Characteristics of Experienced Readers and Writers
Active Engagement in Constructing Meaning from and with Texts
Jeff Wilhelm (1997) notes that "Once students have learned how to read, and move through middle school, reading is still regarded as a passive act of receiving someone else's meaning" —and often of proving that you "get it" by correctly answering the questions at the end of the text. This is perhaps why the General English students in Janet Allen's (1995) high school class—students identified and labeled as non–college bound—neither saw it as their responsibility nor felt they had the tools to interact with the author and the text to construct their own meaning. Instead, as Allen observes, they waited for reading to happen to them. For example, Janet quotes a student named Jennifer: "I thought if I just learned all the sounds and the syllables and stuff, I'd be able to read. And then I would open the book and it didn't happen". This is not unlike the beginning writer who sits, brows furrowed, in front of a blank sheet of paper waiting for inspiration to strike, or who is too focused on getting it right to get anything down. Reading and writing don't just happen. Experienced readers and writers are active, not passive; productive, not receptive. They interact with language, making movies their heads, like Tim, or shaping and twisting language like so much clay, as Cris does, to produce the form they want. Robert Scholes (1985) points out that, first, we need to "perceive reading not simply as a consumptive but as a productive activity, the making of meaning in which one is guided by the text one reads"; second, "we need to perceive writing as an activity that is also sustained and guided by prior texts" . Whether we are in the role of reader or writer, we make sense—either of or with print—and to make sense we activate our prior knowledge of the topic and the genre, our personal experiences, our reader/writer-based expectations as well as our culturally based expectations, and our contextual frames of reference (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991).
Tierney and Pearson (1983) have proposed that reading and writing are both acts of composing. These researchers make a case for reading not as a sequential series of stages but as a set of simultaneous processes that parallel what experienced writers do when they compose: processes that include planning, drafting, aligning, revising, and monitoring. Especially compelling is Tierney and Pearson's notion that readers create "drafts" of readings, refinements of meaning that evolve as the person continues reading or rereads, in much the same way as writers produce a first and second draft of a text. Experienced readers and writers know that ideas and interpretations grow over time as one pauses, reviews, rethinks, and revises. Inexperienced readers and writers often "get `bogged down' in their desire to achieve a perfect text or `fit' on their first draft". Tierney and Pearson's constructivist view of reading and their consideration of reading and writing as "essentially similar processes of meaning construction" have been echoed by other researchers and have received widespread acceptance within the education community.
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