Vass, D. (2018). The attitude of 6-8-year-old pupils towards tales. Hungarian Educational Research Journal, 8(1), 80-92, DOI:10.14413/HERJ/8/1/5
The attitude of 6-8-year-old pupils towards tales
In 1910, the Hungarian Society for Child Study (Magyar Gyermektanulmanyi Tarsasag) – initiated by Laszlo Nagy – launched a survey conducted among 6-8-year-old pupils, which was evaluated and processed by Laszlo Nogrady in 1917. Nearly 50 years later, Bela Toth thoroughly re-visited the issue of literary interest among young pupils. Since Toth’s research, another 50 years passed, and pupil interest might have also altered. The present empirical research analyses the attitudes of first-graders towards tales. The research respondents were 267 first grade primary school pupils from Vojvodina who were personally and individually interviewed based on the broadened version of the Toth interview questionnaire. The research results provide a complex image of the 6-8-year-old pupils’ reading habits as well as of who reads to them at home, what reading skills they dispose of, what kinds of literary texts they are interested in, what type of tale heroes they prefer. The research results not only provide valuable information upon the possibilities of developing pupils’ reading habits, but also a basis for the re-writing of textbooks and readers. The findings of the research may also be useful for libraries regarding their re-stocking phases.
Keywords: reading, first class, 6-8 years old pupils
In Hungary, at the beginning of the 20th century, regardless of the vast supply of tales, pedagogy did not pay much attention to the value of tales. Similarly, not much concern was given to the tale requirements of beginning readers. Texts at the beginning of the 20th century were not adequate for the taste of children, namely throughout the processes of reading acquisition beginning readers were provided only with short storylines of an educational purpose (Nogrady, 1917). At the beginning of the 1900’s, the educational, cognitive, social and personality developmental values of tales were acknowledged, later on their absence from pedagogy was also identified. However, regardless of not providing children with readings of their own taste, they were reading with joy and content (Nogrady, 1917). In 1910, on the initiation of Laszlo Nagy, the Hungarian Society for Child Study started a research among 6-8-year-old pupils in Hungary focusing on their literary interests. The survey was evaluated by Laszlo Nogrady in 1917, i.e. a century ago.
50 years later, in 1967, Bela Toth, referring to the de-emphasis of 6-8-year-old pupils’ literary interests, investigated the issue of primary school pupils’ literary taste in great depth. With similar research methods applied by Nogrady, the subject was re-visited and re-surveyed.
The author of the present study has already addressed the representation of the Toth research and the social attitude of reader education in the 20th century in two separate studies (Vass, 2015; 2017c). One of the studies which concludes that the values of tales are a common knowledge for the laypeople as well (Vass, 2017c), and rich professional literature approaches tales as a concept of pedagogy and scientific interpretation (Arnica, 2005; Bettelheim, 2011; Boldizsar, 2010; Erdelyi, 2012; Kadar, 2012; Nyitrai, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016; Petrolay, 2013; Spitz, 2015). It is also common knowledge that tales positively influence the process of children becoming adults (Bettelheim, 2011), they also provide mental support in achieving their goals (Boldizsar, 2010), thus tale reading to our children can never be a too early activity, merely the stories need to be adapted to their age (Bozoky, 2009; Vekerdy, 2013). Besides the verification of all these factors, the values of tales in the development of an individual’s cognitive, social and personal growth also play a crucial role (Bettelheim, 2011; Boldizsar, 2010; Kadar, 2012, 2014; Nyitrai, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016). However, it is also a common knowledge nowadays that children do not find reading to be joyful. Several research has dealt with this issue, whose authors argue that difficulties in reading acquisition induce the phenomenon (Bardos, 2009; Harper, 2009; Jozsa−Jozsa, 2014; Jozsa−Steklacs, 2009; Szenczi, 2013). According to them, first graders who show curiosity towards reading at the beginning of the academic year tend to show disinterest by the end of it. Researchers, following the survey of subsequent grades, pointed out that pupils do not find reading to be joyful, thus the issue needed to be addressed (Bardos, 2009; Benczik, 2009; Boldizsar, 2001; Gombos, 2010). Szenczi considered motivation to be relevant in handling this matter (2013), i.e. his research focused on primary school pupils attending fourth, sixth and eighth grades. Jozsa and Steklacs argue that in order for children to demand reading it is crucial to provide them with versatile types of texts (Jozsa−Steklacs, 2012); according to Boldizsar (2001) children ought to encounter with texts and readings they can emotionally be attached to; Cserhalmi (2001), however, argues upon the influential character of reading-books for the sake of taking to reading. In a previous study of mine (Vass, 2016a), the formation of positive attitudes towards reading has been emphasized starting the first grade of primary school education. It is indeed crucial to pay considerable amount of attention to the development of reading skills, but simultaneously it is also inevitably essential to establish positive attachment towards reading among young readers. Therefore, it is advisable to start this process by introducing texts and reading adequate to the interests of beginning readers.
