Without a reader there is no text, without a text no reader.
Hall, G. (2009) “Texts, Readers – and Real Readers.” Language and Literature 18 (3): 333–339.
From the editors’ introduction :
There is a long-standing tradition of reader response theories in English education. In reader-oriented work, the reader is viewed as an active participant in the interpretative process, drawing on and shaping different forms of knowledge that can be shared and developed. The articles in the spring 2018 special issue of English in Education variously examine the influence of teachers, peers, culture and the learning environment itself on readers’ responses, drawing on various theoretical stances and methodologies concerned with how texts are framed and experienced in the classroom context.
Using empirical data including lesson transcripts and student work and drawing on the cognitive discourse grammar Text World Theory, Ian Cushing argues for a classroom space and activities which properly legitimise students’ own responses to literature. His research demonstrates how a text-worlds approach may encourage and support students to develop more confident and independent readings.
By comparing two case studies involving the teaching of Yeats’ poem “Easter, 1916” in separate contexts (England and Northern Ireland), John Gordon shows how teachers and students need to negotiate the various kinds of knowledge that are needed to access the poem. Gordon argues that a reading pedagogy founded on the principles of the self-contained unseen is problematic and instead urges practitioners to consider the complex nature, function and role of different kinds of knowledge in the literature classroom.
Margaret Merga, Michelle McRae and Leonie Rutherford broaden the focus to analyse motivation through an examination of the attitudes of young people towards reading. Their study suggests a number of reasons why young people see discussing reading as both enjoyable and beneficial and further reports on some of the constraining factors that participants raised as barriers to motivation. The authors end with a specific set of implications for their findings for educators in supporting students to value reading.
Jane Coles and Theo Bryer’s article draws on Rosenblatt’s transactional theory in a study of beginning secondary teachers working with the Old English poem Beowulf. The poem has a history of being reworked and adapted and therefore provides fertile ground for pedagogical practices that offer opportunities for cross-generic transformations. Through their discussion, the authors highlight the creative and critical practices inherent in such transformational work as well as highlighting the importance of students’ knowledge as part of the “literary transaction”.
Margaret Glover surveys ways in which researchers have theorised interpretation and the reading process – from New Criticism and structuralism to Michael Benton’s work on reading and secondary worlds, to Stanley Fish and Aidan Chambers on narrative comprehension and Jonathan Culler on literary competence. Ending with a discussion of the work of Louise Rosenblatt and Wolfgang Iser, Glover demonstrates that there is much to be gained by a teacher’s directly addressing the relationship between author, text and reader in the classroom.
The articles in this special issue remind us of the richness of the literature classroom, the wealth of knowledge and attitudes young people bring to reading, and the various ways that teachers can support rather than stultify personal response and interpretation.
School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham, UK
Department of Humanities, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK
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