Reader response theory: a past or future? an examination of reader response theories, research and classroom practice

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Literature and our relationship to it have long been subjects of interest and exploration to readers, teachers, and critics. Theories of literary criticism have attempted to describe this relationship by ascribing varying degrees of prominence to the reader, the text and the teacher/critic. Common to most theories of literary criticism is the degree of importance attached to both text and teacher/critic and the neglect of the reader. With the publication of Literature as Exploration in 1938, Rosenblatt issued the first challenge to the dominant role of the text as the sole bearer of meaning with the postulation that reader and text transacted in order to create meaning. It was not until the 1970's, however, that the significance of Rosenblatt's work was fully recognized, during which period of time literary theorists such as Holland, Bleich, Fish, Purves and Iser were developing their own theories of reader response. What is interesting about reader response theories, however, is the question of their applicability to the teaching of literature. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine not only reader response theories, but their significance in terms of classroom practice. To do this, a cross-section of research studies on reader response and a series of articles on classroom practice relating directly to reader response were examined. The teaching methods suggested by the studies and those reader response methods identified in the articles on classroom practice were compared in order to answer two questions: does reader response theory inform classroom practice and conversely, does classroom practice inform the theory? The study reveals that while there is a strong theory into practice link, classroom practice does not appear to influence those theories examined in this study, and suggests several recommendations for both teaching and research. Recommendations address the areas of curriculum development and evaluation, the changing view of teacher role, and the effects of language in the classroom on response in terms of pedagogy. Recommendations for research include the need for more longitudinal research studies, the need for research into the use of tradebooks in content areas, and the need for research into teacher beliefs and their effects on student response. The study also identifies the complexity of reader response and its relationship to other areas of research, such as reading comprehension and cognition.
Bibliography: p. 181-191.
Ellingson, C. E. (1992). Reader response theory: a past or future? an examination of reader response theories, research and classroom practice (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/20476