An Exploration of Reading Responses of Learning Disabled Ninth Grade Students
By Gail Wall

SSTA Research Centre Report #97-05: 42 pages, $11


Part I: What is Reader Response?

  • The Role of the Reader
  • The Role of the Text
  • The Role of the Context

Part II: How does Reader Response Apply to Special Education Students?

Part III: Nature of the Study

Part IV: Research Findings

Part V: Tips for Teachers


Appendix A: Reading Journal Questions / Responses

Appendix B: Responses Generated by Response Guide Questions

Appendix C: Samples of Students' Written Responses by Categories and Subcategories

A reader response approach to reading which emphasizes the importance of students connecting their experiences and feelings to the literature they are reading, is deemed by many researchers and teachers to promote insightful and meaningful reading for students. Because many learning disabled adolescents are considered to be passive and poor readers who often dislike reading and have difficulty comprehending what they read, teachers wonder whether a reader response approach to reading will positively contribute to their meaning-making attempts.

The purposes of this study were to examine students’ responses in order to learn about the kinds of meaning constructed by these students as they read, to learn about the processes students utilized during their meaning-making and to learn about the factors that influenced their reading. Twenty in-class written responses to the novels that the students selected and read themselves were analyzed along with additional data from interviews, conferences, surveys and observations. All fourteen learning disabled grade nine students in the self-contained classroom agreed to participate in the study.

Part I and II of this research report provide a review of the literature about reader response theory as it relates to regular and then special education students. Background information related to the nature of this study is presented in Part III. The findings of this study followed by tips for teachers are provided in Parts IV and V. This document concludes with response questions used in the study and samples of students’ written responses.

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Traditionally, most high school English classrooms have been organized to teach an established canon of literature via a New Critics critical-literary approach. In this approach, the teacher-expert tends to interpret the text for the students who then respond in some way, usually by paraphrasing the teacher-provided information. Students rarely experience opportunities to think for themselves and, therefore, become dependent in that they rely on teacher interpretations instead of doing critical thinking themselves. Further, students tend to come to view the literature as uninteresting and irrelevant to their lives.


To encourage the development of independent reading and critical thinking, many educators have recently organized their literature-based studies in their classrooms in a reading workshop format as described by Atwell (1987a) with key characteristics of time, choice and response. An analysis of students’ responses (Wells, 1993) which contain their aesthetic reactions to the books they are reading has provided rich descriptions of adolescents’ meaningful transactions with books. A basic assumption of reader response is that meaning resides, not in the text, but in the reader. In contrast to the New Critics approach, the reader is a key player in the reading transaction and this is reflected in the independent involvement and critical thinking of readers as they transact with text by connecting their reading to their own lives.


The passivity and reading difficulties encountered by adolescent learning disabled students who often dislike reading and find it uninteresting is well documented. However, the aesthetic responses of learning disabled adolescents reveal that the meaning-making activated during an aesthetic reading is as dynamic and complex for learning disabled students as it is for their non learning disabled peers. Considering this potential, it is important for teachers of learning disabled students to give them the opportunity to connect the literature they read to their own lives through the use of response journals.


This document reports a study (Wall, 1996) in which the twenty written responses of each of fourteen learning disabled adolescents were analyzed for the nine types of response generated, for various reader, text, and contextual influences associated with those responses and for the processes used by these students in their reading. The effectiveness of writing written responses to the literature that these students selected and read themselves is discussed and tips for teachers are presented along with students’ written samples and questions teachers might use as prompts for written responses.

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Reader response recognizes that the reader has a significant role in bringing meaning to the interpretation of text. A fundamental principle of both reading response and literary theory states that, "If readers are to have meaningful transactions with literary texts, they must make connections between their lives and the literature" (Hamann, Schultz, Smith and White, 1991, p. 24). Therefore, reading is seen as a complex, transactive process in which the reader interacts with the text to construct meaning. In addition, reader response research (Wells, 1993; Zarrillo, 1991) indicates that the meaning that emerges is shaped by the text selected and by the context of the reading situation.


The Role of the Reader


In discussing reader response, Rosenblatt ( 1988) emphasizes that "The ‘meaning’ does not reside ready-made in the text or in the reader, but happens during the transaction between the reader and the text" (p. 4). During this transaction, the meaning that unfolds is influenced by the readers’ background or prior knowledge gained though experiences with books and films, as well as other modes of narrative such as storytelling, poetry, comics, song lyrics, video games and movies (Cox & Many, 1989). As students read they make connections between their life experiences and the text (Aker, 1992; Atwell, 1987b) and interpret the actions and motivations of characters in light of their own experiences (Iser, 1978) and their own values and convictions (Hancock, 1992). According to Applebee (1973), when students have difficulty connecting their prior knowledge to texts, understanding becomes difficult and readers’ responses tend to focus on retelling content or giving simple evaluative statements.


