Date of Submission

July 2004


This thesis investigates the practice of set text study as it is encountered within the English curriculum of a Victorian secondary school. The study evolved from a range of concerns to do with the researcher's own teaching and the attitudes being expressed in her school community. It developed into an investigation of the student experience of reading, and of studying the required texts in subject, English This research aims to: provide understanding of the development of set text study and to consider whether this construct is meeting the goals of contemporary English teaching examine both the beliefs which underpin the practices and the practices themselves provide greater understanding of the way students experience this aspect of their school learning consider how notions of transformation, insight and emerging identity through literature study fit with student experience Five guiding research questions address the issues which gave rise to the study. These questions provide a focus and structure throughout the research process. The questions address issues of: students' school and non-school reading practices, enjoyment, beliefs about learning, ideology and specifically, the potential influence of textual representations of suicide and adult characters on a teenage student's emerging sense of self. An overview of key theoretical positions on the act of reading situates the attitudinal and theoretical aspects of this research. The practical orientation of this study is situated alongside research on the experience of reading and of teaching literature, both from Australia and overseas. This thesis adopts a phenomenological approach within a constructivist framework. A qualitative methodology using a case-study approach, allows for the prolonged engagement necessary to explore the research questions and develop the sort of relationship necessary to facilitate the in-depth and reflective responses being sought.;In-depth interviews (both face-to-face interviews and on-line chat sessions) are the primary data-gathering tool. In reporting the findings, the student voice is privileged. Practical and theoretical notions of communication and language are explored. The processes used to undertake this research are reflected upon and some possibilities for incorporating some of these methods into a school learning context are considered. While the focus of the study is to increase understanding of individual experience, some clear findings emerge. Although reading played an important part in the non-school lives of most of these students, the school experience of reading was more often than not, disappointing. Key factors which students perceived as contributing to their lack of enjoyment and satisfaction included: text choice, lack of challenge in lesson content, the sameness of the associated tasks, the behaviour of peers and lack of opportunity for having their opinions heard. Almost conversely, the students who gained greatest satisfaction reported on: particular texts, the creativity and scope for individual input of required tasks, teacher involvement, more positive class interaction and specific modelling by teachers of required tasks. The thesis concludes with recommendations for structural support (both whole school and classroom) to enable the positive shared reading experiences to become the experience of more students. It challenges the sanctity of the set text and offers a range of alternatives. In calls on teachers to consider the implications of entering a continuing story of students' reading and to work at developing better ways of incorporating components of effective non-school reading practices into school reading practices. The concerns regarding the potential negative influence of set texts on a student's identity were not validated in this research. However new concerns for students' well being did emerge.;The research indicates that set texts can make a difference to the quality of students' lives. By incorporating a range of texts and class activities, by knowing students as well as possible, and by fully engaging as co-readers, teachers are in a better position to minimise student distress and to attend to the work of creating democratic reading environments with the greatest potential for reading success for everyone.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


221 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Faculty of Education