Archived Information

State of the Art: Reading - November 1993

image omitted 6. Responding to literature helps students construct their own meaning which may not always be the same for all readers.


Classrooms where responses to literature thrive seem to be characterized by teachers' valuing of responses as the crux of literacy growth. Valuing of responses in the classroom is evident when teachers (a) provide opportunities for response, (b) provide response models, and (c) receive children's responses (in all their diversity).
                                    (Martinez and Roser 1991, p. 652)

Responding is a natural part of the reading process. When students read a piece of literature they respond to it by using their prior knowledge to construct meaning. That is, their transaction with the text results in the construction of their own personal meaning (Rosenblatt 1938/1976; 1991). Responding helps students develop their metacognitive skills which are important to constructing meaning (Palincar and Brown 1986). Students develop these self- monitoring skills by being encouraged continuously to think about and respond to what they read and write.

Reading informational text is different from reading literature such as fiction or poetry. One reads informational material to find factual information that serves a specific purpose. With fiction or poetry, the reader's aim is primarily aesthetic--for example, to become engrossed by an intriguing plot or clutched by an emotion-evoking description of nature. Teachers honor the difference between informational text and literature when they allow students to read a selection of fiction or poetry without asking them to find facts. Permitting students to read fiction and poetry aesthetically enhances the goal of providing children with pleasurable experiences with literature (DeGroff and Galda 1992).

There is a commonly accepted response which is expected from students, and there is a more personal response which differs from student to student for any given piece of literature. And within the bounds of commonly accepted responses, there are often a variety of interpretations. Teachers must be prepared to expect, respect, and accept a variety of student responses and accommodate them within their literacy instruction. Students' personal responses can be expressed through a variety of means such as oral discussion, debate, role-playing, and graphic illustration. Encouraging students' personal responses to literature improves their ability to construct meaning (Galda 1983; Eeds and Wells 1989). Over time, students develop more and more complex responses to literature that help them become better at constructing meaning.

Children who are schooled in response-centered classrooms where their responses to literature are valued develop a sense of ownership, pride, and respect with regard to learning (Hansen 1987). Out of this shared value of learning comes a sense of community, which in turn bolsters everyone's efforts--those of students and teachers alike.


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[Storybook reading, done in the context of sharing experiences, ideas, and opinions, is a highly demanding mental activity for children.] [Table of Contents] [Children who engage in daily discussions about what they read are more likely to become critical readers and learners.]