Louise Rosenblatt's transactional theory, known as the reader-response theory, is still used by literature instructors today. She believed that the meaning of any text lies in the transaction that happens between the student and text. Rosenblatt helped define the difference between focusing literature instruction on recall and recitation or using the transactional theory and its efferent and aesthetic stances. The differences between aesthetic and efferent stances are here included, as well as examples of other reading models in use by instructors.
Keywords Aesthetic Stance; Efferent Stance; High-Stakes Testing; Reflection; Rosenblatt, Louise; Transactional Model; Transactional Theory
In the early 1900s, the traditional way to instruct English was to produce a standard list of classics, emphasize generalized interpretations, and have students answer questions based on the text (Rosenblatt, 1983, as cited in Connell, 2001). The primary goal of instruction was focused on introducing students to the classics and promoting an understanding of the literary techniques used in the texts (Connell, 2001). One woman, Louise Rosenblatt, felt that the traditional approach to instructing literature blunted the possibility of having reading be an aesthetic experience for students and instead made it more remote and abstract (Rosenblatt, 1983, as cited in Connell, 2001). In her book Literature as Exploration, published in 1938, Rosenblatt created a new way of teaching literature. She called her theory "the transactional theory of the literary work," but it is now commonly known as "transactional theory" also Reader-Response Theory (Raines, Brabham & Aycock, 2007). In developing the transactional theory, Rosenblatt stated that students count at least as much as the text (Rosenblatt, 1983, as cited in Connell, 2001).
English instruction still includes emphasis on teaching literature from books, but in the almost 70 years since Rosenblatt first published her transactional theory in Literature as Exploration, it is a technique still used in some classrooms. The New Criticism theory of the late 1930s through the 1950s made the texts central; instructors taught skills with close, concise analysis while discouraging expression of students' individual responses (Church, 1998). Then, in the 1960s and early 1970s there was a shift away from teaching the text as the main authority to one that focused on each student's relationship with the text (Rosenblatt, 1938, 1964, 1968, 1978; Squire, 1964; Squire & Applebee, 1968; Purves, 1975; Purves & Beach, 1972; Bleich, 1975, as cited in Church, 1998).
In 1938, Rosenblatt described the transaction that happens between the student and text and said that the meaning of any text lies in the reader's interaction with the words because readers are bringing their own background information, experiences, attitudes, and understandings to the text. These factors influence their understanding of the words on the page. For example, the phrase 'it was snowing' can mean many different things to whoever is reading it. For readers who love to ski, it can bring forth many positive feelings; for readers who are afraid to drive in the snow, it can bring forth many negative feelings; for readers who have never seen snow in person before, it can cause them to pause and wonder what snow is really like; and for readers who do not like descriptive phrases of any kind, it might cause them to skip right over it. There are also the author's intended meanings embedded in the text, but readers bring their own qualities to the act of reading that influence how texts are interpreted. Therefore, every text sends messages other than those intended or stated on the page (Martin, 2003).
Raines felt that literary texts were “works of art and should be read from the aesthetic stance, which emphasizes the emotional aspects of the transaction” (Raines, 2007, 100). When students read using the aesthetic stance, they concentrate on what is going on during the reading experience and the responses evoked by the text. Once evocation happens, then students can work on the interpretation, which is the effort made by readers to describe the nature of what happened to them (Rosenblatt, 1994, as cited in Raines et al., 2007).
When looking at reading from this perspective, it is an important part of the process to ask why each reader understands the text to mean one thing and not another and to look at the process of attaching meaning to the words in a unique and personal process. It then follows that deep understanding of any text requires readers to ask questions about broader social, historical, and cultural influences on the text and reader perception. Since meaning comes from the interaction between the reader and the text, then examining the factors that caused a particular reader to come up with a particular interpretation is necessary and is constructed through critical thinking about the text (Martin, 2003).
The Two Stances of Transactional Theory
Rosenblatt helped define the difference between focusing literature instruction on recall and recitation and using the transactional theory as the efferent and aesthetic stances, respectively. When answering from an efferent stance, students have a need to acquire specific information from the text; and when students take an aesthetic stance, their own unique experience with a text is most important (Church, 1998). “Aesthetic teaching focuses students on reading primarily for living through and experiencing a text. Efferent teaching focuses students on reading for the purpose of recalling the information at a later date” (Raines et al., 2007, p. 28). However, while reading the text, students will probably “shift back and forth along a continuum between efferent and aesthetic by reading” aesthetically and briefly focusing on analyzing the techniques used or by remembering a personal experience while efferently reading (The Aesthetic Transaction, 1986, as cited in Church, 1998, ¶ 6). Rosenblatt advocates using the aesthetic stance for reading poems, novels, plays, and stories (Raines et al., 2007).
Transactional theory deals with who the readers are, what they bring to the text, and the expectations they may have of the text. Transactional theory also looks at the choices students make as they are reading the text, with the choice of which stance they take possibly the most important choice of all. There are two basic stances:
• Aesthetic. The aesthetic stance is concerned with students primarily focusing on the experience lived through during reading of the text.
• Efferent. The efferent stance is primarily concerned with what student will take away as information from the text that is read (Probst, 1987).
The Aesthetic Stance
Readers who use the aesthetic stance look at the text without a directive in mind, not looking for any particular piece of information, and not trying to accomplish an assigned task. Instead, students are looking for the emotional, aesthetic, and intellectual experience that the text has to offer. Students not only pay attention to the content of the text and the information, story, or argument it has to offer; they also look at the feelings the text evokes, the associations and memories the text brings out in them, and the images that pass through their minds while reading the text. Pantaleo’s examination of transactional theory (2013) provides an example of one student’s aesthetic response to a graphic novel. The aesthetic stance is more than reading for knowledge, it is reading for the experience itself (Probst, 1987).
With the aesthetic stance, what is evoked is not “static for subsequent reflection, it cannot be shared directly with others, and it cannot be the same for different readers even for the same literary text because of their ultimately private nature. However, readers can report and discuss interpretations of their evocation with other students,” but it can be difficult to do because of communication difficulties and the inability to articulate exactly what they are feeling and thinking (Raines, 2007, p. 99).
The Efferent Stance...
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