Posts Tagged ‘Formalism’

Formalism and New Criticism


Text-dependent Reading Theories

Reader-Response Theory attempts to describe the text-reader relationship and asserts that meaning is constructed outside this relationship from the input of both author and reader.

As a reaction to the Reader-Response Theory, beginning in the late 1960s, some reading researchers, philosophers, and especially university English professors began to advocate a different theory about the author-reader relationship that has come to be known as Formalism (or New Criticism). Proponents of Formalism argue that the author’s text should be read as is and in its own context apart from outside influences, such as the author’s background, motives, and biases and reader’s feelings, experiences, and interpretations. Many in this school of thought believe that the accurate meaning of the text may only be discovered if all subjective influences are ignored.

Many formalists especially rail against the more extreme views within the reader-response camp. They would argue that a reader-centered transaction permits the reader to make the text say anything that they want it to say. Far from the no right answer approach of some reading-response theorists, they would argue that there are right and wrong interpretations of the author’s text. After all, it is the author’s text, not the reader’s text. Teachers should ask, “What does the text mean here?” Not “What does the author mean here and why did she say this?” And certainly not “How does this text relate to your own life and make you feel?”

Other formalists, such as Cleanth Brooks, has argued that Reader-Response Theory and Formalism (New Criticism) complement one another. For instance, he stated, “If some of the New Critics have preferred to stress the writing rather than the writer, so have they given less stress to the reader—to the reader’s response to the work. Yet no one in his right mind could forget the reader. He is essential for ‘realizing’ any poem or novel. . .Reader response is certainly worth studying.” However, Brooks tempers his praise for the reader-response theory by noting its limitations, pointing out that, “to put meaning and valuation of a literary work at the mercy of any and every individual [reader] would reduce the study of literature to reader psychology and to the history of taste” (

The Formalist Theory has gained traction in American schools since the advent of the Common Core State Standards. Even Mortimer Adler’s old close reading strategy

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

has regained popularity. For those of you not familiar with this approach, close reading it is a reading strategy which focuses on text-dependent reading and analysis.


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!

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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. 

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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. 



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