Social scenes of reading: A study of eighth-graders' talk about books

Patricia Johnston, University of Pennsylvania


This is a study of classroom practice. It is a teacher-researcher's look at student response to literature as students read texts individually and meet over time to discuss books. The purpose of the study is two-fold: to inform practitioners and curriculum-designers about individual response and its relationship to the collective; to understand theory pragmatically as a specific reading group informs Stanley Fish's notion of interpretive community. Six eighth-graders are the subjects of this study. Through case studies students are characterized as readers. Ethnographic methodology suggests the influences upon response, informing individual reading and group meaning, and identifies the social scenes of student response. This study approaches a social analysis of reader-response criticism as individual response is only a strand within a larger social scene. The group forms an interpretive community; "interpretive," however, warrants redefinition. The students not only interpret as they read and discuss books, they evaluate. Response is determined by the value of reading brought from families and schooling. Therefore, students construct their interpretive community as they understand what each values. Value, contingent upon the norms and standards of the contexts in which students read, determines response as social interpretation. In this study both methodology and researcher role in inquiries into classroom practice are informed; the work of the teacher-researcher and the contexts examined suggest a model for participant-observation of future studies of the practices of, and value attributed to, reading and writing in specific communities. The findings from the present model of ethnographic inquiry reveal that through reader-response criticism research in English classrooms are reciprocally informing of studies in the field of reading: students are not only interpreters, but they are evaluators of texts; they are not only comprehenders of what they read, but are reading stylists, literary critics, and text analysts. The role of the teacher-researcher contributes to research methodology as ethnography approaches a method of critical analysis of practice; the process of the teacher-researcher encourages a self-conscious analysis of data, and therefore, documentation of practice that is self-reflective and socially-aware.

Subject Area

Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Johnston, Patricia, "Social scenes of reading: A study of eighth-graders' talk about books" (1987). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8804916.