The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Doctoral Student (and Full-Time Teacher)

November 14, 2010

Ch. 9- Moderns Among Masterpieces

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 8:43 pm

When Rosenblatt talked of efferent and aesthetic stances being on a continuum, I think she may have been referring to experiences I had as I was reading the chapter. A collection of pieces from research journals, chronicling 50 + years of one’s research would most likely be read efferently. And I’ve been reading Rosenblatt’s book efferently, mostly. However, in this chapter I found myself sliding further and further away from efferent and into the aesthetic zone. This chapter actually inspired me, it made me want to do something. I created meaning as I read it.

As the title of the chapter indicates, Rosenblatt is comparing the reading of modern literature and classics, or “masterpieces.” In typical Rosenblatt form, she acknowledges the importance of each of the types of literature. She praises the classics, arguing that there is some reason that they have stayed with us as a culture for as long as they have. She then goes on to describe how we in education can ruin the classics, or at the very least turn young readers away from them. We take something that a great many people have gotten joy from, an aesthetic reading experience, and we make it into an efferent reading experience. We poke and prod at the book, we introduce them to background knowledge, we force them to acknowledge the superiority and importantness of the literature. And then we expect them to enjoy it (with a test or essay afterwards).

As I was reading this text, I found myself thinking about my identity as a reader. I do not have much experience with classics. With the exception of one teacher, my English teachers did not do much to develop my literary palate. We watched the Wishbone the Dog version of Moby Dick. That same teacher told us to skip the boring chapters about bull fighting in The Sun Also Rises. And I knew nothing of British or American authors. I read what I found at the library. I only read The Catcher in the Rye a couple summers ago for the first time. Reading Rosenblatt speak of the magic of classic works inspired me. It made me want to read some of those texts. As a result of Ch. 9, I did several things: looked up Time Magazine\’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die list, ordered the first four book (in ABC order) from Amazon, and ordered the book 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I am also online shopping for a new bookshelf.



Ch. 8- What Facts Does This Poem Teach You?

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 7:35 pm

Those of you who have been following my blog have a pretty good idea what Louise Rosenblatt would have to say about that question. Not being one who enjoys poetry, I was interested to read what Rosenblatt had to say about the literary form. Essentially, Roseblatt compares poetry to other literary forms–that they can be read both aesthetically and efferently. However, the aesthetic form of the poem is more complex than other forms of writing, because not only is there the meaning involved, but also the placement of text on the page, the use of capital or lower-case letters, and the rhythm and rhyme of a poem.

“The parent’s and the teacher’s concern about helping the youngster to acquire the referential language code may contribute to a stifling or at least a weakening of the child’s initial awareness of the sensuous, affective, and associational aspects of the experience towards which words point,” (p. 101). This sentence sums up the meat of this chapter. Here Rosenblatt argues that adults, teachers and parent, place higher value on efferent reading. The result is something as seemingly aesthetic as poetry becomes an efferent exercise. Rosenblatt shares a classroom observation, where her eye catches a workbook page with a poem. She states that she was happy to see that students were reading poetry, until she stepped closer and saw the directions, “What facts does this poem teach you?” The entire assignment based on finding absolute truths in poetry.

Rosenblatt argues that teachers do not need to go back to school or to change their teaching techniques in order to be more inclusive of the aesthetic stance of reading. Instead, she suggests that adults, teachers and parents, keeping the following things in mind:

1. Do not generate an efferent stance when presenting texts as poems or stories or plays.

2. Do not use the texts being read aesthetically for the explicit teaching of reading skills.

3. Do not preface aesthetic reading with requests for information or analysis that require predominately efferent reading.

4. Do not hurry the young reader away from the lived-through aesthetic experience by too quickly demanding summaries, paraphrases, character analyses, or explanations of broad themes.

5. Do not hurry the young reader into substituting literary terminology or definitions for the lived through work.

As I type these suggestions, I flash back to my own teaching experiences. I have made many of these mistakes myself–requiring my students to read efferently when they should have been enjoying the aesthetic experience. It seems silly now that I made those mistakes. I am an avid reader, and I never do any of those things that I asked my students to do in the classroom!


