany, where each land has its own educational policy and curriculum, the experts for this country chose three lands they considered representative for different ways of approaching literature: Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Thuringia.9 We are aware that we missed the actual practices in school, but our research could not be extended to that dynamic reality.

We analysed the data provided by each country, focusing on the three dimensions that articulated the LiFT-2 framework: students, books, and didactics.

2.2.2 Results of literary curriculum comparison The first dimension of the comparison: students’ literary competences

The first dimension refers to the expected learning outcomes of students for studying literature (the first criteria in Table 1). We noticed that the understanding of curricular concepts like ‘goals’, ‘aims’, ‘attainment targets’ and ‘competences’ is different in the curricula we compared. As we are working in a European context we prefered to make use of the umbrella term ‘competences’ as defined in The European Framework for Key Competences for Lifelong Learning: “a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the context” (European Commission 2006, p. L 394/13). Our analysis aimed both at comparing the competences identified in the curricula for a certain grade (a horizontal perspective) in order to see the dominant models and at comparing the lines of progression in using the four models of studying literature along secondary education (a vertical perspective). For this last purpose, we compared curricula for grade 7 and 12.

We registered almost all10 the competences phrased in the curricula of the respective country and associated them to one or more of the four paradigms ← 164 | 165 → in Table 1. We are aware that using numbers to express the relative dominance of competences in a curriculum can result in some complications, not the least because the differences between curricula, their structure and their wording made the comparison challenging. Nevertheless, we chose this way because we assume that the extensity to which competences associated with a model are present in a curriculum is an indication of the dominance of a certain model. The results of this classification are presented in Table 2.

Tab. 2: Literary competences in six European countries associated with the four models of studying literature, grade 7 (in brackets: number of competences)


The comparative analysis of the literary competences shows interesting results about the presence of the four models in the formal curriculum for grade 7. The first aspect to be mentioned is that all curricula are poly-paradigmatic, and we can see a combination of content-oriented and student-oriented paradigms. We can see clear differences between the eight European curricula for grade 7 if we take into consideration the dominant paradigm. The cultural model is relatively powerful in the curricula of Cz and D-Bav; the linguistic model reaches its highest percentage in the D-Th curriculum, but is also clearly present in the curricula of Cz and Ro; the social model is more powerful in D-Th and Fi than in the other European curricula; the personal growth model has its strongest position in the Nl curriculum, ← 165 | 166 → at considerable distance ahead of D-LS, Ro, and Fi, where this paradigm has also a strong position.

To better understand our approach and the spirit of the analysed curricula, we present some relevant examples of competences for each model, choosing the countries where these models had the best percentages:

for the cultural model, we identified in the Cz curriculum the following competences: list the basic literary styles and their significant representatives in Czech and world literature; recognise the basic literary styles and genres; compare them and their function; list their major representatives;

for the linguistic model, the curriculum of G-Th mentions competences such as: identifying literary texts/text components; analysing and interpreting selected literary text passages; analysing the value of narration in epic texts; deepening the knowledge of linguistic features of poetic texts, developing an awareness of the lyrical ‘I’;

for the social model, the curriculum of G-Th has also the highest percentage of competences: comprehension of the values of characters, their behaviour and the motives and intentions in epic and dramatic text; dialogic and scenic reading of dramatic texts; deepening the ability of watching and listening, especially while dealing with dramatic texts; understanding dramatic conflicts;

for the personal development model, the Nl curriculum provides the most numerous competences: relate the story to their own world; give re-creative response (e. g. drawing), give personal (subjective) response, use emotive criteria (e. g. exciting, sad, stupid); express their own antipathy or sympathy for characters and their experiences.

To conclude, we can say that the linguistic paradigm is dominant in grade 7, occupying first place in the curricula of Cz, Fi, Bav, Th, Pt and Ro (6 of the 8 curricula examined). Second place is taken by the personal growth paradigm that is powerful in Nl, Fi, LS and Ro. Third place is occupied by the social model, and last place is taken by the cultural paradigm, as expected for this level of schooling.

