Difficulties in studying and teaching literature survey courses in English departments in Taiwan
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This multi-case (two-case) interpretive study investigated the difficulties in studying and teaching the required survey courses of British and American literature in traditional English departments in Taiwan as well as what the students and instructors did when encountering these difficulties. Conducted in two traditional English departments in Taiwan, this study had two types of participants: two instructors with different nationalities offering British literature and American literature respectively and the upper-division English majors enrolled in the two classes. The focal student groups from the two classes were volunteers. For cross-validation of the findings, the following data sources were included: classroom observation for eight weeks, questionnaire (mainly to guide the interviews), semi-structured text-based and in-depth interviews with focal groups, and in-depth interviews with the instructors. Along with classroom observation narratives and analytic memos, interview data with these informants were transcribed and analyzed. The findings of this study support prior scholarly discussions concerning the fact that students majoring in a foreign language lack target language proficiency and target cultural understanding, and thus the ability to understand the assigned literary texts. Although the masterworks used in these courses were considered to be difficult, it was found that both teacher influence and learner characteristics were even more significant in shaping how difficulties were experienced in studying and teaching literature written in English as a foreign language. Institutional or instructional factors such as curriculum requirements, course requirements, and course objectives were found directly to influence students’ difficulties and successes. Further, the findings of this study pointed to the importance of motivation-related issues, as shown in individual interest, aptitude, and motivational orientation, but seldom mentioned in previous scholarly arguments or research data. As a result, instructors encountered difficulties given in their teaching that characteristics of the learners could not be changed in the short term and those of choice of teaching materials were more or less fixed by the curriculum. Based on these findings, suggestions are made for curriculum designers and instructors teaching foreign literature as well as for future research.