See definition 2



November 13, 2010

Ch. 7 Literature–SOS!

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 9:21 pm

In this short section, Rosenblatt discusses the possibility of reader-response researchers and practitioners being in danger of shooting themselves in the foot. At the time the piece was first published (1991), more and more research was being published about the importance of aesthetic reading and the appreciation of literature in English education. However, Rosenblatt cites one major problem: the words literature and aesthetic were not being defined in the research.

As most educators know, buzz words find a way of embedding themselves into education practice–best practices, student-centered, literature circles, and measurable learning outcomes are just a few of the many buzz words in education. These words represent something valuable in education, but just like a game of telephone, the meaning gets lost somewhere along the way.

The clearest example I have of this was during my teaching last year. I was very excited to introduce my students to literature circles in my classroom. After talking with a couple students, I learned that they had done literature circle in their class the previous year. Because of this, I decided to spend less time practicing the mechanics of the literature circles with my students. Later, I found out that the teacher had all the children reading the same book….in a circle. Not exactly what I pictured when I talk about literature circles. However, ┬áI think it is the perfect example of how big ideas get watered down into buzz words. Teachers feel the pressure to adapt, without the support or the desire to research how to adapt, and we get kids reading in a circle. I believe this is what Rosenblatt was trying to get at with this piece–researchers and practitioners need to be explicit when explaining or using a particular technique, otherwise we are all reading the same book while sitting in a circle.

Ch. 5- The Literary Transaction: Evocation & Response

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 8:26 pm

Sometimes you read an article, chapter, or section of a text and you fixate on a single statement. Reading Ch. 5 of Roseblatt’s Making Meaning With Texts, I had that experience. This section was a more practical (as opposed to theoretical) approach to Rosenblatt’s efferent and aesthetic reading stances.┬áRosenblatt surveys from birth through adulthood the role of language and reading in a person’s life. She explains that young children are much more inclined to engage in aesthetic reading, but that traditional reading instruction pushes more efferent reading.

While explaining reading transaction, Rosenblatt describes the different between efferent and aesthetic reading. She explains, “In efferent reading, the child must learn to focus on extracting the public meaning of the text,” (p. 77, my emphasis). I read that statement and it hit me like a ton of bricks. THE PUBLIC MEANING. That statement conjures up so many thoughts into my head, but most importantly it give me a clear example of what exactly efferent reading entails–“finding” the publicly accepted meaning of a text. After reading that sentence, I wondered if efferent is the public meaning, than would aesthetic be one’s private meaning? It makes sense, something private can be secret, or one’s own. When we read aesthetically, we are interacting with the text, finding and creating meaning.

However, I don’t think the private meaning of a text has to be secret. Book clubs offer the opportunity to read aesthetically and to share one’s private meaning with close friends or mutual readers of the text.

A second part of the chapter that drew my attention was the story about the little girl who learned the rhyme about Christopher Columbus. Her teacher taught her:

“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two

Columbus crossed the ocean blue.”

However, the next day the little girl came back singing her own version of the song, citing that she preferred her own rendition:

“In fourteen hundred and ninety-three

Columbus crossed the bright blue sea.”

When I worked at KIPP, one of the popular teaching tools (particularly for rote memorization tasks, such as naming the 50 states or multiplication tables) was the chant. Creative teachers would create or borrow chants relevant to classroom lessons to help students master material. Rosenblatt’s example begs the question, are the students learning the concept meant to be taught, or are they learning what they deem to be important (in this case the rhythm of the song).

In this video, you see the kids “rolling” their numbers, or as we old people call it…times tables. The kids do the 3, 6, and 8 tables. Rolling one’s numbers entails raising a finger each time you say a number….the idea being if the kid wants to figure out 3×3, they sing their song until their third finger-3, 6, 9. However, I observed students not concretely making the connection between their song and their fingers. Does taking an efferent task (times tables) and mixing in an aesthetic medium (singing) work, or will the students learn the “wrong” lesson?

Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob, Rosenblatt?

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 4:00 pm

In the 5th chapter of Making Meaning With Texts: Selected Essays, Rosenblatt digs into the dynamics of teaching literature. True to her research, Roseblatt advocates for the importance of the relationship between the reader and the text, explaining that a “lifelong personal relationship between books and people,” (p. 63-64) is the goal of literature education. However, literature education often neglects developing the relationship between the reader and the book, instead focusing on the teaching of methods, background knowledge, and knowing about the text (as opposed to knowing it in a personal way). Rosenblatt cautions educators to not use substitutes for the actual texts, such as critiques, analytical pieces, background information on the author or setting, without actually exposing students to the real text.

As I was reading this chapter, I felt like Rosenblatt was a women woven from the same cloth as me. The relationship between the reader and the text has almost magical powers. Bringing to life characters from the page, visiting the places that those said characters visit, or sharing an emotional moment with the people of the text represent quality reading experiences. Rosenblatt explains that we create relationships with texts based on our own experiences and the ability to empathize with the characters. All that being said, I began thinking about myself as a reader. I tell my students what makes me a good English teacher is not my background and training in English (as there is none), but my identity as a reader. I love to read, and my reading palate is not what I would describe as refined. I will read it all (except Jane Austin, try as I may I cannot get into her). I imagine Rosenblatt respecting that.

Twilight is a text loved by pre-teen and teen girls all over the world. It’s also loved by grown women. The series receives a lot of criticism: it’s lack of a developed plot, gender roles in the text, etc. As a reader, I found it very enjoyable to read. In fact, I have read the whole series on multiple occasions. Since Rosenblatt focuses on the read connecting with the text, I can only imagine that she’d view the Twilight series and other popular contemporary works as a positive element in creating a relationship between the reader and the text. Team Edward vs. Team Jacob–announcing alliances for the two love interests, this division is a direct result of the text, but it is not part of the text. There were not characters announcing their support to one boy over the other. This phenomenon is a direct result of readers interacting with the text.


Team Edward vs. Team Jacob



Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob, Rosenblatt?

November 2, 2010

Literature Circles & “Fix-It” Strategies

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 11:13 am

In today’s education climate, I do not think it is uncommon for teachers to be focused on the question, “How do I assess that?” Accountability, high-stakes testing, academic emergency, and NCLB are all terms that describe our current focus in education: testing. As a teacher, I believe it is important to have an accurate account of how my students are doing. However, I do no think that the account has to be quantitative. Standardized testing, even those that diversify from multiple choice questioning alone, takes something large and complex, student learning over the course of a year, and crunches it down to a simple test score. Sure, this type of assessment can be important (it’s something the students will see for temporary driver’s license applications and for college entrance, but it cannot be the only form of assessment being used, nor is it the only form of assessment of value. Literature circle offer plenty of time for assessment, but a time of assessment that the power that be seem to forget–teacher observation over an extended period of time.

I was quite impressed with myself, or I should say my former self, because a lot of what I did in my first years of literature circles is what Daniels suggests in his text. I used a simple rubric to gather a daily “assessment,” I collected notes on happenings within the group, and I sat down and both participated or simply observed. The idea of focusing on two “standards,” one social and one academic during literature circles is wonderful. I think it brings focus to the activity for both the students and the teacher, without taking away freedom in instruction.

Last year when I did literature circles is when I had the most trouble. It was completely my fault. My students told me that they had previously done literature circles (while I later learned was literature circles in name only). Because I believed they had the background, I spent less time building a literature circles community, a structure, or an organization. My students read at their own speeds, I gave them no direction or suggestion for focusing, and I did a poor job of being a participant and an observer. As a result, my literature circles became very task-like. In this case, my “fix-it” strategy would be to ensure that literature circles have a place in the classroom, with a defined structure and system of support. Most importantly, set cycles for reading a text, so my students do end up in la-la land reading a 150 page book over the course of 6 weeks.