What emerges from the classroom data is that the personal experience and reflections of students, the collaborating and dialoguing together in class is as important as the analytical activity of looking at the text from the various perspectives encompassed in my framework. In the first lesson, students took a greater distance towards the text, took on an outside position, and seemingly approached the task of discussion as a traditional pedagogic activity, where a ‘correct’ answer is expected. Generally speaking, it was not until the second lesson, when we looked at the cultuurtekst perspective when students started to take a more dialogic approach to the text, relating the text to their personal experiences, which in turn influenced their interpretation of the text.
Over the two lessons, the discussion in class became more ‘dialogic’ as the lessons progressed, both in relation to the text - students engaged with the text at various levels, but also in terms of class discussion - students initially answered my questions directly to me, but soon started to respond to one another and collaborated (or clashed with one another on a couple of occasions) in interpreting the text. On the whole, it could be said that students’ understanding of the text gradually moved from the level of text as a product, to text as cultuurtekst, recognizing underlying values. However, this was not a neat and linear progress. There were significant learning moments, but students’ understanding of the discourses in the text remained frequently at an implicit level. At times, it also felt that students had negated their earlier understanding of the text. Students used a variety of approaches to interpreting the text and these approaches also differed from student to student.
There were occasions where the students were intercultural in their attempts to understand the text from the inside, i.e. engaging with the cultural meaning of the text in relation to their own lived experiences. They also tried to understand and critique the values contained in the text. In that sense, students were ethnographic and engaging. However, students did not reflect on their own interpretation of the text, so as such they did not make their own reality ‘strange’. This was not surprising, as I had not invited students to be reflexive. I only conceptualized the notion of text ethnography and its reflexive aspect as a result of this data analysis. Students did, however, take a position of critique as they reflected on the ideological underpinnings of the text and its representation of normalizing the discourse of women being soft, gentle, caring, and dependent.
Interestingly, the deeper insights by students occurred when they moved away from the exercise of text analysis and made the discussion their own. The ‘talking around the text’ became the most dialogic, insightful, and even academic discussions of the two lessons, where students recognized the power structures that regulate women’s personal life choices in terms of career and motherhood.
Whilst in the first lesson, students conceived of the discussions at the ‘text level’ as a more traditional learning task, responding to questions and tasks, in the second lessons students created their own dialogic space in which they collaborated to talk around the text, which at times also took on elements of discursive mapping. Students moved from particular interpretations and readings to other ones, even if these seemed to be conflicting. In doing so they created their own changing, what I call, ‘context of discussion’, a shared experience of learners engaging in the task of making sense of a text, mapping discourses, and relating it to their own experiences. Students’ readiness to engage in different interpretations or articulations showed their responsibility to one another in the classroom discussions. The dialogic space in the classroom gives rise to a fluidity of the ‘context of discussion’, opening up opportunities for sharing experiences, for expressing thought in a continuing shifting exchange of ideas, emotions and experiences.
The notion of Dutch articulation did not lead to any insights or, even considered discussions. The Dutch student, Marijke, did acknowledge that the discourses in the text were recognizable in terms of what was published in the Netherlands, but this point was not taken up further by anyone. I think in retrospect, the notion of articulation would need to be developed further as it is at a very subtle level that this takes place. The evidence from the classroom discussion suggests that the idea of a national articulation leads to uncritical comparisons and feeds into confirming stereotypes. However, one student did introduce an interesting notion, by implying that ways of talking about a topic, such as sex, can be nationally articulated to a degree, depending on to what degree it is included and how it is talked about in education.
Nevertheless, I believe the tendency to confirm stereotypes shows how careful we need to be in focusing on national patterns. Even if there may be a Dutch articulation in texts, or indeed discourses, this is only a particular tendency at a particular time and in a particular environment. Such an articulation is only one of various other articulations and of other discourses. Since students had difficulty making sense of the multiple discourses, or voices in the text, and had a tendency to interpret the text only in the light of one of these, focusing on a ‘national’ articulation carries with it the risks of confirming or creating new stereotypes which should probably not be tackled until students have a fuller and more balanced understanding of the complexities of national identity.