Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Criticism

Jake Edwards
Feb. 17, 2009
Engl. 6973: Dr. Jolliffe
New Criticism

For the better part of the 20th century, New Criticism influenced Language Arts instruction. But the model fell out of favor in the 60s as liberal theoretical models became more fashionable. Soon, New Criticism was admonished by Deconstructionists, Marxists, and Feminists for being “best known for what [it] opposed than for what [it] espoused (Booker 14). No longer a foundational critical approach in universities and colleges, opponents claim that the New Criticism “appears powerless, lacking in supporters, declining, dead or on the verge of being so” (qtd. in Young 8). Despite these claims, the New Critical theory remains a pedagogical foundation for teaching close reading and responsive writing in Western secondary schools.
New Criticism largely began with the exchange of letters and papers between critics T.S. Eliot and I.A. Richards during the early 1920s. Richards’s The Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) proclaimed that criticism had become tainted by contemporary historical scholars who “endeavored by underground tactics to invert the covenants of the trust held by literary criticism” (Richards 48). At Vanderbilt University in 1919, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Cleanth Brooks were editors of The Kenyon Review, The Sewanee Review, and The Southern Review, respectively. The three editors, dubbed the “Fugitive” club, “made persistent efforts in close and conscious collaboration with each other to preserve aesthetic values from the onslaughts of scientific attitudes” (Patnaik 3). With the addition of members Robert Penn Warren and Donald Davidson, the Vanderbilt “Fugitives” became known as the “Southern Agrarians.” This largely conservative group sought to preserve “the moral and spiritual condition which is favorable to poetry” (Patnaik 3). These critics wanted to preserve the study of literature as an aesthetic focus for fear that it would become appropriated into other disciplines or watered down by arbitrary foci.
In 1941, John Crowe Ransom wrote the seminal work, The New Criticism, which gave title to the critical approach. Ransom’s compilation highlighted works by some of the founding fathers of New Criticism (Richards, Eliot, and Yvor Winters) to advocate this “New” method of criticism that deviated from emphasis on “the realms of biography, history, and personal impressions… [and] the neo-classical approach” (Patnaik 3). Cleanth Brooks later reiterated the notion that the literary critic “must deal with [a text] as a work of art and not merely as a grammatical or historical or sociological or political or biographical document” (Patnik 9). He later collaborated with Robert Penn Warren to produce textbooks for applying this theoretical approach— Understanding Poetry (1938) and Understanding Fiction (1943). These textbooks became milestones for teaching literature in American high schools and colleges. Understanding Fiction was essentially an anthology that contained works by primarily Western authors; the works were selected from various genres “with the hope of providing as wide a range of examples in terms of fictional method as could be reasonably expected” (Brooks, Warren xvi). The purpose in doing so was to illustrate the belief that linguistic elements such as words, images, and symbols can consistently promote humanly significant themes across literary genres.

John Crowe Ransom asserted that criticism “shall be objective, shall cite the nature of the object, and shall recognize the autonomy of the work itself as existing for its own sake” (Abrams 189). The New Critical method focuses on the form of the text itself. In essence, New Critics regard a literary text as an “independent entity” that should be isolated from extraneous variables such as the biography of the author, the environment in which the author wrote, or the personal impressions of the reader. In the eyes of New Critics, these factors distracted readers from appreciating the true aesthetic of the work. The goal of the New Critic is to “stress form as structure of significance, an embodiment of human experience” (Young 5).
New Critics evaluated a text’s ability to evoke senses that reflect human tendencies, both good and bad, through the use of style, form, and language. These three literary devices work together to achieve organic unity, the state in which the text comes to be infused with Deep Hidden Meaning, or DHM (Bagwell xiii). But the DHM is intrinsic and should not be influenced by the “affective fallacy,” the belief that true meaning lies in the reader’s feelings or thoughts, or the “intentional fallacy,” the belief that the author’s original intention determines the work’s meaning. Instead, linguistic devices allow the text to take on its own inherent meaning.
Thus, New Critics hailed literary language as superior to the scientific language: the former language is rich with diverse meaning, while the latter relies expressly on denotative meaning and requires no explication to discern meaning. What constitutes a “good” work is how well the writing stays true to form and evokes meaning that reflects universal human values.

New Criticism is often regarded as American Formalism on the basis that it privileges the work over the author, and that it establishes criteria for “high” and “low” literary works. Rene Wellek identifies four of the major oppositions to New Criticism: first, estranging the author from his or her work in order to more clearly evaluate form and language results in the removal of the human element from literature. Next, New Criticism deemphasizes the historical contexts in which a work is produced, thereby bringing them into ideological opposition with Marxism (Booker 15). The third argument is that New Criticism reduces literary criticism to an abstract science by imposing standards and criteria. This argument leads to accusations that New Criticism is elitist in that it “excludes readers who lack the background for arriving at the ‘correct’ interpretation” (Spurgin).
But the final argument levied against New Criticism is the most problematic for critics—the use of close reading as a pedagogical device. William Cain argued that New Criticism had not only become institutionalized, but had become the institution itself…the ground upon which everything else is based” (Young 8). R.V. Young counters this argument with the explanation “that careful interpretation of works of demonstrable literary excellence necessarily lies at the heart of literary study” (Young 9). Thus, canonical works of literature are more effective tools for teaching Language Arts because they represent “the accumulated wisdom of Western Civilization” (Young 13) as well as “the New Criticism’s commitment to intellectual and artistic excellence, and its insistence on the vigorous life of the mind” (Young 14).

