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The Reader, The Text, The Poem

Louise Rosenblatt developed the Reader-Response Theory, which posits that the reader’s personal feelings, knowledge, and experience contributes to the author’s text to create the meaning for the individual reader. Dr. Rosenblatt termed this creation of meaning “the poem.”

As theorists continued to work with her theory, they added the influence of the reader’s environment and social community as contributor’s to meaning.

In the New Criticism Movement of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, critics of Rosenblatt asserted the independence of the text as the source of meaning. They argued that only the text should be the arbiter of itself. According to these critics and their cousins, the Formalists, devolving meaning-making to the reader was akin to admitting that the meaning of the text is anything that the reader makes of it.

I, personally, see a melding of the opposing theories as an important impetus to improving reading comprehension. If reading comprehension is the understanding and retention of text, then both the author’s text and the reader have shared responsibility for meaning-making. That meaning-making is not in the exclusive control of the text. After all, there is an author behind the text. It is also not in the exclusive control of the individual reader. The reader is part of a larger community.

To better explain the relationship of the author’s text and the reader in the creation of meaning, this illustration may be helpful.

Reader-Response Theory

Reader-Response

Imagine sitting in your living room, looking at a garden through a window.

In our illustration, the garden is the author’s text; you, in the living room, are the reader; and the window is the meaning of the reading text. If the garden is closer to the window than you are, the author’s text has more control of or influence upon the meaning. If you are closer in the living room to the window than is the garden, you, the reader, have more control of or influence upon the meaning.

With author-centered texts, designed to inform, explain, and analyze, such as news articles, non-fiction, technical writing, legal text, and instruction manuals, the window is closer to the garden, because the reader’s comprehension is primarily text-dependent.

For example, with respect to the news article on the school shooting, we rely upon the expertise and accuracy of the news reporter to help us understand what happened. To put together a toy on Christmas Eve, we depend upon concise, step-by-step directions and a good picture on the box.

With reader-centered texts, designed to describe, entertain, or persuade, such as fiction, poems, editorials, social media posts, and songs, the window is closer to you, the reader in your living room. The input and filter of your personal feelings, knowledge, and experience are significant contributions to understanding the text.

For example, if you are listening to and reading the lyrics of Lennon and McCartney’s “With a Little Help from My Friends,” you, the audience, are intended to contribute meaning to the song. Some of the lyrics are intentionally ambiguous.

As the official Beatle biographer, Hunter Davies, explains, Lennon and McCartney struggled to come up with a lyric to answer their question: “What do you see when you turn out the light?” Lennon suggested “I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.” It fit the required number of syllables and rhyme scheme, and McCartney loved it because it could mean different things to different people.

So the type of text and the author’s purpose should have considerable impact upon how readers should understand and interpret the text. Good readers are flexible readers. They monitor their levels of comprehension while reading, according to their own purposes and the dictates of the text. When crucial facts or plot events are being delivered, they move the window close to the author; when less important description or tone are being read to evoke a certain mood, they move the window closer to themselves as readers.

And one last comment about applying the author-reader relationship theories: For those of you accustomed to reading on automatic pilot, you may be looking at the garden for far too long without thinking of the window. For many of you, the window is in fine shape, but it may need a bit of Windex to make the garden more visible. We often become accustomed to dirty windows and don’t notice until someone scribbles “Wash me!” However, our attention needs to be drawn to the window before we can notice. How do we start paying attention? Check out Talking with the Author.

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Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

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