As we need to compare the expectations related to studying literature at different stages of schooling, we analysed, by using the same methodology, the curricula for grade 12, the end of secondary education. The results of this analysis are presented in Table 3. ← 166 | 167 →

Tab. 3: Literary competences in six European countries associated with the four models of studying literature, grade 12 (in brackets: number of competences)


A common feature of the curricula for grades 7 and 12 is that they are both poly-paradigmatic. But the difference is in the predominance of content-oriented paradigms in the curricula for grade 12. Comparing the position of each model in all the examined curricula, we notice that the cultural paradigm has the highest percentage in the curriculum of Fi, but it has also a strong position in D-Bav, D-Th and Ro. The linguistic paradigm is dominant in the formal curriculum of Cz, with the highest percentage at European level also. In D-Bav, D-LS, Nl and Pt, the linguistic paradigm shares its powerful position with other paradigms. The social model is most clearly visible in the curricula of Nl and Ro. The personal model, finally, has a remarkable position in Pt only at this stage of schooling. With the exception of the Pt curriculum, and to some extent also the curricula of Nl and Ro, the personal and social paradigms seem to play a minor role in grade 12. All in all, the linguistic paradigm has the most powerful influence in grade 7 as well as in grade 12.

We present here some of the competences in the curricula for grade 12 we associated with the cultural model (that has its peaks in Fi curriculum) and with the personal development model (at its best in the Nl curriculum):

for the cultural model, we identified the following competences in the Fi curriculum: read text in oral and written tradition – from folklore to literature; ← 167 | 168 → understand the significance of language and literature in the construction of a national identity; place Finnish literature in its temporal and cultural contexts; present key literary works and themes;

for the personal development model, the Nl curriculum, consistent with emphasizing the role of this model along the school years, offers the most numerous competences: identify oneself emphatically with different characters; use emotive criteria; motivate their interest in some authors.

In Figure 2 we synthetise the average evolution of the four paradigms at a European level (based on the eight literary curricula we analysed), so that we can see what is the effect of dominance of paradigms on the idea of cumulative or shifting paradigms in a developmental way, as presented in Figure 1.

Fig. 2: Comparative overview of the literary paradigms in grades 7 and 12


In the above figure, it is interesting to notice the spectacular changes of influence that the cultural and personal development models undertakes over the grades. Like in a mirror, the cultural model grows from grade 7 to 12, while the personal development model decreases from grade 7 to 12. In all curricula in grade 12, we see that the importance of content-oriented literature education has increased (48% to 67%), and the cultural domain especially has more influence in upper secondary (9% to 32%). This is at the expense of the personal domain, which greatly declined in importance (34% to 18%). The social domain in grade 7 holds a modest position and this remains so in grade 12 (18% to 15%). However, the ← 168 | 169 → linguistic domain holds a dominant position in grade 7 and maintains that position in grade 12 (38% to 35%).

These results show that the majority (five of eight countries/states) of the analysed curricula follow the developmental line of the paradigms presented in Figure 1, evolving from a more student-centred (personal/social) curriculum in grade 7 to a more content-centred one (linguistical/cultural) in grade 12. With regard to our international project, this seems to indicate some common ground, but also some variety in what concerns priorities in literature teaching. The second dimension of the comparison: texts recommended for study

The second dimension concerns the type of books/texts or criteria for selecting books, and also content referring to literary genres, epochs, cultural movements or topics (as they can be linked to a certain type of literary text), all mentioned in the recommendations of the formal curriculum. Each country has a view about when to introduce the canon (for the actual debates on the importance of canon in literary education, see also Fleming 2010; Pieper 2006; Sâmihăian 2007) and what is worth being studied. To reflect this, our analysis also included a perspective on the literary canon in the curricula compared because we intended to include an international list of books in the Framework (

For comparing the books recommended for study in the six countries, we had in view what curricula say about text selection criteria and content.

It was quite difficult to compare the aspects regarding this dimension, because the eight curricula addressed this issue differently. Some curricula refer to authors or titles, others to periods or literary genres; others mention themes or a minimum number of texts to be read. In some curricula the criteria for text selection are not clearly defined, but they are implicit. They take into consideration either the books’ characteristics or a guiding principle for selecting the books, like the accessibility for young learners. In one case (Portugal) some titles are compulsory. We also had in view the different ways of approaching the national and the universal canon.11

As expected, the books recommended by the curricula for grade 7 fit more the personal development paradigm. Only Czech Republic and Portugal diverge in this respect. The three German Länder follow more eclectic criteria. For grade 7 it is interesting to note the distribution of classic and contemporary texts. The ← 169 | 170 → general tendency is to have a balance between them or even to favour contemporary texts that are more accessible at this age.