New Criticism is most closely aligned with Louise Rosenblatt’s definition of the “Expression-Oriented Authorial Reading” (20). As readers organize a “principle or framework” for interpreting the words on a page, the New Critical method moves the reader towards prescribed literary devices in order to make the words “fit into tentative meanings” (Rosenblatt 20). Ideally, close reading of the text will evoke a universally accepted meaning for a reader; otherwise, the reader is compelled to reread the text to “restructure the attributed meaning” (Rosenblatt 20).
But close reading is not a method of repetitious torture; rather, it challenges readers to explore variant meanings of a word and its use in a sentence. As a reader works his way from local sentence level interpretation to the organic whole, he comes to recognize the effects certain word choices have when applied as figurative language. The reader then sees the work as taking on new meaning beyond an 19th century work of American gothic, but he comes to recognize humanistic values situated in the structure and form of the work. Young illustrates this through the close reading of Anne Bradstreet’s “Before the Birth of One of Her Children. Young justifies that, despite Bradstreet’s mediocre style, the poem possesses a “simple dignity with which it expresses both a fearful realization of the possibility of death and courage in the face of that fear…a testament of a woman of great fortitude and spiritual depth” (Young 157). Young challenges Frank Lentricchia’s claim that “Literature is inherently nothing…or it is inherently a body of rhetorical strategies waiting to be seized” (Young 148).
New Criticism establishes a hierarchy of writing (i.e. a “canon”) that advocates “intellectual, moral, and aesthetic excellence” (Young 147). This affects perceptions of what constitutes “good” literature, especially in the eyes of academics. New Critics draw sharp differentiation between works of literary art and popular culture; the latter is disdained as less-sophisticated and less worthy of critical analysis. This distinct polemic affects what individuals read in school as well as what they read outside of school. Brooks and Warren state that most students read fiction of their own will, and that a teacher “does not…have to ‘make’ the student read fiction as he has to “make” the student read poetry and essays…Frequently, the student does discover that the ‘good’ story or novel is interesting to him” (xi). But this method of differentiating the good from the bad in literature isolates canonical works as “objects of study instead of media and enjoyment and illumination” (Rosenblatt 111). Still, New Critics uphold that this separation is necessary for proper instruction of Language Arts. In 1919, T.S. Eliot stated that “the existing monuments from an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new of art among them” (36). So the distinction between canonical works and popular culture is necessary to help readers better understand the qualities of figurative language and standardized English.
Proponents for the New Criticism argue that it is not elitist in any sense. Rather, they advocate that it is a critical method that hails particular works as exemplary expressions of human ideals. The model praises the use of language rather than questions its meaning to the point of non-consensus. New Criticism is decisively a Western theoretical model; it is largely applied to Native English speaking literatures; and it mostly favors American literature.

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 8th ed. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.
Booker, M. Keith. A Practical Introduction to Liertary Theory and Criticism. New York: Longman Publishers, 1996.
Brooks, Cleanth, and Robert Penn Warren. Understanding Fiction, 2nd ed. New Jersy: Prentice Hall, 1959.
Eliot, T.S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Perspecta. 19. (1982): 36-42.
Lentricchia, Frank, and Thomas McLaughlin. Critical Terms for Literary Study, 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Patnaik, J.N. The Aesthetics of New Criticism. New Delhi: Intellectual Publishing House, 1982.
Ransom, John Crowe. The New Criticism. Norfolk: New Directions, 1941.
Richards, I.A. Principles of Literary Criticism, 5th ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934.
Rosenblatt, Louise. Making Meaning with Texts. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2005.
Wellek, Rene. “The New Criticism: Pro and Contra.” Critical Inquiry. 4.4 (1978): 611-624.
Young, R.V. At War With the Word: Literary Theory and Liberal Education. Wilmington: ISI Books, 1999.

Encyclopedia Entry: Reading, Writing, and Childhood Development

Evelyn Baldwin

Literacy Seminar

21 April 2009

Encyclopedia Entry: Reading, Writing, and Childhood Development

Of the many theories formed to explain adolescent development, five stand out as particularly important. Three of these – psychoanalytic, behavioral, and cognitive – are often called “grand” theories, as they are both attempts to encompass large sections of childhood development and have remained in study for much of the latter half of the twentieth century. The final two – sociocultural and epigenetic systems theories – are emergent theories that, despite their relative newness, are quickly gaining strength in the field and are based on multidisciplinary approaches. Childhood reading experiences can be defined in a different manner in each theory; however, remnants of all five can be seen in the various reading practices implemented in classrooms across the country.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Psychoanalytic theory argues that behavior patterns are governed by unconscious desires and feelings. These feelings both impact all decisions made by a person and contribute to the formation of distinct phases of development.

Psychoanalytic theory was first proposed by Sigmund Freud at the turn of the twentieth century. Freud’s system, which developed out of his work with mentally ill patients, outlines two specific elements to humanity: four stages of development that a child goes through and three elements of personality. As children develop they learn to modify the desires of their particular developmental stage through aspects of their personalities. Each of the developmental stages – oral, anal, phallic, and genital – is based on the child’s ability to gratify a certain bodily need. Freud argued that, as children grow, they satisfy the needs of each stage through eating, controlling defecation, receiving (or not receiving) penile stimulation, and engaging in sexual activity, respectively. Children progress through the first three stages rather quickly but remain in the genital stage throughout their adult lives. However, since human beings do not spend all of their time fulfilling these specific desires, Freud outlined a theory of personality that explains how people learn to regulate them. The personality, he suggests, is composed of three distinct parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the most basic of instincts – the impetus we have to survive and reproduce through the fulfillment of our developmental stages. The superego is the societally-imposed moral judgment that calls for a repression of instincts. The ego serves as a moderator between the two, aiding the child in fulfilling needs within culturally-acceptable boundaries.

Erik Erikson, a second-generation psychoanalyst, retooled Freud’s theory to include what he called the “developmental crisis” of each stage of life. While Freud’s stages are sexual, Erikson’s are social. Each of the Freud’s three early stages corresponds with one of Erikson’s moments of social crisis: in the oral stage, a child learns to trust or mistrust; in the anal stage, a child develops autonomy or shame (based on their success in toilet training), in the phallic stage, children understand taking initiative or developing guilt based on their desires. Erikson outlined five further stages that occur in adulthood: industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role diffusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, and integrity vs. despair.

Psychoanalytic theory looks for patterns of unconscious desires and urges within texts. Psychoanalysts are less concerned with how children write as with what they write. Children’s work, especially fiction, can indicate stages of development that they may remain trapped in, even if they appear externally to have proceeded chronologically through the stages of development. Freudian scholars look particularly for examples of uncontrolled id in a text. While a child may have, through virtue of the ego, been able to appear to have suppressed a desire, the id might expose itself through writing. For example, a psychologist would read texts like Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle as indicating an author stuck in the oral stage, even if all external forces indicate that the author has reached the genital stage. In the same manner, Erikson’s eight stages can appear in a text as well. Like child writers, child readers can identify with authors or with characters within texts who are undergoing the same stages of development.

Behavioral Theory

Behavioral theory developed in direct opposition to psychoanalytic theory; instead of suggesting that development occurs based on unseen, inherent needs and desires, it claims that training alters human behavior. Behavioral theory focuses on conditioning, the methods and processes through which behavior is learned. There are two main types of conditioning: classical and operant.

