Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Speak: The Effect of Literary Instruction on Adolescents' Rape Myth Acceptance

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Speak: The Effect of Literary Instruction on Adolescents' Rape Myth Acceptance

Article excerpt


This study addresses scholars' call for more rigorous examination of the effects of literature reading on the attitudes and moral development of adolescents (e.g., Juzwik, 2013), and for more research on the contributions of young adult litera- ture in actual classroom settings (e.g., Hayn & Nolen, 2012; Hill, 2014; Kaplan, 2010). As a rigorous pretest-posttest control-group study examining the effect of a literary instructional unit on Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak on adolescents' rape myth acceptance, this research both extends and empirically tests the work of numerous scholars who have advocated the potential moral benefits of literature (e.g., Nussbaum, 1990; Rosenblatt, 1978), the benefits of dialogic instruction (e.g., Nystrand, 1991), the benefits of reading young adult literature (e.g., Kaywell, 1993), and the ability of interventions to lower rape myth acceptance in secondary-school settings (e.g., Ting, 2009).

Aristotle, in his work Poetics, was perhaps the earliest to refer to the humanizing emotional benefits of literature when he described the ability of music and tragedy to inspire catharsis. More recently, Rosenblatt (1978) echoed his thoughts as she postulated that literature provides an outlet for antisocial ideas and repressed urges. Beyond cathartic possibilities, Rosenblatt contended that readers can vicariously experience what characters do; this lived experience may broaden their emotional, intellectual, and cultural horizons by allowing identification with characters who differ in age, socioeconomic status, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and geographic location.

The reader's purpose for engaging the text and the context of the reading transaction play critical roles in reader response theory, and numerous scholars have extended and expanded Rosenblatt's work in these areas (e.g., Beach, 1993; Fish, 1980). Rosenblatt importantly described reading transactions as occurring on a continuum between aesthetic and efferent and how the possible benefits of transactional reading occur during transactions that are more aesthetic events. This distinction is a critical consideration for educators, because the type of instruction and assessments students encounter during literary study may determine whether their reading transactions are primarily aesthetic or efferent.

Instructional choices are often explicitly or implicitly guided by the underlying purpose for literary instruction. In addition to imparting content knowledge, many scholars have argued that literary instruction can offer other benefits. Nussbaum (1990) averred that the reader of a novel should examine and evaluate the ele- ments of the story to determine whether they are "elements of or impediments to a good human life" (p. 51). She concurred with Wollheim (1983), who believed that novels make important contributions to a reader's sense of morality by examining conflicts in ways that didactic moral treatises cannot.

Unfortunately, because of recent moves to eliminate tenure for teachers, to pay teachers according to their students' test scores, and to have high-stakes writing exams graded by computers, assessments are driving curriculum in many English language arts classrooms (Applebee & Langer, 2011). This focus often translates to an increase in standardized curricula that center around formalist literary instruc- tion and to a concomitant decrease in engaging instruction (Hillocks, 2011; Ives, 2012). The emphasis on students reading to find "correct" answers often prohibits the type of aesthetic literary transactions described by Rosenblatt (1978) and oth- ers as desirable. According to Rabinowitz and Smith (1998), however, the choice between formalist and reader response instruction is a false one; they suggest that students complete "authorial readings" of texts, in which they complete analyses in a traditional manner indicative of new criticism and formalism, as well as re- sponding to texts utilizing reader response lenses in journals and/or discussion. …

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