Whereas in the 21st century, not much research has dealt with the attitudes of 6-8-year-old children towards literature and the above mentioned two surveys (Nogrady, 1917; Toth, 1967) addressed a still up-to-date issue with an effective and practical research sample, I considered it worthwhile to re-visit and re-think the subject of attitude analysis of 6-8-year-old children towards literature (Vass, 2016c). I strongly believe that for the establishment of positive emotional attachment towards reading it is inevitable for children to encounter such literary texts and tale-heroes that they admire and cherish. The relationship between favorite tale-heroes and readers has not been discussed and analyzed so far, except for two influential studies of the last century (Nogrady, 1917; Toth, 1967).
Data for the research was provided by first grade primary school pupils whose mother tongue is Hungarian in Vojvodina (N=267). The author conducted the interviews with the pupils in person and individually. In total, first grade primary school pupils from 16 municipalities
were interviewed during data collection (59.6% of the municipalities were villages, while 40.4% were towns). 146 of the respondents were female (54.7%) and 121 were male (45.3%). Their average of age is 7.29. Throughout the interviews which generally lasted 30 minutes, the following questions were discussed: whether pupils’ parents usually read to them at home, who reads to them as well as their favorite tale and its heroes were also touched upon. This introductory segment was followed by the pre-designed and planned (Vass, 2016b) illustration of tale-heroes out of which pupils were requested to choose their favorite characters and improvise a tale based on them. Based on their responses, various categories of tales were established. If any of the responses coincided with Toth’s categories, they were applied.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
Q1: What free time activities prefer 6-8-year-old children?
Q2: What reading skills do first grade primary school pupils have?
Q3: What reading habits do first grade primary school pupils have?
Q4: What literary texts 6-8-year-old children are interested in?
Q5: What tale-hero types raise the attention of 6-8-year-old children?
Q6: What tale-hero types are less interesting for 6-8-year-old children?
Q7: Do 6-8-year-old children prefer watching television to reading?
H1: First grade primary school pupils from Vojvodina are not interested only in stories related to the lives of other children and animals, but also in contemporary literary and natural scientific texts as well as contemporary poems.
H2: 6-8-year-old children from Vojvodina show interest in “different heroes” and not heroes from folk tales.
H3: 6-8-year-old children from Vojvodina show interest in heroes from folk tales who are endowed with new features.
H4: 6-8-year-old children’ literary taste is influenced by movies and cartoons they watch and also fancy, however they fail to encounter similarly positive experiences when they start to read texts and readings they are provided with.
H5: First grade primary school pupils tend to draw a parallel between the processes of reading and learning to read, while not the joy of reading.
Favorite free time activities
The first question of each interview was an enquiry upon the favorite free time activity of the pupil. The purpose of this question was to break the ice and dissolve the tension, thus children could open up and describe their favorite free time activities in great detail. Based on the responses, 11 categories were distinguished. It is important that pupils were allowed to list several activities. Their answers are illustrated in Graph 1.
Graph 1: Favorite free time activities of 6-8-year-old pupils
Source: authors’ own source
The majority of first grade primary school pupils in Vojvodina prefer playing outside (55.8%) to any other free time activities. The second favorite activity is playing on a technological device (36.7%), while the third one is situational games (34.5%). The various activities spent outside include playing in sand, climbing trees, hide-and-seek and running around: The category of technological devices include computer games and watching television. The category of situational games refers to role playing with dolls. The least favorite free time activities are playing board games (0.7%) and listening to music (0.9%). Based on the responses, it can be concluded that children of the age group under analysis prefer doing activities that they can acquire independently. Other activities, such as playing board games, listening to music, relaxing, doing handicraft (i.e. the least favorite free time activities) require parent-child co-operation, thus it can be assumed that either parents do not spend much time with their children or the family set the example for the children of occupying themselves on their own, however they seem not to enjoy it from some reason as it is not a common activity among their peers. The subject of favorite free time activities is worth further researching on in a separate study. By all means, the above discussed data will be relevant when the tale types fancied by pupils preferring to play with technological devices in their free time will be examined.
The reading habits of pupils
Graph 2 demonstrates the reading habits of pupils under analysis. The respondents were individually asked whether they read at home (first group of columns in Graph 2), if they still read at home or not any more (second group of columns in Graph 2), or who reads/used to read to them at home (third group of columns in Graph 2).
