Responding and Comprehending: Reading With Delight and Understanding
Lauren Aimonette Liang
In the last decade, teachers have become increasingly aware of the need to provide comprehension strategy instruction for their students. Pivotal publications such as the National Reading Panel report (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000) and the RAND report (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002) gradually have affected teacher professional development, school district policies, and basal reading programs to the extent that most teachers are aware of the importance of comprehension strategy instruction, although research has indicated that, in most classrooms, not enough time is given to this type of instruction (Pressley, 2006).
In attempting to include this needed instruction in the classroom day along with all the other facets of language arts and reading, many teachers are forced to sacrifice time spent encouraging response to literature. Worse, many decide the solution is to tack response activities onto a comprehension strategy lesson using authentic literature. The latter decision typically results in frustration for both teacher and students. The literature selection often becomes “basalized” as students adopt a more pragmatic approach to the literature selection to complete the comprehension strategy lesson correctly. The students' work with the response activity is thus hampered as it becomes difficult for them to adopt the needed aesthetic approach, or stance, to the literature. Rosenblatt (1978) explains the aesthetic stance as having a nearly virtual experience while reading—identifying with characters, taking on a participatory role in the story, and especially being aware of the sound of the text and the personal feelings it evokes.
Teachers used to the type of work students are able to do on response activities when they take this aesthetic stance are disappointed with the responses students make when the literature is used for too many purposes (Galda & Liang, 2003). Students, too, frequently are not able to engage with the literature in the same way they would if given a chance to experience the text through an aesthetic stance, which can result in a decreased motivation to read more literature. When asked to read for other purposes such as answering questions or remembering specific information, students may miss out on the potential of stories and poems and thus on the possibility of spending time under the spell of a good book.
So is the case of comprehension strategy lessons and response activities one where “never the twain shall meet”? Clearly, when one considers the goals of comprehension strategy instruction and the goals of reader-response instruction, this does not have to be the case. Both types of instruction actually have very similar purposes. Effective strategy instruction focuses on helping students to use strategies to actively make meaning of text and to engage with it more thoroughly. Strategic reading relies on students being metacognitive and using appropriate strategies flexibly. Classroom activities that teach students about strategic reading lead to students interacting more deeply with the text and, in a collaborative classroom, with one another, and they ultimately lead to a deep consideration of the text and its ideas.
Instruction from a response perspective encourages students to adopt an aesthetic stance when reading stories and poems—to read for the experience the text offers. It also focuses on student engagement and asks students to create meaning with the text. Sharing responses with others leads to students working together to create both a deeper understanding of the text and of one another.
We suggest in this chapter that response activities and comprehension strategy lessons can be combined, and, furthermore, that when done with careful consideration of the goals of each, can actually enhance student engagement and understanding of a text, enrich student response to a text, and improve students' awareness of their own personal strategic reading. Indeed, key comprehension strategies such as predicting, interpreting, connecting, evaluating, visualizing, confirming, questioning, summarizing, and generalizing are also important components of aesthetic reading and responding. The key to the combination of the two, we feel, lies largely in the particular stage of the comprehension strategy lesson.
Research on comprehension strategy instruction has indicated that one of the most effective ways to teach strategies is through a direct explanation method (Duffy, 2002; Duke & Pearson, 2002; NICHD, 2000). This method begins with teacher modeling and explanation of the strategy, then turns to guided practice and ultimately individual student practice. Responding and comprehension strategy instruction can be combined when the strategies in question have already been well explained and modeled, guided practice has occurred, and the students are now working on more independent practice with feedback from teachers and peers. When students are at this point in their understanding and use of a comprehension strategy, teachers can create lessons that combine both response to the literature and practice of the particular strategy. The combined lesson can help students understand how they can use the strategies they know as part of an aesthetic approach to reading literature to deepen their understanding of and engagement with the text. Additionally, students can see how their response to the text might be affected by their use of the strategy as well as how the strategies they select need to match the possibilities in the text they are reading.
Liang, L., & Galda, L. (2009).
Responding and Comprehending: Reading With Delight and Understanding.
In D.A. Wooten, & B.E. Cullinan (Eds.), Children's Literature in the Reading Program (pp. 99-109). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.