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    24th September 2011

    Reader-Response Theory and Designing Backwards

    For some reason I am having trouble feeling multi-media-esque and creative for this post. So… I might just do some summarizing and responding to a few things I got to read in the last couple days.

    I’m adding this after writing the boring stuff below to make my post almost-sort-of-multi-media: To check out some awesome papers/test responses that teachers/students from all over have decided (probably some of them illegally) to post to the web, go to

    In the previous post, I introduced the first two chapters Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English. The third chapter focuses on different ways that reader-response criticism can be used effectively or ineffectively in secondary classrooms. Reader-response criticism focuses primarily on the pre-existing condition of the reader and that reader’s experience with and reaction to a text. It focuses on this to the exclusion of historical/biographical critiques which look at the text in terms of historical context or authorial intent, which generally limits the range of acceptable interpretations. True reader response says that it is impossible to know for certain authorial intent; all readers bring their own preconceptions and preconditions that affect the way they read the text; and therefore limiting the range of acceptable interpretations is a subjective action generally carried out by those in positions of power. In other words, reader-response theory might say that because of each person’s unique background, it doesn’t matter whether you are trying to engage an historical/biographical or psychological or Marxist approach, because you’re experiencing and responding in a unique, unduplicatable, and personal manner such that no one else will ever respond just so.

    Because the experience of any given reader of a text will be different from any other, it can be difficult to find points at which different readers/critics can agree, and it is easy for readers/critics working with reader-response to stray from a text-based approach. Appleman proposes using reader-response along with other perspectives such as historical/biographical, Marxist/social-class, or feminist/gender based criticism. This gives students the opportunity to evaluate which methods are most appropriate and fruitful for different texts. Some texts will evoke strong personal reactions from students while others will not evoke any personal reaction in a given individual. That same text might be profitably examined for the economic or political factors that contributed to its writing

    The first chapter of Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, proposes that teachers create curricula using “result-focused design” rather than “content-focused design”. Content-focused design is probably the traditional model used by teachers, wherein the materials and subjects of study are chosen first and the activities for studying/learning are chosen next. After those steps, the educator then decides, based on the content covered, a fair assessment method, be it testing or projects or writing. Result-focused design goes about the process differently, instead starting the planning process by asking what results are the desired ends of a particular unit of study. What skills and knowledge do you hope students acquire? Next, assessment methods are found that will show that the desired knowledge or skills have, in fact, been learned. Finally, specific strategies and activities are planned that will prepare students for the assessments decided on.

    I could see where planning “backwards”, as the chapter calls it, could really help an educator stay on track with whatever standards they are supposed to be helping their students meet. It also appeals to me because I feel like classroom education needs to show and demonstrate how the things learned and practiced transfer to other vocations and places outside of school. Planning assessments based on desired outcomes makes it more likely that at least some of the assessment will be “real life” in some way or another.

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.