viernes, 31 de marzo de 2017

The role of the mediator in an online literary discussion with Spanish and Mexican students

Edgar Armando Córdova García specialised in teaching Spanish as a native language at the Universidad Virtual del ITESM and has a Masters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature from the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Currently he coordinates the Programme for the Mediation of Reading and Writing for the Department of Education of Durango state (Mexico).

Research question

The aim of this study was to describe the functions of the mediator in an online literary discussion with young people from Spain and Mexico. Hence, the following question was raised: What actions does the mediator of an online literary discussion display that facilitate the making of inferences by participants with regards to a text?


This study adheres to the works surrounding the literary discourse of the past decade (Fittipaldi, 2008; Cuperman, 2010; Colomer and Fittipaldi et. al, 2012). It starts from the premise that, in school: “literary discussion is a didactic instrument for the comprehension of texts and the creation of reading habits” (Colomer and Fittipaldi 2012, 87).

The literary discussion was carried out on the LEOTECA[1] platform, between the 1st and 16th of March 2016. The participants were 23 students who attend secondary school in Mexico and Spain. The students from Mexico belong to the Telesecundaria[2] “Mano Amiga” of the city of Durango and the young people from Spain study at the Instituto Escuela Secundaria “Diego Jesús Jiménez” in the Province of Cuenca.

The selected text is called “En un Latido” (In a Heartbeat) and is part of the anthology by Montse Ganges (2016). The story is narrated by the Chac Mool[3]. It is about Balam[4], a farmer who is enslaved by the Mayans, and Canek, a young prince from Chicén Itzá and champion of the Ball Game[5]. Canek chooses Balam as his companion, and together they win many battles and are praised by their people. One day, however, Canek decides not to fight and they lose the game. As a result, both are sacrificed.

Methodology and design

As part of the research, the readers’ responses were analysed using a qualitative approach based on the categories of literary responses outlined in the Visual Journeys project (Fittipaldi, 2012), and the functions of the mediators were classified (Munita and Manresa, 2012). The resulting data was analysed by means of graphs or figures. The figures are segments of the tree (literary discussion) that describe the interactions between the participants. This allows the identification of the reader response paths and the construction of inferences.

Emphasis on the content of the illustrations. Identification, enumeration, description and the establishment of simple connections.
Search for the meaning of the illustrations. Speculation, prediction, inference, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and critical thinking. Use of reasoning and proposal for interpretation.
Identification and description of the elements of the narrative: characters, actions, and framework.
Interpretation of the elements that construct the narrative: the character’s motivations, inferences stemming from the actions, relationship between the frame and the story, etc.
(The book as a material and artistic object)
Who? What? Where?
Identification and description of the book as an object, of the paratext and other visual elements, of the communication situation (author, readers, edition, etc.), and of the concept of reading.
Interpretation of the diverse visual elements that are typical of the communication situation proposed by the text.
Awareness of the artistic intentions of the author and the role of the implicit reader.

Intertextual and intercultural (The cultural and intercultural connections of the text)
Identification and allusion to Intertextual, metaphorical, and symbolic references of cultural representations.
Establish the relations between the text and the intertextual, metaphorical, and symbolic representations previously mentioned.
Use of  Intertextual knowledge as a tool for interpreting the story and negotiating meaning.
Personal experience
Establish simple connections between the text and the life experience of the readers.
Establish thoughtful connections between the text and the life experience of the readers.
Table 1 Categorization model of reader’s responses from Visual Journeys’ project.
Source: Fittipaldi (2012)

It was thought that the qualitative paradigm from Discourse Analysis could constrain and explain the object of the study through the use of a priori categories, thus viewing the readers’ responses as a web of discourse. Rapley (2007) states that the analysis of conversation focuses on how speakers interact to achieve their goals. In this case, the mediator’s questions are prompts to speak and the readers’ responses are a bridge between literal meaning and inference based on the narration.

Following Munita and Manresa (2012), the functions of the mediator used in this study are to:

  a.     Help search for textual evidence
  b.     Help in the construction and foundation of arguments
  c.     Relate the discussion to other books and previous knowledge
  d.     Offer a metalanguage with which to talk about books
  e.     Reformulate, synthesise and systematise what is said in order to progress the discussion and establish concepts and content


In this research, the functions of the mediator were analysed based on the literary planning achievements (Chambers, 2007), through three figures that represent the interactions of the network of literary discussion.

One of the functions of mediation is to help in the search for textual indices or clues. Likewise, the mediator should try to get the text to leave “something,” intimate, personal and mysterious that is never fully defined by the reader or the text. For this reason, the mediator asked: “When you came to the character Canek, what stories did you see in your head while reading?” Carolinapc visualizes Canek entrusting his life to Balam. Meanwhile, Marisolpc mentally recreates the scene where Balam is intentionally losing. In both cases the theme of the discussion is the binary of life and death.

Figure 1. Textual clues on the binary of life and death

The child Dsd8 states: "I imagined bloodthirsty people waiting for some to die, fearful yet courageous players, who at the time of dying thought about their loved ones, and those who were winning, the seconds seeming endless to them, and those who were losing, hoping for them to become eternal." In this statement the word blood emerges as a symbol of both life and death. The words courage and fear also appear, allusions to Eros and Thanatos. Therefore, this segment of the conversational network was titled: Figure 1. Textual clues on the binary of life and death.

