Adult ESL learners reading and discussing The great Gatsby: literary response to and perception of reading and discussing a narrative novel written in English



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The purpose of this study was to examine how adult students in a reading class offered in a college-affiliated ESL program responded to The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald, 1925; GG, afterwards) in small group book discussion sessions over eight weeks, and how they perceived their reading and discussing experiences. Analysis of students' literary responses demonstrated students' strategies in constructing textual meaning and transformation of their meaning-making strategies across time. Students in this study made sense of the text by making connections between the textual world and the text, themselves, and the world around them. Students also brought into discussion their reading experiences and a critical approach to the text. The percentage of comments devoted to each response category illustrated the changes in the focus of discussion and meaning making strategies across time. Taking up the novel, initially students spent more time discussing the historical context of the text and formulating connections with themselves and the world. Students were self-conscious about their reading difficulties. Further along in their reading, as they derived more information from the text, their discussion became more text-centered. Inferential comments and emotional reactions became more frequent elements in discussion, and talk about the reading experience itself and contextual information about the text diminished. Perceptions expressed about their reading experience of the literary text in their second language were predominantly about the enjoyment of reading and challenges and rewards in terms of: 1) language challenges, 2) culture challenges, and 3) literary challenges. Analysis of students' perceptions of their experiences in literary discussion as they read GG revealed their enjoyment of discussions and appreciation of how literary discussion had enriched their interpretation of the novel by providing opportunities for: 1) checking up on the textual information, 2) exchanging opinions, and 3) building a sense of learning community.