Appleman and The Reader Response Theory

I found Appleman’s chapters on teaching our students theory interesting.  I never studied theory when I was a student in high school.  I didn’t even attempt theory until I was a sophomore in college!  I, of course, found it trying at first but later learned its importance as a reader.  In high school, there were typically only two types of English classrooms:  those in which the teacher’s version and interpretation of the text was the only reading, and the classroom that was based around reader response.  I obviously enjoyed the reader response environment much better because it is always more fun to read something and then try to relate your own life to it.  I never thought of this, however, as theory.  Appleman brings up some interesting problems with the reader response theory as the only theory we are teaching our students to interpret texts with.

I agree with Appleman in that reader response can be problematic when we allow our students to only find meaning in a text if they can relate to it personally.  This becomes an issue when we try to introduce different types of texts, like multi-cultural literature, to our students.  Appleman’s example of the teacher who had her advanced placement, suburban, mainly middle class students read “The Native Son” was a good example of how to make reader response an effective form of studying and interpret texts with out making it all about how the reader can relate the texts to their personal lives.  Many of the students initially responded by saying they could not relate to the protagonist’s encounters with discrimination and poverty because they were mainly white and middle class.  The reader response only became effective when the teacher integrated other forms of literary theory (Marxism and Feminist theory) as an alternate lens to read the story with.  This opened up the students to multiple readings of the same text with out eliminating reader response.

I feel that by limiting our classrooms to personal experience we create an enviornment that encourages we limit ourselves and knowledge to that which we already know.  I feel that its extremely important we incorporate multicultural literature into our classrooms and give our students multiple ways to read these texts in order to expose them to what takes place in the world outside their classroom walls or living environment.  So, yes, I agree that teaching multiple theories to our students is important.



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One response to “Appleman and The Reader Response Theory

  1. jillian24

    I agree with Appleman, as well. I think that teaching multiple perspective ties in with Bob Yagelski’s statement, “I want to prepare students to re-imagine that world and make it better.” The purpose of many types of literature is to encourage students to question the status quo, in other words, to think. Teaching multiple interpretations of those works will further that effort.

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