Classical conditional was first defined at the end of the nineteenth century by Ivan Pavlov, who famously trained dogs to salivate to the sound of a bell. Pavlov attempted to prove that behaviors which occur naturally can be trained to occur on command. In his dog experiment, Pavlov observed that dogs would salivate when presented with food. In his study, Pavlov began to associate food with the ringing of the bell. He discovered that once the dog had learned to associate the neutral stimulus (food causes salivation) with a meaningful stimulus (the bell), the trainer could cause the behavior to occur in the absence of the food simply by ringing the bell. The behavior has thus been conditioned to occur.

Fifty years after Pavlov, B.F. Skinner suggested that more aggressive steps could be taken to condition human behavior. Rather than simply altering patterns of association, a scientist could train a subject to perform in a particular manner through a system of rewards and punishments. If a positive behavior is reinforced, it will likely be performed again. While Skinner initially tested his theories through the use of sensory stimuli to small animals, the theory was later applied to human social behavior. If a behavior produces the praise of one’s peers or one’s instructors, it will likely be repeated. If it incurs censure, it will not.

For many years, behavioral theory was the primary training tool in teaching children how to read. Students were praised or censured, rewarded or punished based on their abilities to interact with texts. Alphabetical and numeric grading systems are both based on behavioral concepts. Recently, behavioral reading theories have fallen out of favor for a number of reasons. First, they are often counterproductive. Students who are having difficulty reading undergo punishment, which causes them to respond negatively to reading activities. Rather than to limit the undesirable behavior (such as the negative reading skill), punishment often causes students to resist reading entirely. Second, behavioral theory tends to socially stratify students unnecessarily. Students who perform well and receive praise become socially distinct from students who do not perform well. This creates a culture of negativity that encourages the behaviors it seeks to remove. Third, behavioral theory ignores the process in favor of the product. Students may be praised for reading well but might never understand how they performed that activity. Similarly, receiving punishment only looks down on the negative behavior – it does not help students achieve the desired behavior.

Cognitive Theory

Like psychoanalytical theory, cognitive theory argues that behaviors are based on internal workings, but instead of urges, it argues for the development of thought patterns. Jean Piaget, the pioneer mind in cognitive theory, proposed four major stages of thought that children go through. Children progress through these stages in search of what he called “cognitive equilibrium” – as a children grows, new information or cognitive tasks that cannot be fit into a given mindset force the mindset to grow in order to retain equilibrium.

Piaget’s stages roughly coincide with a child’s age. From birth to two years, the child is in the sensorimotor stage. Thinking occurs only so far as it connects to the concrete, physical world. Things do not exist if they are outside of the child’s immediate consciousness. From two to six years, the child is in the preoperational stage. Here, the child begins to understand symbols – that things can be represented to exist even if they are not in the immediate physical present. From seven to eleven, the child is the concrete operational stage. Principles govern the child’s understanding and experiences, allowing the child to make rational decisions based on patterns of knowing. Finally, from twelve years and onward, the child is the in formal operational stage. Here, the child is fully developed and can think about abstractions. The child can apply moral decisions and analytic reason to hypothetical concepts.

In Piaget’s theory, reading practices can begin in the preoperational phase when the child learns the use of symbols. This makes possible two acts crucial to reading: understanding that words are indicative of “things” and that letters make up words. When the child is able to understand that things exist outside of the physical word, he or she can then identify that “doll” the word stands for the object or that “run” indicates the action. Children can then understand that words are developed out of their component parts: letters. These letters work together to form the symbols of words. In the preoperational stage, most reading involves basic concepts such as engaging in direct action or experiencing simple emotions. As children progress to the concrete operational stage, Piaget argues, they are able to reason logically about the texts they engage with. They may question the absolute truth of those texts and can understand the reasons behind text construction. They can begin to classify texts, words, and the ideas they represent into categories and can articulate their own responses to texts. When children reach the formal operational stage, they can engage in metacognitive interpretations of texts, questioning their own reasoning processes and decisions regarding texts. They can also draw similarities between the construction of their own texts and the construction of others’ texts.

Sociocultural Theory

The first of the two emergent theories, sociocultural theory suggests that children develop in response to the individuals who are part of their surrounding culture. Development is not universal to all children; instead, it develops for each child individually based on the experiences that the child has with those around him or her.

Lev Vygotsky, who, though he was a contemporary of many of the grand theorists, had his work lost in Stalinist Russia until the latter half of the twentieth century. After the fall of the iron curtain, however, his theories quickly gained credence. Vygotsky proposed that cognition occurs in response to society. His theories centered on the concept of an “apprenticeship in thinking,” the idea that a child exists in a mentorship relationship with mature members of society and develops in imitation of those members. If the adult is actively engaged with the child, a situation of guided participation develops in which the adult trains the child in understanding and conforming to their society’s expectations and values.

Although what is learned differs from culture to culture, sociocultural theory suggests that all children learn in the same manner. Children exist within a range of expected performances, Vygotsky argued: that which is known, that which is not known but can be obtained, and that which is not known and cannot yet be learned. The central range, called the zone of proximal development, includes those performances which a child can do with assistance. The child can only learn those tasks which fall within this zone. If a child does not engage in guided participation with a mentor to perform the activities in this zone, the child will be unable to learn.

Sociocultural reading theory has gained credence through recent movements to create “reading cultures.” Teachers are encouraged to create environments that promote reading as a positive task designed to bring one into coherence with culture. Child psychologists argue that parents who make reading an active part of their family life are training children to adopt these same practices. Furthermore, critics have suggested that the rampant popularity of teen novels is reestablishing reading as a cultural acceptable activity for children. Scholars like Deborah Brandt, who has proposed the concept of “literacy sponsors” argue that readers must be trained by more mature readers and encouraged into a community of literacy, using the kind of guided participation that Vygotsky suggests.

Epigenetic Systems Theory

Epigenetic systems theory argues that development occurs at the intersection of inherited genetic traits and environment influences. Drawing on many of the previously stated theories, epigenetic systems suggests that a combination of nature and nurture – the physical inclinations that a person is born with and the skills and patterns developed through societal interaction – work together to promote development. If a person is born with certain tendencies, cultural forces – particularly those applied by a parent – can either highlight or attempt to eradicate those tendencies. The classic epigenetic case study is that of pairs of identical twins separated at birth. Sharing the same genetic matter but raised in two different cultures, twins exhibit some similar characteristics and other radically different ones.