Pearson, Roehler, Dole and Duffy (1992) report that expert readers monitor their reading and apply fix-up strategies such as rereading, revising, seeking help, asking new questions, reading ahead and making predictions to assist them in "making sense" of their reading. Poor readers, on the other hand, are not as aware of monitoring nor of the strategies needed to repair problems in meaning-making.


Responses are also influenced by the changing stances students assume as they read (Hess, 1992), by the positive attitudes that they bring to the reading experience (Langer, 1986) and by the motivation and involvement achieved through initiating an action themselves (Rupert & Brueggeman, 1987). In turn, motivation to read is influenced by students prior experiences and social interactions with books, book access and book choice. Improvement in students’ reading attitudes and, in turn, their meaning-making is influenced by a learning environment that provides opportunities and experiences with books. In such an environment, students are encouraged to interact aesthetically and emotionally with the text and this promotes higher order thinking (Hess, 1993), an understanding of the story conflict through empathy with a character (Golden & Gutherie, 1986) and more discriminating readers who have a basis upon which to reflect before they respond (Ali, 1994).


The Role of the Text


Dionisio (1991) concluded that having a choice of which books they read positively influenced the way her sixth grade readers responded. These books had topics that were relevant for her students, styles of writing they liked and situations with which they could identify. Glowacki (1990), too, says that for remedial readers "to experience success and enjoyment in books doesn’t always mean having easy materials to read, but rather having material that matches students’ willingness to focus on reading" (p. 553).


The type of text that students select also influences their responses. Rosenblatt (1993) argues that the reading of a textbook results in responses different from those to a literary work. Although both aesthetic and efferent meaning-making are present, an expository text is usually read more efferently, that is, for the information it contains, while a piece of literature usually is read more aesthetically, reflecting a personal expression of meaning. Rosenblatt (1985) indicates that a literature experience may not only expand and deepen understanding of a text, it may even alter one’s patterns of behavior. It is for this reason that Aker (1992) believes "that the most important reason to read literature is to help define who we are in relation to those around us" (p. 104). Therefore, text selection which reflects the readers’ interests, personal experiences and maturity is important to assist meaning-making as well as to provide vicarious experiential guidance to the adolescent.


The Role of the Context


Aspects of the context that influence responses include the mode of response, the role of the teacher in providing instructional activities and a classroom atmosphere that emphasizes meaning-making.


A number of studies have described students becoming engaged and active in responding when they used a response journal, especially when the response journal was in the form of a letter (Atwell, 1987a; Cousin, Aragon & Rojas, 1993). Wilson (1989) noticed that when students kept response journals, they "did on their own what their teachers had urged them, in vain, to do. They asked questions, made predictions, formed opinions, reread the text to find evidence to support their opinions and noticed subtleties of a writers’ craft" (p. 68).

According to Ali (1994) "the act of writing down the initial response forced students to make sense of the text" (p. 292). Response journals provide a meaningful base for studying literature (McIntosh, 1992), clarifying thinking and increasing reading comprehension (Kaiser-Wolter, 1991) and increasing active involvement (Colvin-Murphy, 1987; Lindberg, 1987). It seems that responding personally in a format such as the personal letter, empowers readers to create their own meaning.


Teachers can also play a significant role in guiding students’ construction of meaning. Mini-lessons in literary appreciation and reading strategies, in modeling written responses (Dekker, 1991) and using questions and prompts, have been found (Atwell, 1987a; Wells, 1993) to positively affect students responses. Wells (1993) found instruction reflected in students’ comments and when students wrote in response to teachers’ comments and questions, they expanded upon their original thoughts.


Teachers play a significant role in facilitating reading when they change the context of the classroom to a reading workshop in which students can choose their own books to read and are given time to read and respond. Atwell (1987a, 1987b) showed that students more often connected stories to their own lives and the world around them, and in the process, they became conscious of their own reading and thinking and they became aware of literary elements and literary appreciation. "They develop a sense of ownership, pride, and respect for learning" (Hanson, cited in Cooper, 1993). Overall, the reading workshop is a non-threatening environment that has a positive influence on students’ attitudes toward reading and reading strategies (Swift, 1993).

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Special education research is both supportive and contradictory in terms of using a reader response approach with LD students. Particular types of responses pose difficulties for special education students especially responses that involve connecting their personal experiences to their reading (Purcell-Gates, 1991). Instead of trying to experience the text aesthetically through personal feelings, memories and images, they approach the text efferently with the purpose of gaining specific information and retelling the story. Even when they do make personal connections, they do not reflect on them (Garrison and Hynds, 1991), and as a result, their understanding is not enhanced.


