ERIC Identifier: ED292108
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Pugh, Sharon L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading and Communication Skills Bloomington IN.
Teaching Children To Appreciate Literature. ERIC Digest Number
Charlotte Huck and her colleagues (1987) have defined literature as "...the
imaginative shaping of life and thought into the forms and structures of
language." If life, thought and/or imagination are missing, the language alone
will not suffice.
Appreciation may be explained as the capacity to understand, learn from, and
above all enjoy literary works. It involves the ability to read and respond
creatively, sharing the author's role by drawing on one's own imagination and
experience. The text enters the reader as the reader enters the text. Their
worlds are joined.
Two basic approaches to teaching literature at any level are the "structural"
(traditional literary analysis) and the "reader response" approaches. While they
may be viewed as opposites, they are more productively regarded as
complementary. Structural analysis provides the terms and concepts that help
readers interpret and discuss literature, while reader response emphasizes the
integrated experience an individual has with a text, with the reader's personal
response having primacy over formal knowledge of textual characteristics. A
strong case can be made for beginning with reader response. If done without
first establishing the personal relationship by which the reader breathes life
into a text, formal analysis is likely to resemble an autopsy.
Perhaps the best known theorist to
explicate reader response as a pedagogical as well as critical stance is Louise
Rosenblatt (1978), who formulated the "transactional theory" of reading and the
distinction between "efferent" (utilitarian) and "aesthetic" reading. Aesthetic
reading centers on a transaction between reader and text fostered through
personal response, reflection, discussion, and elaboration, leading to new
literary experiences, both in reading and in writing. In this process, reader
and text mutually affect one another. Jim Parsons (1978) echoes this view in his
description of reading as "the meeting of two meaning makers over
literature...[which]...produces changes in both, the author's text and the
reader's growth." (p. 18) For this to happen, he asserts, reading instruction
should not seek to control the reader's experience but rather to facilitate the
reader's own structuring of that experience.
For children, encounters with literature should retain characteristics of
play, children's most natural activity. This principle is well illustrated in
the exuberance of color and design in children's books and in themes that align
the natural and the fantastic. John Dixon (1987) describes the maturing
re-sponses of young readers as "drawing on parts of the imaginary world in their
play (and progressively, in drama and writing) and thus trying to explore
complex situations and characters from the inside; talking and writing about
personal and other familiar experiences that chime in with what's been read,
thus approaching them from a new perspective; raising questions about the
imaginary world and its people, discovering new connections between the
imaginary and the real world, and thus discussing what human experience is
actually like." (p. 764)
Probably the most frequently given advice for stimulating creative reader
response is simply to surround children with good reading. Bill Martin, Jr.
(1987) proposes a supportive, non-analytic approach to literature of which two
major components are oral reading and an abundance of interesting books. Reading
would develop "by osmosis," he writes. "Without consciousness of how or
why...[t]he reader is forever rummaging and scavenging through the pages for a
glimpse of self...[f]or the pleasure of finding a closer relationship of the
outer world to the inner world and vice versa. For the intense satisfaction of
finding a special book that speaks to both the heart and the mind." (p. 18)
Describing a literature program for the gifted, Denise Bartelo and James
Cornette (1982) advocate both exposure to a wide variety of materials and the
design of activities that encourage creative reader response, such as compiling
a museum of personal artifacts in relation to autobiographical writing,
pretending to be a book with fantastic characteristics, and putting a current
events item in the form of an animal fable. In their program, emphasis is on
"making reading less of a skill-related activity and more of a personal
experience that could be shared and discussed." (p. 6)
At the middle and junior high school level, when analytic sophistication may
begin to develop, emphasis may still be placed on the encouragement of personal
response as a way of exploring the possibilities of various genres. Philip
Anderson (1982) recommends exposure to a broad range of works and a lot of
writing and sharing of personal responses to build awareness of the
commonalities among readers of the same texts. In this way students begin to
understand their membership in a cultural and literary community. He considers
the intense sociability and garrulousness of students at this age as a resource
too often overlooked. He writes that "it seems that more time is spent in the
middle school and junior high school trying to get students to shut up than
there is trying to channel that verbal onslaught into something productive." (p.
7) He would like to see more in-class publications of student work, oral reading
of plays, discussion, and other kinds of literary sharing that lead to active,
productive language use.
Similarly, Dixon (1987) suggests having students maintain their own journals,
recording their responses to poems and stories. Personal class anthologies of
selected works and excerpts from the reading journals can be compiled. Response
approaches, then, emphasize both the personal and the social. Anyone who can
compare the experiences of reading a poem in solitude and hearing one read and
discussed in a group may understand the importance of both aspects. Sometimes
the solitary experience is appropriate, but other times--and this may be most of
the time for younger readers--the social reading in which they play an active
role is the most enriching.