Just as epigenetic theory combines elements from many developmental theories, modern reading theory suggests that children’s engagement with texts is multi-dimensional. A child may use his formal operational skills to identify an oral fixation in a text through the guided participation of a mentor. Fortunately, many practioners are seeking to meet children’s unique reading needs rather than attempting to apply a single overarching theory to a classroom of diverse individuals. If reading theory remains open to the application of ideas centered on student needs rather than route adherence to antiquated theories, the future of the field looks quite bright, indeed.

Recommended Reading List

Brandt, Deborah. “Sponsors of Literacy.” Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Cushman

et al. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2001.

Dent-Read, Cathy and Patricia Zukow-Goldring, eds. Evolving Explanations of

Development. Washington DC: American Psychological Associatoin, 1997.

Erikson, Erik. Childhood and Society. New York: Norton, 1963.

Freud, Sigmind. A General Introduction to Pyschoanalysis. Trans. Joan Riviare. New

York: Modern Library, 1953.

Piaget, Jean. The Origins of Intelligence in Children. London: Routledge, 1952.

Skinner, Burrhus Frederic. Verbal Behavior. New York: Appleton-Centry-Crofts, 1957.

Vygotsky, Lev. Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Reception Theory

Jack Ayres
Seminar: Literacy Theory
Dr. David Jolliffe
31 Mar 2009
“Reception Theory”
Far from being a monolithic or absolutely precise term, “reception theory” (or “reception study”) instead serves as an umbrella term referring to a critical approach to studying literature that places meaning within the reader, thereby concentrating on an audience’s interpretive practices, rather than authorial intention and the text itself. In other words, reception theory shifts the emphasis from “the author and the work to the text and the reader” (Holub, 1984; xii). This practice can be applied in order to speculate on the construction of meaning vis-à-vis the individual reader’s perception of a text, as seen in the work of foundational critic Wolfgang Iser (1926-2007); furthermore, reception study also tends to be highly historical, using reviews, scholarship, and other historical documents to chronicle responses to authors and texts in a given period. Additionally, the term can be used to “refer to an inquiry into a text’s effect on specific classes of readers” (Harkin 411). Since these “specific classes” often refer to groups based on gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, and so forth, reception theory is frequently aligned with critical methods such as feminist theory, Marxism, post-colonialism, queer studies, and others.
Among its many affiliations, reception theory is most closely aligned with—yet also distinct from—other reader-oriented systems, most notably “reader-response theory.” Both theories are umbrella terms for literary criticism that locate text and reader as central in the construction of meaning, and Iser—one of reception theory’s originators—is often also considered a reader-response critic as well. However, Robert C. Holub distinguishes the two methodologies on the bases of unity and mutual influence. Unlike reception theory, the label “reader-response” was given to certain critics in retrospect; reception theory, on the other hand, “must be understood as a more cohesive, conscious, and collective undertaking” (Holub, 1984; xiii). This undertaking was concentrated in West Germany, particularly at the University of Constance, during the late 1960s; in fact, reception theory’s founders are generally referred to as the “Constance School”. Further, according to Holub, there is virtually no indication of mutual exchange or influence between the two camps, with the notable exception being the shared importance of Iser.
The emergence of reception theory as a purposeful and cohesive movement can be seen as a reaction to specific political, cultural, and intellectual circumstances occurring in West Germany during the 1960s. Holub argues:
Reception study arose as the result of a crisis in methods during the sixties, one which was, no doubt, closely related to larger social and political changes in Germany and the Western World at that time. The manifestations of a crisis in the literary academic sphere were evidenced in a variety of tendencies: the re-examination of the literary canon, the demand for more relevant curricula at universities, and the attempts to reform academic programs were the most notable of these signs of intense reevaluation. (1982; 83)
Reception theory emerged from this climate, and its founders—most notably Iser and Hans Robert Jauss (1921-1997)—saw their work as a corrective to theories of study they considered obsolete or elitist. In particular, the reception theorists challenged and rejected theories of literary study that saw meaning as rigidly fixed and wholly located within an ahistorical text, examples of which are the New Criticism and Formalism. The founders and early advocates of reception theory were so convinced of its monumental importance that many of them, including Jauss, would invoke Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts in science to describe the revolutionary character of their work.
Despite some of its founders’ extraordinary claims of a massive critical sea change, reception theory has a lineage that can potentially be traced back as far as classical Greece. Plato clearly understood—and warned against—poetry’s affective power on people, and subsequent artistic movements such as Romanticism stressed poetry’s emotional impact. However, reader response has its firmest roots in the philosophical traditions of phenomenology—such as the work of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and Roman Ingarden (1893-1970)—and hermeneutics, whose practitioners include Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Hans Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). Phenomenology—the name derives from the Greek word for “appearance”—disavows “the ‘external’ world of objects [in favor of] the ways in which these objects appear to the human subject, and the subjective contribution to this process of appearing” (Habib 709). Related to this philosophical outlook is hermeneutics, especially as manifested in the work of Husserl’s student Heidegger, who indicated that “art does not simply express prior or ready-made truths: rather, it both creates and preserves them” (Habib 717). These two philosophical traditions would feed into reception theory, although it is, of course, not a straight trajectory. Before reception theory was formalized by the Constance School, its basic tenets were prefigured in the work of critics such as Louise Rosenblatt, who argued for the “transactional” nature of reading, and Wayne Booth, who stressed fiction’s rhetorical power.
Of the Constance School, Iser and Jauss are generally acknowledged as its two most influential figures. The outlines of Iser’s theory of reading are presented in a 1970 lecture, “The Affective Structure of the Text,” and two works, The Implied Reader (1972) and The Act of Reading (1976). At its most basic, Iser’s theory identifies two “poles” to a piece of literature: its artistic pole (controlled by the author) and the aesthetic pole (realized by the reader). Iser argues that reading is an active process which brings the text to life; therefore, meaning is found in the convergence of the artistic and aesthetic poles. This authority does not mean that any reading will be validated, however, as the “text uses various strategies and devices to limit its own unwritten implications” (Habib 724). Iser’s colleague Jauss also felt the active role of the reader had been incorrectly undervalued, but, unlike Iser’s tendency to concentrate on individual readings, Jauss sought to “bridge the gap between historical and aesthetic approaches to literature” (Habib 721). Jauss saw texts as dialogic, devoid of fixed or essential meanings; instead, the meaning of a text is fluid and must be “[grounded] on the history of a work’s reception, [and] on the succession of readers’ experiences of that work” (Habib 721). Jauss postulates a “horizon of expectations” for audiences: the horizon serves as a “framework of assumptions” (Habib 722) that informs reader responses to and interpretations of a text, as well as the significance the text is granted by its audience. Certainly reception theory—during its germination as well as today—encompasses many theoretical positions beyond Iser and Jauss, some of those positions being contradictory, and its application has been extended to film and media studies. However, as Iser and Jauss are generally recognized as the critical approaches most important among reception study’s foundational theorists, their work remains central. But, with the purpose of determining the relationship between reception theory and reading, between the two of them, Iser’s work is especially useful. Jauss’s work, which strived to negotiate Marxism’s recognition of historical circumstance with Formalism’s emphasis on aesthetic perception, is relevant to reading mainly with respect to his “horizon of expectations.” This formulation of a historically-bound framework of expectations for readers places the reading act in context without subordinating reading to historical factors. Doing so both points to an explanation for changing critical consensuses on texts, as well as highlights a text’s inexhaustibility. Yet, of reception theory’s two main critics, Iser is typically acknowledged as being more concerned with the micro-level issue of response, in contrast with Jauss’s macro-level concern with reception (Holub, 1984; 85); therefore, of the two, Iser’s work is more directly related to reading.
Iser’s work reacts against the traditional assumptions of literary interpretation, which held that a text contains a fixed, “hidden” meaning, and that the aim of critical reading was to decode or uncover that stable meaning. Iser attempts to correct these assumptions by pointing out that the reading process is a temporal, yet non-linear, activity, and also that reading is characterized by a search for consistency, which requires that the reader “fill in gaps” at moments of indeterminancy, for instance, when confronted with implication. In this way, then, Iser sees reading as mirroring the way we experience life: “once our preconceptions are held in abeyance, the text becomes our ‘present’ while our own ideas fade into the past” (Habib 727).
Although Iser strives to situate reading as an event in time or a “dynamic happening” (qtd in Habib 728) with the reader playing a crucial role, he anticipates and defends himself against charges of subjectivism. Iser acknowledges that, to a certain degree, meanings drawn by readers are indeed private, but that they are regulated or limited—but not controlled—by textual conventions and devices. The production of meaning is “intersubjective”: readers, guided by the text, will often respond to the same elements, yet “different readers may then draw widely diverging conclusions from this range of meanings” (Habib 729). By acknowledging this negotiation between determinacy and indeterminacy during reading, Iser seems to be following in the footsteps of Louise Rosenblatt and her transactional model of reading. Rosenblatt herself, however, suggests that although Iser and other reception studies advocates’ “theoretical phrasings at times seem transactional nevertheless concentrate primarily on analyses of the text and see the reader’s contribution only as filling in ‘the gaps’ rather than transactionally creating meaning through the aesthetic stance and the triadic relationship with all the verbal signs” (45). Certainly the distance between Rosenblatt and Iser is measured in degrees, but probably Iser’s most important—if controversial—elaborations upon Rosenblatt’s foundational work is his concept of the “implied reader.”
Apparently drawings its name from Wayne Booth’s “implied author,” the implied reader is Iser’s attempt to configure the reader’s position without relying on “real” readers—which depends upon the survival of historical documents—or “hypothetical” readers—which is often a synonym for the “ideal” reader of a critic’s mind. Iser’s implied reader is a somewhat ephemeral textual process that anticipates a recipient and then structures meaning for the reader. In other words, Iser sees his implied reader, which he deems a “transcendental model,” to be a convergence of the textual conventions that control its perspectives and “the reader’s active role in bringing together the varied perspectives offered in the text; the text itself does not bring about this convergence” (Habib 730). The implied reader, then, encompasses not only the textual structure, but also the reader’s act of processing those structures, actualizing them, and filling in the text’s negations for the sake of consistency.

