The Nonfiction Reading Experience: Balancing Stance with Reader Response

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heart of nonfiction

“When we read nonfiction we read with a blend of the two stances:  we can learn information from reading nonfiction but we can also pay attention to our personal response as well as our aesthetic experience” (Heard, 2013).

In Finding the Heart of Nonfiction, Georgia Heard draws upon Louise Rosenblatt’s, The Reader, the Text, the Poem:  The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work to demonstrate the value of supporting students’ nonfiction reading experiences.  Even when we approach an informational text, we have an aesthetic response as readers.  We think about the facts, data, information, stories, etc that move us, connect with us, confuse or enrage us, through a personal and emotional lense as we grapple with the information, internalizing author’s message and purpose.

As I thought more about how to continue to support our English I Pre-AP students’ individual journeys with their nonfiction titles, I knew that in to elicit the type of reflective and purposeful written response we hoped to achieve in the nonfiction book review, we needed to tap into that personal reader response during the course of students’ reading.

After examining and deconstructing real-world book reviews, I sent the students back to their classrooms with five reader response prompts for their teacher to integrate, one each week over the next five weeks.  The teacher did not set a certain schedule or number of pages students were expected to accomplish on a pre-determined timetable, but rather, she chose to invite their experiences back into the classroom through written reader response.  My goal in crafting these response times was to literally help nudge students along the continuum of reading stances from aesthetic (personal/ emotional)to efferent (informational/ analytic).

Nonfiction Reader Response Prompts

Response #1-Tap-in to Prior Knowledge

Before I started reading _____________, I thought/ wondered/ experienced/ understood……

 Now I think……

Response #2-Thinking More Deeply

Lift one line* out of the book that “sticks with you” for any reason at all.

  • Write that line down at the top of your paper.

  • Write in response to that line.

  • What does it make you think of?

  • What questions does it raise?

Response #3–Taking Note of Genre

response #3

Response #4–Considering Purpose

  • What does the author do that makes the book believable (or not)? 
  • What does the author do that makes him or herself a credible source (or not)?
  • Is there anything the author could do to improve credibility?

Response #5–Synthesizing

What moments, stories, examples, etc. are the most memorable for you? Why?

How would you sum up—in one to two sentences—the message of this book?

Why should someone read this book?  Who in particular should read this book?

My intention for these prompts was to not only help students think reflectively about their reading experience as they engaged in both stances, but also to support their understanding of nonfiction structures, features, and purposes.

Keeping the end in mind, I also anticipated that those students who really put effort into these entries would in essence have a draft of their book review before we even talked about sitting down to draft.
*A quick note about giving students prompts to respond to their independent reading books–I feel like this is a fine-line to walk in the classroom.  On one hand, reader response prompts provide students–especially “non-readers”– with thinking models for their reading experiences.  Prompts allow you to hone-in on a specific skill, term, strategy, or text feature with all students when they are not reading a collective text.  On the other hand,  I believe that students should freely and openly respond to the texts that they read.  In general, I often posed a prompt for students with the caveat that they could respond however they needed to that day.
Where do you stand on teacher-directed reading responses?  How do you walk the fine-line between scaffolded support and spontaneous transaction?

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