For grade 12, all curricula emphasize the influence of the cultural and, with the exception of Finland, also of the linguistic model on the recommended criteria for choosing the texts to be studied. This means the progression towards a more sophisticated reader (as shown in Figure 1) is clearly marked.

We noticed that some curricula give more analytic or normative guidelines, thus implying an obligatory literary canon in upper secondary, by mentioning names of authors (Ro) or even titles of literary works (Pt) to be studied. Others specify only the period or the type of literature (in terms of genres, cultural movements, concepts of literary theory etc.). Again, in the three German lands we can see more eclectic criteria for text selection. They can be associated with all the four models of studying literature. This indicates that the formal curricula of the German states are based on a rather open, non-normative attitude towards literary texts. For example, literature of the Middle Ages is included in Bavaria’s curriculum, together with literature on adventure, and literature on adolescence yesterday and today, here and elsewhere.

Analysing the information regarding the presence of canon in the eight European curricula, we can see that an international canon is present both in lower and upper secondary (with two exceptions in grade 12, in the curricula of Po and Nl), but the national canon seems to be more influential in the upper secondary. It is possible that in some cases, the canon is powerful enough that there is no need to mention it in the curriculum: it will still be influential. This seems to be the case of the German curricula, where there is no mentioning of the national canon in upper secondary, although experts from the project team and the group discussions told us that the national canon is not neglected at this stage, but present via central examinations.

These results can be considered representative for European tendencies in teaching literature and they validate our perspective regarding the line of cumulative paradigms presented in Figure 1. It seems that the canonic texts or authors are generally placed towards the end of secondary education, mainly in the last two grades. In the lower grades there is a tendency to focus more on the accessibility of a book (on students’ background, interests and reading abilities), choosing popular genres for adolescents in order to help them discover the pleasures of reading. Towards the end of secondary school, students are supposed to read some representative, canonical literary works from national literature and from universal literature, too. This means the progression from a naïve reader towards a more sophisticated reader is clearly followed. ← 170 | 171 → The third dimension of the comparison: didactics

The third dimension concerns didactics, or more explicitly strategies for teaching, learning and assessing students in literature classes. Although the formal curricula are not prescriptive in this respect, they offer some suggestions. For comparing didactics, we identified references to approach, class management, teacher role, and assessment in the analysed curricula (criteria 3, 5, 6, 7 in Table 1).

We have to mention that not all the analysed curricula refer to this dimension. This means that teachers have large space for choosing in this matter and that their responsibility for the decisions is high. We based our observations on the reports of the experts from the project team that provided us with some insights in this respect. In their reports, the experts of each of the six countries referred to: the didactic approaches, the type of learning activities used in the classroom, and the assessment methods.

From the reports and the data collected we could conclude that in lower secondary the dominant paradigm in the field of didactics is personal growth (six curricula), followed by the linguistic model (dominant in four curricula). In upper secondary, the cultural and the linguistic models are equally dominant (five curricula). But it is important to note that the differences are not so big between the score each model has got.12 This means that, in fact, even when dealing with a cultural or linguistic approach, didactic strategies should be varied and able to capture the interest of nowadays’ students. The findings regarding this dimension also confirm our cumulative model of the literary teaching paradigms and are consistent with the results presented for the other two dimensions, student competences and books.

2.2.3 Conclusions of the curriculum-comparison

In spite of the difficulties of comparing and quantifying such fluid aspects as the presence of certain paradigms of studying literature in a curriculum, our analysis revealed a consistent image of the various ways of dealing with literature in lower and upper secondary in six European countries.

We tried to relate the findings of our research to the initial aim of the LiFT-2 project, which was to develop a European Framework for teachers of literature in secondary education. From this point of view, we were interested especially in identifying the lines of development of the literary competence in the analysed curricula and also in comparing them with our hypothesis that such a line should ← 171 | 172 → start with a focus on the personal developmental model and then gradually cumulate with the social and the linguistic paradigm, for bringing forward the cultural model at the end of upper secondary (Figure 1). Within this line, students are guided in school to evolve from dependent, naïve and sometimes unmotivated readers of rather simple books to enthusiastic, autonomous and sophisticated readers of demanding literary works.