Works Cited
Habib, M. A. R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.
Harkin, Patricia. “The Reception of Reader-Response Theory.” College Composition and Communication 56 (2005): 410-425. JSTOR. 13 Mar 2009.
Holub, Robert C. Reception Theory: A Critical Introduction. New York: Methuen, 1984.
---. “Trends in Literary Theory: The American Reception of Reception Theory.” The German Quarterly 55.1 (1982): 80-96. JSTOR. 13 Mar 2009.
Rosenblatt, Louise. “Viewpoints: Transaction Versus Interaction—A Terminological Rescue Operation.” Making Meaning with Texts: Selected Essays. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 38-49.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Jessie Blackburn
Theories of Reading and Writing
Dr. Jolliffe
Encyclopedia Entry: Digital Literacy and New Literacy Studies

Situating Digital Literacy Studies within New Literacy Studies
Literacy Studies is currently in the midst of internal renovation. Revisiting many of the central ideas to the field—such as literacy as emancipation, literacy as imported information, and literacy as an isolated skill—Literacy Studies may be described as overhauling some of its foundational and ideological assumptions surrounding literacy, pedagogy, and outcome. We see this inward gaze of the field being motivated by a new branch of Literacy Studies, aptly known as New Literacy Studies (NLS). Born from the process movement and intersecting with the postmodernist and poststructuralist concerns of cultural studies, New Literacy Studies finds much of its scholarly roots in the works of Gee, Street, Brandt, and Heath[1]. Brian Street’s 2003 article, “What’s ‘new’ in New Literacy Studies? Critical Approaches to Literacy in Theory and Practice,” explains that NLS “build upon the foundational descriptions of out-of-school literacy events and practices developed within NLS, to return the gaze back to the relations between in and out of school, so that NLS is not seen simply as ‘anti school’ or interested only in small scale or ‘local’ literacies of resistance (Street 83). Overall, NLS understands literacy as more than the ability to read and write. Rather, NLS situates literacy as individually and culturally performed and examines the ways that competing contexts shape “the recognition of multiple literacies, varying according to time and space” (Street 77). One of the veins of New Literacy Studies is Digital Media Studies, the exploration of the multiple literacies necessary to navigate and resulting from technology today.
As computers and the Web become more robust at the same time more affordable and portable, technology’s influence on literacy is reaching a critical point of debate as to what skills modern definitions of literacy should include and exclude. Traditional notions of western literacy are typically traced to “the development of the Greek alphabet and its cumulative impact by about 450 b.c.e” (Hahn 290) and later to “the invention of the Gutenberg press in the late 1400’s” which offered mass production of the literature and meant that “many more individuals could now join the ranks of the literate” (Hahn 291). However, we are now in the midst of another technology revolution that ultimately may rival the literacy shifts caused by the printing press or moveable type. In Gail Hawisher and Cindy Selfe’s 2004 article, “Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural Ecologies and Literacies of Technology,” NLS was reminded that “we can understand literacy as a set of practices and values only when we properly situate our studies within the context of a particular historical period, a particular cultural milieu, and a specific cluster of material conditions” (646). While this article was not the first to attempt the inclusion of digital literacies under the larger umbrella of literacy studies and composition studies, we must note this article’s attention to the common agenda behind digital literacy studies: exploring and appreciating technology’s role in modern literacies.
In the same article by Hawisher and Selfe, focusing on America during the years of 1978 and 2003, we learn:
During that period, personal computers—as relatively cheap and durable, mass-
produced and mass-marketed machines—became commercially available for the first
time to many families, entered composition classrooms across the nation in large numbers,
and were broadly accepted by many school-aged children as the composing tool of choice.
Since that time, these machines have become so ubiquitous that their many effects are
becoming increasingly invisible” and it is during this time that computers “first found their
way into—and altered—the fabric of our culture. (645)
As we begin to see NLS develop and envelop some of the concerns explored by Digital Literacy Studies, we witness firsthand the evolutionary capacity of reading/writing alongside changes in civilization, and we see NLS widen its lens of inclusion to consider emerging digital literacies.
Some of the new literacies that are celebrated by Digital Literacy Studies may even seem beyond the traditional understanding of alphabetic literacies, but to NLS in the 21st century, ideas such as web surfing, text messaging, social networking, digital reading, remixing, digital composing, web designing, video essaying, and even gaming all fit into the practices seen as significant literacy performances. For example, Sara Glazer’s 2004 article, “Video Games: Do They Have Educational Value?”, asks us to consider gaming literacies and their relevance to traditional literacies. Glazer suggests that “indeed, the argument that video and computer games are superior to school in helping children learn is gaining currency in academic circles. Claimed benefits include improved problem-solving, mastery of scientific investigation and the ability to apply information learned to real-life situations.” (937) We learn from Glazer and other gaming literacy researchers like her, that “as video games become more sophisticated and broaden their audience” we must ask “whether educators will adapt those techniques to make school as engaging and complex as the best video games” (951). Placing Glazer’s article within the larger discourse surrounding NLS, it is important to note that she is currently one of many literacy scholars asking similar pedagogical questions surrounding popular literacy practices and the potential for those practices to either be incorporated into academia or, in some cases, what extracurricular literacy practices say about 21st century literacy in general[2].
Perhaps even more debatable to the current conversations on digital literacy is the definition of composition that is now witnessing its own re-visioning by NLS. Jeff Rice, in his article entitled “Networks and New Media” writes:
English studies maintains a fixed point of view through a singular notion of writing as
static, fixed, and individually composed (typically via the essay or the exam), taking place
in a unified realm of thought deemed ‘English.’ The definition of ‘writing’ produced in this
economy of thought (response essay, analytical paper, personal essay) no longer serve the
media society of networks and connections contemporary culture generates as these
definitions of writing are now performed. The time has come to rethink the metaphor of
writing because its image is too structured around fixity.” (129 emphasis in original)
