I think we have all seen some students really lack motivation to tackle literature. It’s bigger than one classroom, and maybe even in one school. Kierkegaard bemoaned how the humanities were losing their true purpose (posing questions about how to lead a better life), and Rosenblatt believes the same, too.
It seems to me that close-analysis of literature is massively in vogue. It is also a sure-fire way of deprioritising the more interesting, human and discursive elements of reading and analysing literature. It is hard to unpick, I think, the intersections at which issues of EAL and motivation meet considerations of pedagogy.
Students are like teachers – homework will sometimes be sketchy and we cannot rely upon everyone sharing the same levels of cultural literacy. However, people are often motivated by lively and purposeful classroom discourse. If the majority of a class suffer from EAL issues so profound that they cannot discuss cultural issues in the classroom, then I think plenty of pedagogy shuts down. However, there always seems to be enough students with decent English.
How can we do something different?
What I found transformed lessons for me was providing booklets with pre-reading, and sharing resources and mini-recordings of the lessons via OneNote. Of course there is a minority of students who remain relatively untouched, but moving from giving students material in the lesson to before the lesson generated some excitement, especially as the OneNote platform (you could use substitutes) generated some sort of public excitement.
I’m writing about this now. It’s very much based on Ron Berger’s Ethic of Excellence.
Also, as you both say above, encouraging a positive approach to the difficult and occasionally grinding nature of scholarship is part of our skill as teachers. That discipline is challenged on a weekly basis, but we can help them build it!