The Reader-Centered Approach to Literature
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be
swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” ~ Francis Bacon
return to books because of the way they feel about the reading,
their response to the text." ~ Martha Combs
What is the reader-centered approach to literature?
approach, based on reader-response criticism,
emphasizes the individual as a reader-responder. It
argues that reading a literary text is part of a complex
process that includes a collaboration between the writer,
the text, and the reader.
A text is
re-created every time someone new reads it, and it becomes,
in the process, increasingly richer. The text is a
elicits responses from us based on our
past experiences, our previous reading, our thoughts, and
reader-response approach, the text acts on the reader and
the reader interacts with the text; therefore, this
analytical method is often referred to as transactional
reader-response critical theory teaches us that there are
no absolutes. It enables us to examine the complexity
human behavior and motivation, the difficulty in
ascertaining right and wrong, and the interdependencies
involved in any social construct.
of the reader-centered approach
(Purves, Rogers, &
encourage individual readers to feel comfortable with their own
responses to a literary work.
encourage the readers to seek out the reasons for their
responses and thereby come to understand themselves better.
encourage the readers to recognize, in the responses of others,
the differences among people and to respect those differences.
encourage readers to recognize, in the response of others, the
similarities among people.
The Role of the teacher:
Bring children and
Give them as many
different types of literature as possible.
Encourage honest and
Challenge them to
explore those responses and learn something about themselves
Provide them with the
critical language that they might clearly express their
Effective reading aloud
can be modeled by observing the following guidelines.
1) Read stories you
2) Choose stories
that are suitable to the children's emotional and social
developmental levels. Don't be afraid if the text includes a few
3) Be sure the
illustrations in a picture book can be seen easily by everyone.
4) Keep the reading
experience an interactive one.
5) Be sure to
pronounce the words correctly. Rehearse your reading and be sure
to use the proper tone and assume different voices if there is a
can be achieved by observing the following guidelines.
1) Tell the stories you
love and be sure your story is appropriate for your audience.
2) Tell the story in
your own words. Make the language easy to understand.
3) Make sure your
story has an attractive beginning and a strong, definitive
4) Pay attention to
the rhythm and intonation. Change your tone as the story
5) Project your
voice so that the people in the back can hear you.
6) Make eye contact
with all sections of your audience.
7) Use gestures and
body language that feel natural and support your story.
8) Use props or
visual aids to create the interestingness of your story.
9) It is a must to
practice telling your story in advance.
10) Be yourself.
Develop your own storytelling style.
Integral to most book
discussions are the questions posed by the leader, and questions
can be posed to elicit varying levels of response. There are
four levels of questions:
1) factual or
memory questions: to ask the readers to recall facts from
the story or poem: plot incidents, character identifications,
details of the setting, and so on.
questions: to ask the readers to make inferences and
draw conclusions from the facts of the story or poem.
These questions may require analysis or synthesis.
3) application questions:
to ask the readers to consider the story or poem in a larger
context and to focus on further extensions of the theme, style,
imagery, symbolism, etc. Application questions ask us to draw on
our own experiences and help us to see the
relationships between literature and life. Here is where the
personal response to literature comes into play.
questions: to ask the readers to critically evaluate what
they have read and to articulate their reasons. This is the
beginning of the acquisition of critical taste and judgment.
Remember that with most application and evaluation questions,
there are no clear right or wrong answers, only answers that
are more convincingly supported than others.