For perhaps not very obvious reasons, it is worth mentioning that Rice’s 2006 article was published in College English—a not so subtle reminder to Literacy Studies that Digital Literacy Studies and NLS are increasingly reshaping the term ‘composition’ into a broader application that fits the 21st century and beyond. Specifically, we now witness the inclusion of video design and remixing as forms of composing in the literacy classroom. This modern mode of composing addresses many of the traditional concerns found in alphabetic-based literacy classrooms; however, it also includes multi-modal possibilities that illustrate literary devices such as mood, tone, style, and imagery. Many digital literacy educators now teach the video essay in an effort assess a student’s ability to write for the 21st century reader. Assessing this form of multi-modal composing, NLS pedagogues look for the writer’s attention to visual elements of mood through close up, long shot, fade in, or pan in an effort to achieve multiple effects. Likewise, a digital composer’s attention to story line and plot is often assessed through choices in camera views, times, and shot sequence. NLS classrooms tend to rely upon the PC and university provided computer labs that are increasingly fitted with editing software enabling students to film splice with digital editing—skills which many students practice extracurricularly for self-motivated purposes (i.e., YouTube). In keeping with the NLS concerns of local literacies and literacies as contextual performances, digital composing skills are validated, encouraged, and taught within 21 century literacy classrooms; likewise, the inclusion of digital composition in literacy studies now allows music, sound effects, and voice tracks to be remixed into a student’s paper or over the top of an existing text. Dennis Baron’s article “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies” points out that as literacy technology evolves, “it also goes beyond the previous technology in innovative, often compelling ways. For example, while writing cannot replace many speech functions, it allows us to communicate in ways that speech does not. Writing lacks such tonal cues of the human voice as pitch and stress, not to mention the physical cues that accompany face to face communication” (122). Essentially, Baron’s point is that when we trace literacy technologies—in the case of his article, the pencil and the pixel—we see where speech acts eventually led to alphabetic writing and now to multimodal composing. Built specifically to support these academic interests within the literacy classroom but also used by the general public is the possibility provided by the open-sourced, multi-media, and free publishing environments found through the robust, web-based Sophie book ( The Sophie book, developed by academic institutions for academic literacies, is just one example of the Web’s impinging influence on the way the 21st century literacy students, and therefore literacy scholars, see composing as a multimodal task.
While many of these multimodal composition techniques achieve the basic rhetorical elements valued in traditional literacy classrooms (e.g., narrator, audience, ethos, pathos, and logos, etc.), Digital Literacy Studies hope to expand the definition of literacy to bridge the traditional composition skills with the modern digital literacies to enrich a text and maximize its rhetorical potential. In the article “Web Literacy: Challenges and Opportunities for Research in a New Medium” (Sorapure, et al.) we learn that “many scholars in [literacy studies] believe that the viability of composition depends on such an expanded definition of literary. Aside from benefitting students by expanding their repertoire of skills in evaluating different modes and media of communication, a broader conception of literacy invites us as scholars to make connections to other disciplines” (335). Again, we see NLS folding digital literacy into its broadening goals and objectives to meet the shifting cultural ecology surrounding literacy practices.
Another cue that the dialogue of NLS now includes conversations on digital media and literacy is the journal Computers and Composition ( Devoted to publishing diverse articles focused on digital writing pedagogy; writing programs; rhetorical critique of computer software and the visual, textual digital media; and technology’s relevance to socio-economic conditions, Computers and Composition interrogates the current trends in digital media and composition studies while astutely anticipating the imminent shifts in the culturally symbiotic relationship that has developed between technology and literacy. Typical for the Journal and the field of Digital Media Studies, any edition might cover topics ranging in scope from composition pedagogy to digital rhetoric in society and politics to software programming to online portfolios to video gaming to community web design or the video essay.
Providing further proof of the widening concerns of literacy studies is the 2004 National Council for the Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement regarding 21st century literacies. NCTE states:
Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments,
the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to (1) develop proficiency with the tools of technology; (2) build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally; (3) design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes; (4) manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; (5) create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts; and (6) attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.(
We see that as of 2004, the national organization devoted to the advancement of college level literacy education has officially and publically embraced the studies of digital literacy into its own agendas. Additionally, the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA) has also issued its position regarding digital composing in college composition courses. According to WPA:
By the end of first-year composition, students should (1) use electronic environments for drafting, reviewing, revising, editing, and sharing texts; (2) locate, evaluate, organize, and use research material collected from electronic sources, including scholarly library databases; other official databases (e.g., federal government databases); and informal electronic networks and internet sources; and (3) understand and exploit the differences in the rhetorical strategies and in the affordances available for both print and electronic composing processes and texts. (
Undoubtedly, the inclusion of digital literacy into the concerns of NCTE and WPA regarding the state of America’s higher education literacy classrooms is yet another indicator that as NLS examines its role in the 21st century, multimodal composing is a chief concern. The February 2009 Report from the National Council of Teachers of English features an article written by the former NCTE president, Kathleen Blake Yancey, entitled “Writing in the 21st Century.” In this article, Yancey traces the shifting literacy acts that took place in the 20th century into those that occur now in the 21st century. Yancy writes:
Historically, like today, we compose on all the available materials. Whether those
materials are rocks or computer screens, composing is a material as well as social practice;
composing is situated within and informed by specific kinds of materials as well as by its
location in community. We have simply never seen it quite so clearly as we do now. (8)
She concludes her article by revisiting the NLS commitment to literacy pedagogies that match the times in which they are taught. She claims this most recent publication is a call to action for the field to “articulate the new models of composing developing right in front of our eyes” and to “ design a new model of a writing curriculum K–graduate school” (8). While Yancey does not speak for all literacy scholars, she certainly situates her concerns at the feet of NLS and Digital Literacy Studies in her emphatic quest to acknowledge and explore the influence of digital media on the literacy practices of the 21st century composer.
With the inclusion of Digital Literacy Studies into the larger concerns of New Literacy Studies, we see the field’s continued commitment to “tak[ing] nothing for granted with respect to literacy and the social practices with which it becomes associated, problematizing what counts as literacy at any time and place and asking ‘whose literacies’ are dominant and whose are marginalized or resistant (Street 77). The direction of NLS is sure to be defined by the constantly shifting identities of literacy performers as well as the evolving contexts in with literacy acts take place. NLS has entered into the early 21st century, and it seems only to be gaining momentum among literacy scholars—especially those interested in emerging digital literacies.