We can conclude that most of the analysed literary curricula for lower secondary (grade 7), are dominated by the personal and linguistic paradigms, while in upper secondary (grade 12) the cultural and linguistic paradigms prevail. Five of the eight curricula investigated turned out to mirror this developmental line, with the Dutch and Finnish curricula as the clearest representatives. On the other hand, the formal curricula of the Czech Republic, Portugal and Bavaria (Germany) diverged the most from this developmental line because they devote special attention to cultural literacy not just in grade 12, but in grade 7 also. These countries encourage development towards cultural reading from the start. It is possible that these differences reflect an influence of the Roman tradition, which even now is seen as the cultural watershed between Northern and Southern Europe (cf. Hofstede 2001). There are cultural traditions in developing each literary curriculum that become transparent in a deeper analysis. However, even if the number of curricula may not be representative for Europe, and we cannot draw any strong conclusion, it seems that a developmental line that defines the levels of literary competence is needed. Such a point of reference can help teachers to identify the level of the literary competence of students and also give them some didactic tools to realize the desired progress of students with different levels of literary competence. It can also help policymakers and curriculum designers to think critically about the literature curriculum in their country. As curriculum design is particularly restrictecd to national contexts and often stable traditions a ‘fresh eye’ could be helpful. We would thus argue that LiFT-2 could inform curriculum designers for secondary education, provide them with new perspectives and encourage developments towards a more student oriented approach.

Another important conclusion is that all national curricula are open to the reading of international literature. This means that the European reading list we included in the LiFT-2 framework can be used by most member states and thus can contribute to the formation of a European cultural identity.

Our findings resulted from the comparative analysis of literature curricula in some European countries. They were integrated by the project team in describing the levels of the literary competence, in suggesting types of books or titles for each level and in drawing up different transitions from one level to another, on ← 172 | 173 → the basis of didactic strategies and learning activities. Furthermore, they ensured the common basis for the development of the Framework.

2.3 Procedures in LiFT-2

At the heart of the design of the Framework were the expert-discussions. They form the centre of the procedures used by the project team (see figure 3) and were aiming at collecting as rich an insight into teachers perceptions and opinions as possible (cf. Witte et al. 2012, p. 11). Every partner-team carried out two expert-discussions with five to six teachers in light of designing the levels and two for designing the transitions. They chose the teachers themselves. Prior to the discussions the teachers rated a pile of well-known narrative texts as to grades in secondary education (named A to D). For one of the texts they did a so called quick scan: Following the guideline of the Quick Scan (now: Book Scan)13 they described the text with regard to the following dimensions: 1) general demands for engaging in the book, 2) familiarity with literary style, 3) familiarity with literary procedures, 4) familiarity with literary characters. Every discussion covered several rounds: First, teachers would describe learner characteristics of students of a certain grade and an average performance in literary reading. Then they would discuss what characteristics of the books they had considered as suitable for the respective grade would fit these learners and what characteristics wouldn’t. Teachers were encouraged to discuss these features so that in the end the discussions would provide rich data to design the levels of literary development. Data were brought back into the international project team and discussed in a comparative perspective. The aim was to identify the common features of learners which the teachers had spelt out and achieve agreement on the number and character of levels. ← 173 | 174 →

Fig. 3: Procedures in LiFT-2


The synthesis done by the project team was brought back to the experts and validated. At the end of this process, a framework of four levels for age 12 to 15 and six levels for age 15 to 18 was confirmed. The different levels were named with a potentially expressive term and a short version of the Framework which covers just one sheet of paper was agreed upon. The levels are: Level 1 – Experiencing, Level 2 – Engaging, Level 3 – Exploring, Level 4 – Interpreting, Level 5 – Contextualizing, Level 6 – (pre-)Academic.14

In a further step transitions were designed in order to assist teachers to design lessons and sequences in literature education in light of progression.15 Again, expert-discussions were carried out, commonalities were identified in the international project team and the results were validated by the experts. Besides, the international team extended the Quick Scan in a didactical perspective, took into account the teachers’ feedback and drafted the Book Scan. ← 174 | 175 →

In order to provide reliable book recommendations for the various levels an online validation procedure was set up in each participating country: Numerous teachers were asked to allocate books to the levels of the Framework by linking features of the book to the characteristics crucial to the levels. After setting up the website the books were integrated according to this voting procedure.

