A Response-Based Approach to Reading Literature
Report Series 6.7
Judith A. Langer|
National Research Center on Literature Teaching and Learning
University at Albany
State University of New York
1400 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12222
Language Arts, v71 n3, March 1994. Copyright 1994 by the National Council of Teachers of English Reprinted with permission.
Also published in Language Arts, Vol. 71, March 1994.
National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement
University at Albany, School of Education, B-9
1400 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12222
The Center on English Learning & Achievement (CELA) is a national research and development center located at the University at Albany, State University of New York, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Center, established in 1987, initially focused on the teaching and learning of literature. In March 1996, the Center expanded its focus to include the teaching and learning of English, both as a subject in its own right and as it is learned in other content areas. CELA's work is sponsored by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, as part of the National Institute on Student Achievement, Curriculum, and Assessment.
"A Response-Based Approach to Reading Literature" is based on research conducted at the National Research Center on Literature Teaching and Learning, supported under the Research and Development Centers Program (Grant number R117G10015). Distribution is supported in part under award number R305A960005 as administered by OERI. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Department of Education, OERI, or the Institute on Student Achievement. All Center reports are peer reviewed before publication.
In this Research Report, I will discuss my work on response-based instruction, the strategies teachers call upon to orchestrate such classroom experiences, and ways in which it supports the development of students' thinking. This work is part of a larger program of research into the teaching and learning of literature I began some years ago. During the past few years, an increasing number of researchers and theorists have been focusing on related issues relevant to language arts readers about the processes involved in understanding literature from a reader-based perspective (e.g., Benton, 1992, Corcoran, 1992, Eeds & Wells, 1989, Encisco, 1992, Rosenblatt, 1993), as well as ways to support students' learning in the elementary and middle grades (e.g., Andrasik 1990, Cianciolo & Quirk 1992; Close 1990, 1992; Goodman & Wilde 1992; Many & Wiseman 1992; McMahon 1992; Nystrand, Gamoran, & Heck 1993; Zancanella 1992, Zarillo & Cox 1992). Still others have been focusing on literature-based and whole language instruction at the primary level (e.g., Jipson & Paley 1992; Mills, O'Keefe, & Stephens 1992; Morrow 1992; Roser in press; Uhry & Shephard 1993; Villaume & Worden 1993; Walmsley & Adams 1993; Yatvin 1992).
On the heels of the reform we have all witnessed in writing education has followed a widespread rethinking of literature in the English language arts, initiated as often as not by teachers who have wanted to bring their literature instructional practices in line with their student-focused approaches to writing. During this time, I have become increasingly aware that as teachers experiment with the many related types of response-centered approaches (including whole language and literature-based instruction), many are uncertain about the place of instruction in these paradigms and their role in it. On the one hand they are attracted to the notions underlying a pedagogy of student thoughtfulness because they think it provides students with ownership for their own learning, motivates and engages them in making sense, and provides a context for them to try out, negotiate, and refine their ideas in interaction with others. On the other hand, they are uncertain how to carry through such lessons.
Often I am asked, "Does anything go, and if not, how do I know what to do? Once I get an initial response, what do I do with it?" I consider these concerns valid, even predictable. The old teaching routines almost all of us learned in graduate coursework and saw modeled in curriculum guides, instructional materials, and assessment instruments don't apply when response-based instruction is the goal. Yet the field has not yet provided adequate guidelines or strategies to allow teachers to build "new bones," internalized routines and options to take the place of plot summaries and leading questions guiding students toward predetermined interpretations - new bones that can guide their moment-to-moment decision-making as they plan for and interact with their students.
For the past few years, through my work at the National Research Center on Literature Teaching and Learning (funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement), I have been working toward a reader-based theory for the teaching of literature - one that can help us understand what it means to make sense of literature from a reader's point of view, and what that means for refocusing our instructional goals and practices (see Langer, 1990a, b; 1991, 1992a, b; 1993; Roberts & Langer 1991). One part of this work helps explain the process of literary understanding while the other addresses ways in which such understanding can be most effectively taught. I will discuss each in turn.
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