Thursday, October 3, 2013

Making Response to Reading "Responsible"

So there I was this week, watching a one of the teachers on our campus do a mini-lesson on visualizing and she said something to her class like, "You know, kiddos, that as you read, you might make a visualization and then draw it. But then, you read a little more and then the picture you have in your mind starts changing. That's because as the author reveals more details, the images in our minds get more detailed and specific."

This line just stuck with me and the more I thought about it, I began to remember Louise Rosenblatt.

Louise Rosenblatt wrote the Transactional Theory, which I came across in Grad School at Arizona State. This theory was transformational in my practice as a reading teacher. She is easily my favorite theory-person (theorist?) because of how much this idea changed the way I view  and teach reading.

Her Transactional Theory said that each person who reads a text will read it in a different way. This happens for many reasons, one being our background knowledge. In her book Literature as Exploration (1938), she states,

The special meaning, and more particularly, the submerged associations that these words and images have for the individual reader will largely determine what the work communicates to him. The reader brings to the work personality traits, memories of past events, present needs and preoccuptations, a particular mood of the moment, and a particular physical condition. These and many other elements in a never-to-be-duplicated combination determine his response to the peculiar contribution of the text. (pp. 30-31)

She explains that each reader creates a "poem" as they read a text. She defines the poem as the experience the reader has with the text at that particular moment.

So, the "poem" the reader creates will vary from person to person, and might even change each time the reader meets the same text a second or third time.

Now, when kids read an interpret a text, they will usually be asked to share what they thought. Yes, getting children to participate with a discussion about a book is important, but we can't accept just any interpretation a child makes to a text.

Rosenblatt says that responses and interpretations of texts aren't all created equal. Some are superior than others. You can't just make any connection to a text, and because it's related to your personal experience, make it a great response. For example, you couldn't read The Diary of Anne Frank and then talk about an interpretation related to basketball or some other random topic. Interpretations have to be based on evidence within a text. She goes on to state,

Although there isn't a single "correct" interpretation of any text for all circumstances, that doesn't necessarily rule out responsible reading. We can consider some interpretations better or poorer than others. Or we can find that readers brining different knowledge and assumptions or in different social and historical contexts may have equally defensible interpretations.

They way I like to think about this is with a continuum:

Responsible Reading and Interpretations
A child's response to a text could fall anywhere on the continuum - depending on how much evidence from the text they have to support it. As we think about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we know that this assessment is relying heavily on evidence from text. A child can't just make a personal connection, that is only slightly related to the text, and call that a responsible interpretation. The more evidence the child provides to support their interpretation, the better.

Now CCSS is a topic for another day - but let's just note that an authentic interpretation can't happen on a multiple choice question. If a student is having to choose one of four answers, none of those answers could be the child's authentic thinking (because they are the thinking of the person who wrote the test). A *truly authentic* answer would be one that is constructed by the individual child and then shared, either verbally or in writing.

But, I digress...

Another author, Karolides, writes,

Thus, whereas a range of responses is recognized as probable and potentially meaningful, some may be irrelevant to the text, or confused and impoverished, invalid or less valid than other responses. Responsible reading take into account the language of the texts, in effect, reining in the reader. Rosenblatt notes that some postmodernists or deconstructionists have taken the leap of accepting all interpretations as equal, giving prominence to the reader. She rejected this position.

So there you have it. Responses to text have to be responsible.

Anyways, I write this to follow up with one of my teachers, but also to share with you my most favorite theory of reading, and the one that changed my philosophy from a very much behaviorist perspective to that of a social constructivist.

Who knew I'd get so deep for a Thursday evening?!

haha...lighten things up a little after all this theory talk!

Anyone else love Rosenblatt? If you'd like to read more about her, here's a few articles:

Karolides, Nicholas J. (1999). Theory and Practice: An Interview with Louis M. Rosenblatt. Language Arts, 77(2), 158-170.

Karolides, Nicholas J. (2005). Scholar, Educator, Advocate: The Range and Richness of Rosenblatt. Voices from the Middle, 12(3), 59-62.

And Rosenblatt's books:

and that is all for now. Thanks to Jennie for reminding me of the Transactional Theory!


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