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A comparative study of the responses made by grade 11 Vancouver students to Canadian and New Zealand poems Ross, Harry Campbell


This study was a response to the current movement to introduce more Canadian content into the literature curriculum of Canadian schools. It examined the assumptions behind the movement by asking three main questions: (1) To what extent are Vancouver students able to recognize Canadian poems? (2) Do Vancouver students respond to Canadian poems in a way that is measurably different from their response to other poems? (3) Do any such differences in response depend upon information extrinsic to the poems—such as that provided in the label "A Canadian Poem"—and thus derive from attitudes established prior to the reading of a particular poem rather than, or as well as, from an encounter with the poem itself? These questions were shown to relate to important general questions about student response to literature, especially those bearing upon the relationship between a literary work and the world known to the reader. The design (a fully crossed 2x2 "factorial" with 12 replications) provided that twenty-four Vancouver grade eleven classes listen to taped recordings of a pair of unfamiliar poems and, concurrently, read them privately. The students were then asked to respond to the poems freely, in writing. There were twelve poem pairs, each pair consisting of one Canadian poem and one New Zealand poem. All poems represented landscapes. Each pair was presented to two different classes (in reversed order to counter order effects). The Canadian poem set was refined by sampling half from British Columbia and half from other Canadian regions. Separate analysis was made of responses to each poem sub-group. Each class was divided, randomly, in two. The Canadian poem in the pair that was given to one class sub-group was labelled as Canadian. The New Zealand poem in the same pair was labelled as Non-Canadian. The same Canadian and New Zealand poems given to the other class sub-group were not so labelled. The responses were subjected to content analysis by a scheme designed for the study. Its reliability by percentage overlap was 91.5%. Analysis was descriptive, with the Chi-Square statistic assisting description. A number of supporting instruments were employed to make possible various finer comparisons and to yield data for future research. Of the research questions, the first and second were answered negatively: little discriminatory recognition and little response difference were detected. The third question was answered positively: there was considerable evidence that students, when they knew the origins of the Canadian poems, favoured those poems in a variety of response dimensions (such as Evaluation, Comprehension, Visualisation, and Involvement). Regional differences did exist, the British Columbia poems being less favoured than the other Canadian poems. The attempt to establish a working base for ongoing exploration was successful. Statistically significant and/or important findings emerged in several areas. Some were: the adjectival pairs students used in characterizing their responses to the poems; stated preferences between poems; the effects on response when there is strong "transfer" between the poem and what is familiar to the student; and the students' desire for more Canadian literature in their schools. The study concluded with a statement of implications for curriculum planning and teaching strategy, and some suggestions for future research.

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