“A novel or a poem or a
play remains merely
inkspots on paper until a
reader transforms them
into a set of meaningful
symbols” Louise Rosenblatt (1995)
Louise Rosenblatt was a pioneer in reading theory. You can read about her life and work here! Rosenblatt stressed that every act of reading involved a “transaction” of reader and text in which both were essential.
Here is a grand excerpt from Chapter 5 of Making Meaning with Texts
“The Acid Test forLiterature Teaching” by Louise Rosenblatt from English Journal, 45.2(1956). Copyright © 1956 by the National Council of Teachers of English.
"Our business seems usually to be considered the bringing of books to people. But books do not simply happen to people. People also happen to books. A story or poem or play is merely inkspots on paper until a reader transforms them into a set of meaningful symbols. When these symbols lead us to live through some moment of feeling, to enter into some human personality, or to participate imaginatively in some situation or event, we have evoked a work of literary art. Literature provides a living through, not simply knowledge about: not information that lovers have died young and fair, but a living-through of Romeo and Juliet; not just facts about Rome, but a living-through of the tensions of Julius Caesar or the paradoxes of Caesar and Cleopatra.
For the reader, the literary work is a particular and personal event: the electric current of his mind and personality lighting up the pattern of symbols on the printed page. Or perhaps we should say that the symbols take meaning from the intellectual and emotional context the reader provides. The current of his thoughts and feelings has for the time of his reading been channeled by the printed symbols. The result has been a more or less organized imaginative experience, and the word, “story,’’ or the word, “poem,’’ points towards this segment of the reader’s experience.
When we teach literature, we are therefore concerned with the particular and personal way in which students learn to infuse meaning into the pattern of the printed symbols. We are not dealing with books as separate and fixed and neatly outlined and summed-up entities. We are dealing with each student’s awareness, no matter how dim or confused, of a certain part of the ongoing sequence of his life, as he seeks to marshall his resources and organize them under the stimulus of the printed page."
After reading this beautiful explanation of the transaction that takes place between the reader and the text, I dared to think about what children are reading in classrooms today.
Are they truly engaged in the text?
Are they making meaning through the transaction?
It is personal?
Does the text speak to them in some way?
If not, then what are they reading? Why are they reading it?