Graph 2: The reading habits of 6-8-year-old pupils
Source: authors’ own source
The 44.5% of the first grade primary school pupils of the 2015/2016 academic year did not partake in any tale reading activities at home, only 24.5% of children read often at home and 30.9% of them were read to by their parents. The 24.1% of pupils are read to at home nowadays (however, it can also be assumed that these activities are reading out tales that are for homework for the sake of practice), while the majority of pupils (31.2%) report that they used to be read to. It is usually their mother who reads to the pupils (84.5%), only in 8.1% the father or in 6.1% the grandparents (the statistics of siblings reading to the pupils cannot be evaluated since in several families, it is the older sibling who participated in this research or the respondent was an only child). To summarize the findings, the majority of first grade primary school pupils never read at home (44.5%), the 30.9% of pupils were rarely read to or they used to be read to, however their parents stopped doing so (31.2%).
Pupils’ reading skills
In order to provide accurate data for further research, it is crucial to survey what literary text types are appropriate for first grade pupils as well as their reading skills. Pupils read out the same text from the ABC Reader they were already familiar with. Special attention was paid to the timing of interviews, namely data collection was performed in spring by the time pupils had already acquired all the letters of the alphabet and disposed some level of reading skills. Graph 3 demonstrates the findings of pupils reading skills.
Graph 3: Pupils’ reading skills
Source: authors’ own source
Considering the level of reading skills, the majority of first grade pupils (38.6%) of the 2015/2016 academic year are on the level of word reading. The 36.3% of them read by syllables. By the end of the first academic year, 13.9% of pupils can read fluently, while the ratio of pupils who cannot read or only by letters is 5.2% and 6%. The majority of pupils participating in this research read without any errors (58.9%), or with a few errors (30.4%), and only 10.7% of them read with a lot of errors. However, the majority of pupils are still not skillful enough in reading as the 61.3% of them still prefer reading aloud. The second segment of Graph 3 demonstrates the ration of reading habits within the family, according to which pupils never or rarely (or only used to) read at home. The fourth segment of Graph 3 proves to confirm the fact that 6-8-year-old pupils read at home alone or without the assistance of their parents. Despite all the above mentioned circumstances, the level of reading skills among pupils in Vojvodina is rather satisfactory as by April and May the majority of first grade pupils were on the level of word reading.
Pupils’ favorite tale types
As it is rather challenging to reveal the favorite tale-types of primary school pupils since they have just begun reading acquisition and are in the process of integrating into the new social milieu, i.e. school system, thus the design of Graph 4 was preceded by a thorough and attentive process. Graph 4 demonstrates the various categories of tales preferred and mentioned by the respondents. During data collection, pupils told their favorite tales as well as elaborated their favorite part of the tale and explained why they loved it or what other types of tales they fancied. Graph 4 shows the various categories pupils elicited.
Graph 4: Pupils’ favorite tale types
Source: authors’ own source
Based on the data elicit during the individual interviews, it can be concluded that the 36.3% of 6-8-year-old pupils prefer animal fables the most, their second favorite type of tales are fairy tales and folk tales (26.3%). Only 10.3% of the respondents like combat or adventurous stories, while even less (8%) like encyclopedias. Considering stories upon children is the least favorite type of tale (5.3%), however poems and other texts were evaluated more positively, namely 7.6% and 6.1%. The latter has not received the category of literary text, since texts such as coloring books were put into this group. In light of this, 6-8-year-old children in the 1960’s had a considerable demand for tales. Readings of realistic plot (i.e. less fabular) such as combat and adventurous as well as stories about children’s lives were not subjects of interest for 6-8-year-old-children, since only 16% of first graders liked these types of tales, which rose among second graders to 24% considering readings of realistic plot. In the 1960’s the combat and adventurous readings were more popular among boys is second grade (from 5%, it increased to 22.6%), while female readers preferred child stories that proved to be of interest among 18% of girls in first grade, and 21.4% in second grade. The interest towards fairy tales did not decrease according to Toth (1967), on the contrary, it even increased among boys from 31.4% to 37.5% in second grade. However, the interest towards fables decreased.
Based on the above discussed results, it can be concluded that from the perspective of fifty years the interest of 6-8-year-old children towards fairy tales did not decrease. Nevertheless, statistical data should not distract us, as the real question is whether 21st century children do not partake in any reading experience at home, to what extent are they familiar with encyclopedias, combat or adventurous stories. The textbook repertoire of the school system is deliberately not mentioned as it has already been discussed in a previous study (Vass 2017a). Namely, none of the ABC readers in Vojvodina dispose of such types of texts. Thus, the majority of children drew a parallel between fairy tales, folk tales, fables and literary texts, which is positive as long as the following two graphs (Graph 5 and 6) are thoroughly analyzed.
