Lydia Kokkola

Young peoples reading skills - the focus of new research at LUT

Published: 16 November 2012

By examining the kinds of texts young people read and combining this with research in the neurosciences, the newly installed professor of English and pedagogy, Lydia Kokkola, analyzes how young people read rather than what they read.


Reading electronic materials, such as the internet and e-books, requires different reading strategies from more traditional text types. Young people need to learn to skim through large quantities of information quickly, and form rapid decisions. Research within the neurosciences reveals that young people who spend more than two hours a day gaming or transitioning quickly between text types shows signs of degeneration in the cortex. Amongst other things, this affects the brain's ability to concentrate for long periods.

- There is a good deal of research on the young brain development during a learning processes. I want to pair it with my research topic and thus interpret neuroscience in a literary context, says Lydia Kokkola

Lydia Kokkola will in her newly started project explore how young people learn rather than what they learn in order, ultimately, to provide support for various reading strategies. While the Internet accounts for much of the time teenagers spend reading, we are also living in an era when youngsters are fascinated by long fantasy series like the Twilight-series, The Hunger games-trilogy and Harry Potter that require concentration for long periods. Both types of skills are required for reading and Kokkola’s future research will focus on how the balance between the two can be achieved.

- There is currently little research on the tools adolescents need to read; most research on reading focusses on young children or people with reading difficulties. Adolescents need more advanced reading skills such as recognizing allusion or assessing truthfulness. Not everything on the internet is true! For me, drawing on our understanding of how the brain functions provides a way into considering how we can help to develop adolescents’ range of reading skills, says Lydia Kokkola.

Interaction between literature and learning

Lydia Kokkola held her inaugural lecture during Luleå University of technology’s academic festival “Högtid”. In that lecture, she shared her thoughts on English as a skill and as a research object. She has a 15 year long academic journey behind her with teaching at the University of Turku, Åbo Akademi University and the University of Vaasa. The interaction between literature and learning is a recurrent theme throughout Lydia Kokkola’s research career.

- In my licentiate thesis I investigated spoken language in children aged 5-7 years. Then in my doctoral dissertation, I researched on children aged 7-9 years who learned English in classes where instruction on other subjects, such as music, was in English. In Finland it is common for children to learn a second language, English, already at age three, and then storytelling is very important for their learning, says Lydia Kokkola.

Traumas in literature

Lydia Kokkola has previously participated in an interdisciplinary project on the connection between children’s literature and ‘pure’ literature and ‘applied’ as a form of education. Children’s Literature: Pure and Applied (ChiLPA) was a Finnish Ministry of Education project which can for three years. During this time, Prof. Kokkola worked on a study of how literature can be used to tell the children about the Holocaust. She has also worked on other forms of trauma in literature, such the on-going civil war in Sri Lanka and self-harming amongst teens. Since then, Kokkola has studied the image of sexuality conveyed through literature to adolescents. The latter via Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS, founded in 2008) whose goal is to help cutting-edge research in the humanities and social sciences. Her monograph on this subject is in press with John Benjamins.

- I have been interested in how traumas such as rape and incest are portrayed in literature. In the literature, adolescence is presented as though it were inherently traumatic, especially within the Anglophone culture. Teenage experiences of the on-set of sexual feelings are often treated in adolescent teenage fiction as though it were a problem that needed resolution. My forthcoming book is only concerned with Anglophone books. Swedish and Finnish children's books have a more sophisticated approach to these issues, and I hope to write more about that for readers who cannot read these books.

At Luleå University of Technology, where she is a newly installed professor of English with education, Lydia Kokkola wants to be able to continue building a strong research environment.

- We have started to recruit doctoral students and I hope that will be able to find finding for further students to join us. I am trying to connect the work of the senior researchers at the department to larger projects within the subject. Writing scientific articles promotes cooperation, which I really want to achieve. Given how positive my new colleagues have been about this idea, and the exciting work they have produced, I see no obstacles, says Lydia Kokkola.