Understanding and Text Properties: Investigating Readers’ Sense-making Processes


Literary reading and the comprehension of literary text(s) has long been a key part of education. While reading comprehension in general has received a fair amount of attention, empirical research on comprehension processes of literary texts is still relatively rare; and yet, it is advisable to gain a thorough understanding of comprehension processes along with potential difficulties and hurdles to understanding specifically of literary texts. To address this issue, we analyse such comprehension processes in a group of university students of English as a second language, drawing on a test based on Shakespeare’s sonnet 43 which employs standardised, open-ended questions. Our research has two goals: firstly, to analyse readers’ approaches that result in a more or less successful decoding of the text they are presented with, and, secondly, to explore whether different textual phenomena help or hinder understanding. We find that strong and weak readers employ similar reading strategies, they do differ, however, with regard to their literary response, with weak readers more likely to draw on irrelevant associations not warranted by the text. In addition, we are able to show that some textual phenomena are more difficult to understand than others. We discuss possible implications of our findings for teaching.

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