Learning with Text

When I think back to my K-12 school years, I cannot think of many times when teachers used trade books in content area classrooms.  In general, English was the only class in which we read anything other than textbooks.  Perhaps that’s why, when a science teacher used texts other than textbooks, I grew interested in science for the first time.  My 12th grade AP environmental science teacher started out the course by assigning us to read and respond to Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.  As a lover of nonfiction, I started out the course engage and interested in the material.  She is the only teacher that I remember using “trade books” in the content area classroom.

I found Probst’s description of transactional reading to be thought-provoking and convincing.  The power of reading, in his opinion, is with the reader.  He writes, “Reading should not be an effort to suppress the personal and idiosyncratic in a search for a purified reading, uncontaminated by the reader’s individuality.  Transactional theory insists that the reader’s individuality must be respected and considered, that readers initially understand a work only on the basis of prior experience” (Probst 379).  To me, this is a fresh and encouraging perspective on reading that offers teachers the reassurance that there’s always a place to start–with students’ prior knowledge.

The fact that I’m a future English teacher makes it easy to conceive of using non-textbook reading in my classroom.  In fact, I would never choose to use a textbook in my classroom, except for things like supplementing a mini-lesson, for example.  I was particularly interested in the textbook’s description of performance responses to trade books to enhance comprehension.  I can see myself using strategies like these in my classroom to “heighten understanding of the often dense and complex expository material found in today’s nonfiction” (Vacca, Vacca, & Mraz 390).  Many of the techniques detailed in the readings will be useful as I seek to improve reading comprehension in my classroom with trade books.  RCA2011.



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3 responses to “Learning with Text

  1. Dear Hannah,

    I also liked the statement about motivation being the power of reading. The transactional theory made a good point that individuality must be respected. We all come to the table with different life experiences. I can see where English would be a great place to use trade books. I really want to try out the idea with my Health Occupation classes. However, I think it may be a little harder to find books that relate and it may take time to build that library. I thought it was interesting when you said that because you were a good student you could fake comprehension. I also, agree with you that pushing the reading strategies may backfire if use too much. I want my students to read for enjoyment. However, I also want them to be able to take the information they need from a text and use that information to learn.

    • Hannah,
      The transactional theory is a great one, which is why us teachers need to understand our students prior knowledge. Knowing what our students bring to the classroom can be rewarding. I know like phanern, I too have trouble finding books for my area, but I do have a few movies. The Movies I show, most students usually have not seen before, but for those who have seen the movie before I tell them that they are going to watch the movie again with “Marketing eyes”. Students always enjoy the movie and understand the Marketing components. I am so glad that you have such insight not to use textbooks as the main source in English classes, most English classes use the textbook as an excuse to teach but really no teaching skill is provided by just telling students to read a chapter. I think you will be a really great teacher!! Good Luck.

  2. Cris

    “How do you know what he meant to say? I mean, did he leave another book called, “Symbolism in My Books”? If he didn’t, then you could just be making all of this?” — Rachel/Rachelle in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

    English teachers should catch themselves every time they even think to ask, “What is the author trying to say?” Like there’s just one answer!!!

    Good to hear that you’ve embraced Probst’s explanation of Transactional theory. It’s actually Rosenblatt’s Reader Response, too. John Dewey was a contemporary of Rosenblatt and he called his more general theory of learning Transactional which she espoused. Somewhere along the line, her application of Transactional theory to literature study became known as Reader Response.

    And thank goodness for that progressive Science teacher who taught with trade books. I’ve had one Science teacher in ECI 541 who did this skillfully with her students choosing their own class trade book each year and creating either book trailers or bookcasts about it. Fascinating books like Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Now this is a successful approach to helping students embrace science learning and catch the spark that will lead them to read about science for fun.

    Just curious. Do you still find yourself reading science articles/books?

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