Pupils’ favorite types of tale-heroes
The analysis of pupils’ attraction towards tale-hero types was based on a consciously designed and well-thought-out process (Vass, 2016b) leaning on tale-hero illustrations
. Among the illustrations, two types of tale-heroes were present: folk tale hero types (such as, wolf, haversack, young queen, young king, dragon, etc.) and hero types “different” from folk tales (bicycle, vampire, meerkat, pirate, soldier, etc.). Pupils familiarized with each illustration and could also make up a story with the characters. Those who refused to do so were requested to select their most favorite heroes and elaborate what roles they attributed them with (main role, supporting role, evil, other roles). Graph 5 demonstrates the statistical processing of the data.
Graph 5: Pupils’ favorite types of tale-heroes
Source: authors’ own source
Data analysis shows that the most favorite hero-type among 6-8-year-old pupils are magic steed (48.5%), witch (41.3%), dragon (40.3%), vampire (40.1%), death (36.1%), princess (33.7%), fox (29.5%), wolf (29.7), soldier (25.9), dinosaur (25.7%), pirate (25.6%) and snake (22.2%). The data provided above are rather versatile, thus the aspect of gender has been added to the analysis (Vass, 2017b). According to the gender examination, there is a gender based taste differentiation, to be specific female respondents preferred folk-tale hero types (such as, fairy, young queen, dragon, magic steed, rabbit, mouse, horse) and only two hero types did not fall into this category (school girl, cake); while male respondents proved to be more interested in non-traditional hero types (such as, meerkat, dinosaur, death, bicycle, pirate, soldier), and considering traditional tales, characters such as a wolf and snake were also popular among male respondents. Interestingly, the dragon character was not attractive among male, but among female respondents. I assume that the explanation for this phenomenon lies in the recent alteration of the dragon’s role in tales, namely they used to be evil in traditional folk tales, however as Trencsenyi (2014) also argues their role in tales has transformed. Boys prove to find it more difficult to identify with the tamable dragon, instead they opt for the preference of wolves, pirates and soldiers.
It is also worth looking into what roles are associated with the illustrated characters. Special focus is on the evil boy, girl, flower, magic steed and snake, wolf, dragon, witch, vampire, pirate and soldier in leading roles. These responses may also refer to the interest of children in tale-heroes that challenge traditional stereotypes.
Based on the data analysis, one can doubt that the majority of children prefer fairy tales and fables to combat and adventurous stories.
Literary texts versus motion pictures
The research also aimed to reveal whether respondents preferred literary texts (listening to or reading tales), or motion pictures (watching cartoons or movies). Graph 6 comprises their responses.
Graph 6: Literary texts versus motion pictures
Source: authors’ own source
According to the responses, the majority of 6-8-year-old pupils prefer motion pictures (63.2%) to literary texts (36.5%). The latter groups were further requested to explain why they preferred tales to motion pictures. A few of their responses are elicited: “It is good to read, because I am able to. My mother also tells me so.”, “It is important to read in order to acquire reading.”, “There are a few funny tales, but most of them aren’t. Unfortunately.”, “Sometimes I come across parts of the text that are interesting.”, “If I read a lot, I learn it by heart and I get a good grade.”, “I like reading. I improve and my mother is also happy.”
Based on the research data, the following questions might rise: if 6-8-year-old pupils like fables, folk tales and fairy tales the most, why do they show preference for tale-heroes that are different (in their outlook and inner features) from characters of fables and folk tales. Why do these pupils prefer motion pictures and cartoons to literary texts if their level of reading skills is word reading or fluent reading?
The answer is probably that the pupils participating in the research associate reading with the feeling of success, achievement obligation and living up to their parents’ expectations (as pupils’ answers on why they liked reading confirms the assumption). Reading tales is associated with the task of reading acquisition as well as scholarly achievements and not with emotional attachment to reading. Exciting heroes for children can be seen on television or cinema screens, while these heroes are different from the ones in folk tales or characters from folk tales that dispose of different features from traditional tales. Such expectations could be met by encyclopedias and contemporary tales, however, supposedly the majority of pupils participating in research did not come across or were not introduced to such texts as they do not partake in reading activities at home and no effort is made by schools to widen the repertoire of textbooks.
In conclusion, the research hypotheses are confirmed, as first grade primary school pupils in Vojvodina show preferences for contemporary literature and natural scientific texts as well as contemporary poems (H1); characters “different” from traditional ones (H2) and characters of folk tales who dispose of different features (H3). Their literary taste is remarkably influenced by movies and cartoons that impersonate heroes that they fancy while they fail to experience such emotions during reading (H4). Pupils associate the process of reading with reading acquisition and not with positive experiences (H5).
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