Another duty of the mediator, similar to that of the philosopher, is to situate themselves in the question rather than in the answer. That is, to never affirm that a question is completely defined and thus to place themselves in a synthetic perspective between the reader-text and search for dialectic thought.

For this reason, the mediator selects a question whose answer can have two simultaneous strands. The question is: “In the end, the Chac Mool says ‘but do not feel sorry for me, because I was once someone very important: I was the Balam, the noblest and bravest’ Why does he say this? Was he the same character or were they different? What do you think?”

Most reader responses insist that Balam and Chac Mool were the same character (Figure 2. To read is to find a blind spot). However, there are not sufficient textual clues to confirm either this reply or the reply that Chac Mool was simply a witness who contemplated the life of Balam and thought that at some point he was Balam. This was confirmed by the author on the discussion thread that she participated in with the students[1]. Therefore, the mediator qualifies the students' assertions, asking them to provide arguments to be discussed by the literary community. To read is to try to answer the question that has no single answer or that leads to a blind spot (Figure 2).

Figure 2. To read is to find a blind spot

Since it is evident that the readers had understood that Balam, the main character, was a hero, the mediator decided to ask questions regarding Canek. Canek is a secondary character whose voice is hardly heard and who is known only by the actions described by the Chac Mool.

Consequently, the mediator opted for the following prompt: “I propose that we think of Canek: how does Canek value the attitude of Balam? And what do you think of Canek's attitude towards his partner and what is happening in his village?” The responses of the students were: selfish, very selfish and only thinks of himself. However, there is a response by ChicodelAtun that goes beyond the positioning of the main character by the author of the story: "I think he is a bit selfish, but it is also understandable that he is this way because in the Mayan culture the game was very important" (Figure 3, To understand is to take ownership of the secondary character).

This response infers the motives and feelings of Canek that determine his actions, that is, it refers to context of the Mayan culture. This is a product of the function of the mediator: to help the reader in the construction and foundation of his or her arguments.

 Figure 3. To understand is to take ownership of the secondary character


     1. The procedure of analysing the data through graphs of the conversational network facilitates the processing of the interactions between the participants of an online literary discussion, given that:

a.     The mediator's instructions and the reading responses form a conversational network
b.  The structure of the network contributes to the description and explanation of the principal and new functions of the mediator
       2. New functions of the mediator are determined:

a.     To help the reader's inner knowledge
b.     To propitiate reading as a contemplative experience
c.     To infer the actions and motivations of the secondary characters
      Online discussion, unlike literary discussion within the classroom, is an exercise in self-reflection for the mediating teacher. It becomes a space to professionalize their performance as a mediator, since it brings to light their successes, weaknesses and strengths by allowing them to read themselves. In addition, it is possible to identify who intervened, who replied to whom, the exact sequence of the entries and how they were thought out and written; as well as describing the reading trajectories of the participants, who replied, who assumed mediation roles and who did not participate in the chat. It also allows the participants to state everything they need, think and feel – even regarding the mediator – without any fears.

      It is advisable for teachers, librarians or promoters of reading to implement online literary discussions supervised by specialists, to bring an awareness to their mediation process and thus become better mediators.


Chambers, A. (2007). Dime. Los niños, la lectura y la conversación. México: FCE.

Colomer and Fittipaldi et al (2012).  La literatura que acoge: Inmigración y lectura de   álbumes. Barcelona: Banco del Libro-Gretel/SM.

Cuperman, R. C. (2010). Las respuestas lectoras en niños preadolescentes: espejo de la agresión. Bellaterra: journal of teaching and learning language and literature, 2(2), 123-137. Seen the 20th of March 2016 on

Fittipaldi M. (2008). Travesías textuales: inmigración y lectura de imágenes. Trabajo final de investigación del Master en Didactica Lengua y Literatura. Dirección de T. Colomer, Departament de Didáctica de la Llengua, de la Literatura i les CCSS. Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.

Fittipaldi M. (2012). Categorización de las respuestas infantiles ante los textos literarios. In Colomer y Fittipaldi La literatura que acoge: inmigración y lectura de álbumes (pp.69-86). Barcelona: Banco del Libro- Gretel/SM.

Ganges M. (2016). Lo que cuentan las estatuas del mundo. Ediciones Ekare

Munita y Manresa (2012). La categorización de las respuestas infantiles ante los textos literarios. Análisis de algunos modelos y propuestas de clasificación. In Colomer y Fittipaldi (ed)  La literatura que acoge: Inmigración y lectura de álbumes, pp.119-143. Barcelona: Banco del Libro-Gretel.

Rapley, T. (2014). Los análisis de la conversación, del discurso y de documentos en Investigación Cualitativa. Morata.

[1] See for information on the conversation thread the author had with the students.

[1] LEOTECA is an online community for children and adults with a shared interest in children’s and young adult literature.
[2] Telesecundaria is a system of distance education programs via satellites for secondary and high school students created by the government of Mexico.
[3] The Chac Mool refers to a Mayan sculpture depicting a reclining figure with its head facing 90 degrees from the front, supporting a bowl upon its stomach used to hold sacrificial offerings.
[4] Balam means jaguar in Mayan.
[5] The Ball Game was a sport played in Mesoamerica that had important ritual aspects and sacred ends. Played in a rectangular field, players could only hit the ball with their hips, knees and forearms. Penalties were given to the team who touched the ball with their hands or lost the ball more than once; the winning team was the one with the least number of faults or that scored the most points. 

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