Graded readers, simplified versions of literature and other texts at graduated levels of difficulty, are widely employed in contexts of foreign language pedagogy and are widely considered to be a form of written-language input ostensibly suitable for a wide array of developmental stages. However, the efficacy of graded readers is not unchallenged, among which criticisms is that the language in a graded work of literature is, by nature, aesthetically inert and inauthentic, in comparison to the original. Still, from an L2 literacies-development perspective, could one not justifiably accept that aesthetic impoverishment and inauthenticity are reasonable, perhaps also unavoidable, compromises? Practically, what, for example, could a typical intermediate-level learner of EFL be expected to glean from a nineteenth-century English novel? Would the language-learning needs of this learner not be better addressed through engagement with an appropriately graded version of the same novel, facilitating optimally fluent—and, therefore, assumedly more enjoyable and motivating—reading practice?
This article reports on research that addressed precisely these questions, focusing specifically on Japanese university students’ involvement with and interaction around George Eliot’s (1861) Silas Marner. Applying comparative textual analysis and qualitative case-study methods, and viewed through a social semiotic conceptual lens, the researchers investigated the relative meaning-making affordances of graded-reader and original versions of the novel and examined turn-by-turn the semiotic work performed by a group of Japanese university students as they collaboratively unpacked this challenging piece of fiction. Findings suggest that the authentic text, however difficult, afforded rich meaning- making possibilities that would have been unavailable through engagement with graded readers. Importantly, too, the results indicate that active peer collaboration, a process that entailed the individual contribution and cooperative synthesis of a diversity of textual and extra-textual semiotic resources, was vital to actualizing these learning opportunities. On the basis of this analysis, the paper concludes with a preliminary argument for the pedagogical efficacy of promoting collaborative dysfluency in L2 literacies education—over and above the individually oriented aim of reading fluency as conventionally defined.