As can be seen on the website, there is a European page (symbolised by Johann Amos Comenius) and there are pages for each partner. The European page offers an international reading list. On the partner-pages numerous translations are included. Depending on local circumstances, current work with LiFT-2 – funded only till 2012 – varies. In Romania, the instruments are used in teacher education and teacher training. In Germany, new book recommendations are added frequently, book scans are offered that concern particular texts and student teachers are encouraged to assist in choosing suitable texts and offer book scans (particularly as part of their course work in university seminars).

3 Conclusion: An International Developmental Project

LiFT-2 could clearly work on common basis. The international team succeeded in drafting the Framework and this proves fruitful for both teachers and student-teachers in the various contexts. With regard to challenges and potentials of international research in L1 some traces of tensions should be acknowledged. These concern the dimensions of text, learners and procedures.

As to the texts international differences became obvious with regard to genre: While in most places, longer narratives, mainly novels form common features in the literature classroom, in Romania short stories and novelas are dominant, at least in the lower secondary. This affected the work with teachers as experts.

Expectations to what is ‘good’ literature or literature suitable for teaching may vary. For the project team, the novel Disgrace by South African writer J. Coetzee had some meaning but according to the Czech partners would be impossible in Czech literature education.

World literature is present to a different extent: In the Netherlands, only Dutch literature forms part of the list for upper secondary portfolio work. This leads to the exclusion of the genre fantasy and also of translations. The Finish partner pointed to a growing acceptance of world literature including literatures from Africa and South America in educational contexts. Translations are a quite accepted feature in literature for young readers in Germany, but not much present with other literature in German literature education. In Czech Republic literacy has been strongly stressed which affects the status of literature in education. ← 175 | 176 →

Our attempts to include world literature and recent books in our book recommendations proved almost impossible via the book voting procedures because only well-known books got enough votes. We failed in encouraging teachers to read books they did not yet know in order to be able to vote which may well hint at the limited time frame teachers can offer for such procedures.

Besides, the voting demonstrated once more, how stable teaching traditions are: Despite the criteria to describe texts in the light of learners’ abilities and motivations some historical texts were allocated to the traditional school grades without further considerations (e. g. the German 19th century novelas which prove difficult for learners on the linguistic level, but also with regard to the narrative structures).

From the curriculum comparison we learn that on the level of curriculum there is more openness to progression and change with regard to text choice than is actually made use of.

With regard to the learners, one issue bothered us a lot: The relationship between school grades and age and school grades and forms of schooling is different between the various countries. Germany has the specific problem of having an extremely differentiated system of secondary education. This limits the possibilities to relate levels, grades and age. Thus, it has to be taken very seriously, that the levels are not clearly connected to a notion of age or “school age”. This is why the framework for age 15 to 18 again starts with level 1 and thus hints at the fact that it is well possible to have learners at age 15 who could still be described by the features of level 1.

With regard to the procedures of the project we sometimes felt the restrictions of the limited funding in the EU-Comenius-program. The project partners would have liked to have the expert-discussions all taped, transcribed and translated into English but this was impossible because of these limits. This restriction of course limits the research options with the data collected. In a more general perspective, this shows that international research needs to acknowledge the higher demand of resources for ensuring common work on data from different linguistic contexts.

We also experienced the hardship of ensuring a common language among the project partners. English was our working language, for none of us English was the mother tongue. Thus, the wording of the Framework was particularly difficult. Addressing native speakers and translators for help sometimes even enriched our discussion: We would then have even more versions, but would still have to work out which would fit best.

Ensuring the outcome on the level of publications also proved difficult: To run an international website and a forum together has limits. In fact, it proved ← 176 | 177 → necessary to gain more independence with partners in the long run – again an economical issue.

It has to be acknowledged that our expert-groups were crucial. In the frame of qualitative research small samples are acceptable. However, given the international diversity the project might have benefited from more groups per country. Still, the validation process was smooth and coherence between partners encouragingly strong.