As they and their reading material
mature, children may need concepts and strategies for dealing with the
increasing length and complexity of what they read. Michael Higgins (1986)
points out such elements as flashback, conflict, and parallel structures that
are common in children's stories and novels. As they encounter more varied
literature, young readers must make decisions such as setting purposes for
themselves and modifying reading strategies in accordance with the possibilities
within a text. Higgins also believes there is a kind of literary canon at each
age level, implying the development of cultural literacy. This includes
acquaintance with works that Americans are often assumed to have read as
children, such as, say, Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, and Alice in
Wonderland. It may also entail knowledge of genres such as legends, myths,
folktales, poetry, and so on, formal features of literature, and the vocabulary
to discuss this knowledge.
Joy Moss (1984) has developed a curriculum for elementary school teachers
based on the concept of "focus units," sets of stories grouped around a common
theme or author. She defines categories of questions for teachers to use in
story sessions, ranging from a close focus on the story and its structural
elements to open-ended reader response. These categories are 1) previewing, 2)
literal recall, 3) basic literary elements and devices (e.g., plot, character,
figures of speech), 4) implied meanings and logic, 5) formal artistic features
and genres, 6) comparing stories and finding relationships, and 7) subjective
responses such as speculation and evaluation.
Jon Stott (1982) has developed the concept of a "spiralled sequence story
curriculum" designed to lead students through increasing levels of complexity,
with earlier stories arranged so as to introduce students to components and
techniques found in later stories. For example, in Stott's curriculum a number
of fairy tales and journey stories lead up to reading The Hobbit, which, in
addition to being interesting to middle grade students, enables him to talk
about structural features such as character, plot, setting, and so on--what he
calls the "grammar" of literary construction.
Fairytales, myths, fables and legends are frequently recommended for teaching
literary analysis because of their clear formal features and predictable
patterns. Denise Nessel (1985) describes a program of storytelling using such
material. It encourages students to use their imaginations to visualize scenes
that are not shown in pictures as well as to use the structure of stories to
improve listening comprehension. Bette Bosma (1981) finds that sixth-grade
students are very interested in the formal features of folktales and in using
this knowledge to "make evaluative comparisons, discover unstated premises, and
draw conclusions"--which lead them into critical thinking.
Anita McClain (1985) also discusses teaching critical thinking through
literary analysis, for example, by comparing different versions of the same
fairy tale, understanding genre characteristics, and developing intercultural
knowledge both of differences between cultures and of shared values.
Literature is the means by which people communicate across cultures and
across ages--across all divisions of time and space to gather the collective
wisdom of the human experience. It is also the way we explore and communicate
with the future. Through teaching literature, we recognize the special claim
that children have on the future as well as our willingness to share the past.
To appreciate literature is to appreciate what it means to be part of the entire
human scene. No child should be denied that.
Anderson, Philip M. "Practical applications of language learning theory in the middle school and junior high." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the New England Association of Teachers of English, 1982. [ED 226 358]
Bartelo, Denise M., and Cornette, James H. "A literature
program for the gifted: gifted writers + gifted readers = positive reading attitudes." Paper presented at the International Reading Association World Congress on Reading, 1982. [ED 233 333]
Bosma, Bette. "Focus on
folktales for critical reading," 1981. [ED 241 901]
Dixon, John. "Becoming a maturer reader," The Reading Teacher, 40 (8), April, 1987, pp. 761-765.
Higgins, Michael W. "Literacy through
literature: improving on the basal," Wisconsin State Reading Association Journal, 30 (4), Summer, 1986, pp. 27-36.
Huck, Charlotte; Helper, Susan; and Hickman, Janet.
Children's Literature in the Elementary School, 4th Ed., New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1987.
McClain, Anita Bell. "Using traditional literature to
teach critical reading skills." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the 11th Far West Regional Conference of the International Reading Association, 1985. [ED 260 381]
Martin, Bill Jr. "The making of a reader: a personal
narrative." In Children's Literature in the Reading Program, Bernice E. Cullinan (ed.), Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association, 1987.
F. Focus Units in Literature: A Handbook for Elementary School Teachers, Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 1984.
Nessel, Denise D. "Storytelling in the reading program," The
Reading Teacher, 38 (4), January, 1985, pp. 378-381.
Parsons, Jim. "Thoughts about
reading by a non-specialist," 1978. [ED 278 950].
Rosenblatt, Louise. The Reader, the Text, the Poem: the
Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978.
Stott, Jon C. "A structuralist approach to teaching
novels in the elementary grades," The Reading Teacher, 36 (2), November, 1982, pp.136-143.