Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Revisiting Rosenblatt's Aesthetic Response through the Arrival

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Revisiting Rosenblatt's Aesthetic Response through the Arrival

Article excerpt

If student response to literature is learned, what are students learning about responding to literature in classrooms? As stated several years ago by Purves and Rippere (1968), in a classroom 'a student's response will be like an iceberg: only a small part will become apparent to the teacher' (p. xiii). However, like many other researchers (Roser, Martinez, & Wood, 2011), I believe there to be value in exploring the 'iceberg' in order to understand how social practices in classrooms contribute to the development of students' engagement with, and comprehension and interpretation of texts.

This article focuses on a Grade 4 student's personal responses to Shaun Tan's (2006) The Arrival. Tan's graphic novel was one selection of literature featured in a classroom-based study that explored developing student visual meaning-making skills and competencies. The Arrival, a wordless graphic novel that has received numerous nominations and awards, conveys a lone immigrant's journey from his homeland to a foreign country. As well as stating that his work is 'open to very broad interpretation' (Tan, 2010, para. 4), Tan has conveyed his great respect for readers, privileging 'the personal reflections of the reader' (Tan, 2011, p. 8). The analysis of two written responses by Anike (pseudonym) shows how she 'breathes life back into' (Tan, 2009, p. 33) Tan's thought-provoking silent storytelling, reveals how her responses are indeed aesthetic responses, and indicates that instruction about visual elements of art and design can contribute to students' aesthetic responses to texts.

Discussions of student response to literature, Rosenblatt's transactional theory and the other guiding theoretical frameworks of the research are followed by a description of the classroom-based research. The analysis and discussion of Anike's two responses to The Arrival are followed by a discussion about teaching and researching aesthetic response in classrooms.

Student response to literature

Current research and theory focused on student response to literature, and to texts in general, has broadened in recognition of the multifaceted and synergistic nature of reader, textual and contextual factors that shape student response in classrooms (Galda & Beach, 2001; Roser et al., 2011). Accompanying frameworks to reader response theory include sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), Bakhtin's (1981) concept of dialogical meaning making, and critical literacy theory. In classrooms, learning occurs through student participation in both individual and shared activities that involve particular kinds of discourse, tools and texts. Students' understanding about response and their identities are shaped by their participation in interpretive communities and over time, 'students acquire interpretive and social practices' through their 'participation in particular types of communities of practice' (Galda & Beach, 2001, p. 67).

Although the nature of students' responses to texts assigned/collected by teachers and/or researchers has broadened to include multimodal and multimedia responses, writing personal responses, using either print or digital technology, to various types of texts remains a common practice in most classrooms. Indeed, in the province of British Columbia in Canada personal writing in Grade 4 includes students writing 'about their thoughts, feelings, and opinions in reaction to current issues, materials they have read or viewed, or their own experiences' (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2009, p. 121).

In their discussion of student response to literature, Soter, Wilkinson, Connors, Murphy and Shen (2010) described the propensity of many literacy educators to use the term 'aesthetic response' to 'refer to the personal, affectively based experiencing of literary texts by young, inexperienced readers' (p. 216). In the opinion of Soter et al. (2010), the

   personal responses of relatively unsophisticated readers
   (in terms of age and experience) do not typically include
   reference to elements in a text in ways that reveal awareness
   by these readers of how those elements may have
   influenced their responses. … 
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