As to the potentials of our project we can also raise a few points: The curriculum comparison shows that the different partners all have poly-paradigmatic curricula. It is to be expected that at least within Europe commonalities on the level of curriculum are strong enough to research the field of L1 education in an international perspective – under the presupposition of an awareness of potential differences.

LiFT-2 is a pragmatic project in many respects: The project plan could rely on a model, the sample was small, and we have pointed to some of the limits of our work. However, the project apparently succeeds in providing a sensible tool for different contexts, both for in-service and pre-service teacher training. In reaching out to practitioners the project seems particularly rich in its clear ambition to remain close to teaching, to the classroom experience of teachers and their pedagogical content knowledge, also to the language which is used by professionals and in literature teaching at school (rather than at university). Encounters with the teachers as experts in the project were encouraging and illuminating for both sides. Teachers generally appreciated the expert-discussions as a forum to share and develop their knowledge and professional praxis.

Hence, LiFT-2 shows that international research and development can benefit from national research and development. It also offered a platform to share differences and learn about teaching traditions and the research approaches the respective partners would follow. Its result, namely the Framework, reaches out to an international audience and can ease academic discussion, also because it offers instruments in a potentially common language, that is ‘working English’. Thus, we would argue that LiFT-2 contributes to international understanding in literature education and at the same time to an awareness of difference. It even may help to stabilise and develop a common style of thinking among protagonists of research and development in L1 literature education.

With regard to new research questions of common interest in an international context an extension of the Framework would be fruitful. This extension could concern younger learners (grade 3–6) and other genres, particularly poetry. Besides, it would be beneficial to explore the traces of tensions further: What are the differences on the level of textbooks, teaching material and tasks? What are ← 177 | 178 → the differences on the level of teaching, including the value and relevance of literature in L1 education? What are the conditions of successful implementation of the Framework in teaching? Finally, the various aspects of difference could be explored in their interrelatedness: The national contexts bring about various forms of schooling, teacher-training differs etc. Thus, national differences, though they did not serve as a starting point in the LiFT-2 project (as in IMEN), became accessible to some extent and lead to new research questions which could be dealt with on an international level.


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Project links:

1 The term Fachdidaktik refers to an academic discipline which focuses on learning and teaching in a specific domain. Fachdidaktik Deutsch is thus linked to literary studies and linguistics on the one hand and to learning and teaching in literature and language on the other hand. As an academic discipline Fachdidaktik is concerned with theory and research while at the same time aiming at improving teaching and learning in the field.

2 The project is described more extensively in Pieper (2014).

3 We here name the project-leader and the responsible project-partners in the partner-countries. The teams often involved more experts. This can be traced on the websites of the partners, to be accessed via: (22.01.2016).

4 See the website (22.01.2016). The website constantly offers new recommendations of books. The system of levels also often structures the way books are arranged in school libraries. Learners are encouraged to monitor their own development by moving up in their choices and their performance. For a more extensive account of the ‘empirically grounded theory of literary development’ in English see Witte et al. (2012).

5 It would also be possible to consider it as a preliminary task.

6 School systems vary considerably in Europe with regard to forms of schooling and grades in relation to age.

7 This part takes up central insights spelt out in the article by Witte/Sâmihăian (2013).

8 Adapted from Ongstad et al. (2004), Verboord (2005), Rijlaarsdam/Janssen (1996), Sawyer/Van de Ven (2007) and Witte et al. (2006). For the notion of competences see

9 Bavaria is considered a traditionally conservative ‘land’ in the South, as conservative politics have always influenced their educational policies; Lower Saxony is a ‘land’ which has always seen more political change and whose curricula have been shaped by policies of the Social Democrats and their respective partners more strongly; and Thuringia is seen as a new ‘land’ with possible traces of East-German traditions, but open to various developments. The curricula covered are those of the Gymnasium.

10 There are a few competences we could not classify because they were not clear or relevant for our literary perspective.

11 A table illustrating the results can be found in Witte/Sâmihăian (2013, p. 15).

12 See the table in Witte/Sâmihăian (2013, p. 17).

13 The Quick Scan has been revised in the course of the project in close exchange with the experts. See (22.01.2016).

14 The Framework can be accessed (in the various languages) via the website. An overview of the Framework in German is available here: (22.01.2016).

15 On the website these transitions are spelt out under the headline ‘how to lift’.