Works Cited
Baron, Dennis. “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies.” Computers in
the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Sidler, Michelle, Richard Morris, and Elizabeth Smith, eds. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008.
The Council of Writing Program Administrators. Glazer, Sarah. "Video Games." CQ Researcher 16.40 (2006): 937-960. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. 10 April 2009

Hahn, Dan. F. Political Communication: Rhetoric, Government, and Citizens. State College:
Strata Publishing, 2003.
National Council of the Teachers of English. “The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies.”
NCTE Position Statement. February 15, 2008.

Rice, Jeff . "Networks and New Media. " College English 69.2 (2006): 127-133. 10 Apr.
Selfe, Cynthia L., and Gail E. Hawisher. “Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural
Ecologies and the Literacaies of Technology.” CCC. 55.4 (2004): 642-692.
Selfe, Cynthia L., and Gail E. Hawisher. Literate Lives in the Information Age: Narratives of
Literacy from the United States. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004. Sidler, Michelle, Elizabeth O. Smith, and Richard Morris. Computers in the Composition
Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008. “Sophie Book.” <>
Sorapure, Madeleine, et al. “Web Literacy: Challenges and Opportunities for Reasearch in a New
Medium.” Computers in the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Sidler,
Street, Brian. “What’s ‘new’ in New Literacy Studies? Critical Approaches to Literacy in
Theory and Practice.” Current Issues in Comparative Education, 5.2 (2003): 77-91.
Michelle, Richard Morris, and Elizabeth Smith, eds. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008.
Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Writing in the 21st Century.” Report from the National Council of Teachers of English. February 2009 NCTE.
[1] For more on this, see Gee’s Social Linguistics: Ideology in Discourses (1991) and “The New Literacy Studies” (2000); Brandt’s Literacy in American Lives (2001); and Street’s "Literacy Events and Literacy Practices" (2000) and Social Literacies (1995).
[2] For more on gaming literacy, see James Gee’s text, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003), in which Gee asks similar questions and proposes simliar implications for the literacy classroom.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Encyclopedia Article: Reading and the Teaching of English

Joel Blair
Dr. David Jolliffe
Seminar Reading Theory
28 April 2009

Encyclopedia Article:
Reading and the Teaching of English.
The Teaching of English is a very broad and diverse field. At its broadest definition, the teaching of English means the passing along of information, direction, goals, methods, ideas, and theories in the English language. There are several different areas within the teaching of English that it would be helpful to first explore.
There are many reasons why a student might seek to study English. Teachers must first define what kind of student they wish to teach. Teaching native learners is the most common kind of English taught in the world (McArthur). Native learners are expected to grow to become highly adept at reading and writing in English. Most native students spend at least twelve years learning many different aspects of English.
In primary school, or elementary school, students are taught different ways to begin reading. They are taught basic aspects of grammar, phonetic awareness, spelling structures, and some composition methods. This area of schooling is used to lay a foundation for the rest of a child’s education. Students will be expected to be able to read and comprehend many different types of texts by the time they finish primary school. They will also be expected to engage with these texts on a basic level through the use of writing.
In secondary school, students engage texts at a much deeper level. By this time, students have been taught how to understand texts at their face value. English courses in secondary schools usually focus more on literature and composition. It is very common for a student to explore books that are part of the canon of English literature. Typically, students will read a text, and then they will write papers discussing the plot or themes of the text. The use of creative writing has also been a popular tool used over the past twenty years. It allows the student to explore their own understanding of the world unencumbered by the words of those that have come before them.
Higher Education, or tertiary education, teaches students to make the most out of their English. It is in college that students are allowed the chance to engage with texts, largely unfiltered by the approach of teachers that try to define meaning. Students are expected to be able to use English to compose their own writings on subjects appropriate to the courses they are taking. Many schools offer composition courses that seek to explain to students how to approach these writing assignments correctly, without relying on the traditional form of five-paragraph essays. Students that seek to make English their primary course are expected to intelligently approach and engage every text that they read. An accumulation of previous methods in English studies help to define the limits the student will experience as a part of their journey through the educational system for Native speakers. It is very important that English teachers realize the cumulative effect their instruction will have upon their pupils.
This is also true for students that are learning English as a foreign, or secondary, language. There are many different reasons a non-native speaker might seek training in English, and teachers should be aware of the goal these students have in mind. Some students are expected to learn the language as a part of their country’s heritage. Their country may have been a former colony of an English-speaking country and English has become one of the languages spoken in their country. Other students studying English as a Second Language might seek to learn English because they wish to use it. These students might move to an English speaking country later in their life, or they might expect to interact with English speakers in their intended occupation. Academic curiosity is another common reason students will seek to gain a better understanding of English. English is also frequently used as a sort of universal language. Many industries use English words as a part of their everyday dealings, which in turn creates a need for it to be learned, if only in a very limited capacity, by the people in that industry. All of these areas require different procedures and approaches from the English Teacher. One of the most difficult areas of teaching English is the teaching of reading.
Reading is the exploration of the intangible through the use of a tangible medium. The Teaching of Reading is an attempt to pass along the process the teacher uses to explore. This nearly impossible feat has been broken down in the educational system into smaller compartmentalized parts so that each reader can use these parts to explore in a standardized and controlled way. It is important that the teacher remembers the end goal of the teaching of reading so the student will have the skills necessary for their own explorations. It is also important for the teacher to be aware of the development of Reading and the Teaching of English.
The teaching of reading in English is an old area of study that has continued to rapidly evolve, especially throughout the last one hundred years. There are many different approaches and methods that teachers use when reading is at hand, but there are some areas that are more commonly accepted and explored than others. It will be helpful to explore these methods in the same areas of teaching English that were previously mentioned.
The teaching of reading in English for native speakers is the most important job that teachers face. If a person can read and apprehend a text, they will be able to study or comprehend almost anything. To aid the very beginning stages of native and secondary learning, the teacher may use one of several different teaching methods.
There are basically two different methods for teaching the beginning reader how to find the meaning in a text. The first is phonics. Phonics use letters and letter groups to approximate phonemes, or specified sounds, common to the language of English. There are over 45 phonemes at use in the English Language. Teachers of the beginning English student can teach these phonemes as they relate to letters and letter groups. The students will then be able to sound out any word that they come across, and they will eventually adapt to the written English language and grow to understand how the sounds match up to the written words. There are several inherent problems in this system of teaching. Many students will not be able to understand harder words, even if they are able to pronounce it correctly. There is also a danger of students not understanding grammar, spelling, and syntax if they are used to working with phonics, especially if they use a dialect of English that is not in keeping with standardized English.
The second method beginning English students are often taught is the “whole word” method. Associations are utilized to connect words, phrases, or sentences with pictures and actions. These are drilled over and over until students have been able to recognize the texts and begin combining them in different ways. They are then expected to be able to build upon this basis as they continue their exploration of English. There are many problems with this method as well, such as a limited number of associations that are possible before the students have to work on their own; and there is a difficulty students often face when they try to connect their spoken language with the written one.
Proponents on both sides of this “war” claim that the problems that lie in the other are insurmountable. What both sides fail to realize is that both of these methods rely on a combination of external forces to create a reading experience in the beginning students, whereas all advanced students have this reading experience internally. Most teachers use an assimilation of the two methods in order to create a foundation for their students (Wilson 1).
It is upon this foundation that a great deal of time is required to improve the reader. It is difficult to truly teach a student real methods of improvement at this period of development in reading. The best method of strengthening reading skills after an appropriate foundation has been laid is through reading. Students must read a great deal, and they must read widely. Teachers of different subjects give reading assignments to students so they will be exposed to forms of literature, technical writing, essays, poetry, novels, and scientific writings. The more a student is able to comprehend about what he has read, the more he will be able to comprehend in future readings. This period of strengthening reading is very important in an English reader’s life, but it is the most elusive, and the hardest to teach by far.
The third area of a reader’s life that a teacher helps to develop is critical reading. This is the time in which a reader takes what he has read and looks at the deeper meaning. The teacher is expected to discuss the meaning of a text with the student. The English teacher will explore meaning, theories of how to approach meaning, different ways to explore meaning, and different methods of interpreting meaning in a text. Some of the most common theories are Reader-response, Feminism, Structuralism, New Criticism, and Historical Criticism. All of these methods of criticism seek to explain the meaning and appropriate criticisms to texts through the use of educated approaches. Teachers of English must guide the student through these, until the student has finally found an approach to reading that is unique. It is through these unique readings that humans are able to continually evolve in their understanding of English; and the application of their understandings changes the English language in turn.

Works Cited

Huey, Edmund Burke. The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading. New York: MacMillan, 1921.

“IPA Chart for English Dialects.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 27 April 2009 .

McArthur, Tom. “Teaching English.” Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.

Squire, James. “The History of the Profession.” Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts. Ed. James Flood, Julie Jensen, Diane Lapp, and James R. Squire. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2003. 3-17.

Stokes, William. “Recent History of the Phonics Debates.” Lesley University. 2005. The Hood Children’s Literacy Project. 20 April 2009 .

Wilson, Robert McCole. “Teaching Reading – a History.” The Art of Parenting Through Art. 2003. 25 April 2009 .

Wyse, Dominic, and Russell Jones. Teaching English, Language, and Literacy. London: Routledge, 2001.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Instructions for presentations

Hello all,

As promised, here are a few simple instructions for the presentations, which begin next week. First of all, plan to talk for no more than 10 minutes. Say what your central question is, what you are learning that might lead to an answer to that question, and then what you think the implications of that answer/those answers might be. After each presentation, rather than having a free-form discussion, I propose that we "ink-shed" a bit. I'll explain how to do that in class tonight.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

GQ's Top 20 Graphic Novels

I hesitate to directly post GQ's content, so here is the link. It has a cool slideshow of the covers of its selections. Looks like a pretty good list.