Bintz (1993) described how reluctant secondary school readers were passive. They had difficulty monitoring and making sense of what they were reading and connecting personally to the school-assigned texts because they were "not meaningful or relevant to their personal lives" (p. 613). Carl, an LD student who had difficulty reading (Hess, 1993), did not identify with fictional characters unless they did what he knew and liked. Instead, while reading nonfiction about hot cars and super athletes, he played out his fantasy of being a famous soccer player who drives a fast car. Like Carl, some LD students have difficulty identifying with characters in books. Hoffman (1993) found that low-achieving students in a whole language classroom tended to choose books that were too difficult for them. They were, however, successful in responding when they had support from teachers in applying relevant strategies such as choosing their own books.

Beers (1990) found that unmotivated readers were aided by teacher prompts such as questions when they found it difficult to switch from an efferent stance, which tended to limit their transactions with books, to an aesthetic stance which enhanced their transactions. The LD students in Olafson’s study (1993) were successful having an aesthetic experience with books when she read to them, when they responded orally and when they were instructed in how to construct meaning.


Prediction, which plays an important role in comprehension, also causes difficulty for special education students. Foley (1992) found that the trouble his junior high remedial students had with predicting correctly and supporting their predictions with text suggested that they had trouble understanding.


Other studies (Poe, 1988; Wollman-Bonilla, 1989) reported favorable results when teachers introduced response journals to students who had difficulty reading. After he introduced young adult literature and response journals to his remedial class, Poe found that their responses resembled those of the more proficient students and they now said they enjoyed the stories. Through reading the responses of their students, both Poe and Wollman-Bonilla learned about ways to help their students develop reading strategies, comprehension, literary knowledge, communication skills, reading confidence and motivation. Cousin, Aragon and Rojas (1993) found that the similar, yet more functional and authentic activity of writing a response letter about the literature, was even more successful for a learning disabled young adolescent than simply writing a response. The letters produced better involvement because it was an activity in which the student realized that he could share personal experiences.


A number of studies have explored the influence that a reading workshop approach had on special education students who had difficulty with reading. Atwell (1991) found that the LD students in her regular classroom succeeded within the reading and writing environment. Raphael et al. (1992) found his high school remedial students resisted the open-ended responses of a Book Club, but after three months his younger remedial students improved their involvement in and discussions of less sophisticated selections until they almost paralleled that of the regular students who were studied. Robb’s (1993) success, implementing a reading workshop with at-risk students in Grades 7 and 8 to help them finally pass the state’s literacy test, was related to an emphasis on time spent reading, talking, thinking and writing about books.


Oberlin and Shugarman (1989) clearly demonstrated that middle school LD students’ reading attitudes and levels of book involvement improved when a reading workshop was implemented. Dionisio (1989) reported that her middle years remedial students:

(1) attended to meaning and understood reading must make sense;

(2) read faster and more;

(3) liked reading better and looked forward to other books;

(4) identified elements of writing and writing style they liked or disliked;

(5) identified with and reacted to characters to make meaning;

(6) evaluated books with authority; and,

(7) felt they were readers, not failures.

The instruction offered by teachers in the mini-lessons of a reading workshop atmosphere seemed to enhance students’ meaning-making in a study by Kletzien and Hushion (1992). They found students improved in reading and seemed to find reading more enjoyable.

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The following is an overall summary of the research findings from a thesis submitted by Wall (1996) to the University of Regina. The original document has:

- a complete description of the methodology

- the complete details and discussion related to the findings

- a complete list of references

- an eight page chart summarizing the review of literature

- suggestions for further research

- a list of questions for interviewing students about using their response journals

- a Reading Survey and Reading Conference Questions (Atwell, 1987b)


The Wall (1996) study explored the written responses to literature of 14 urban learning disabled adolescents to see if the responses would reveal any insights about the nature of students’ meaning-making. It focused on the following questions:

1. What do the response journals of LD readers reveal about the kinds of responses they make to self-selected literature?

2. What do the students’ responses reveal about their reading processes?

3. What influenced their responses and their meaning-making processes?

The study involved a segregated Grade 9 LD class in which students selected their own books for independent reading. As students read the literature of their choice, they wrote their reactions to the story in response journals. To help them respond, they had the option to use response questions (Appendix A) provided by the teacher. Their responses were analyzed to describe the meaning-making that took place as the students read. The samples from the students written responses (Table 1, Appendix C) are quoted as they were originally written.

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How do Students Understand What They Read?


Students write a variety of responses in their response journals which describe the ways that students make meaning or engage with the books they read. The data in Table 1 describes nine ways LD students understand what they read. These nine types of response form categories of meaning-making which include retelling, assembling information, monitoring, questioning, predicting, inferencing, elaborating, identifying and evaluating. The data in Appendix C provides a closer look at more responses associated with the subcategories within each category.


These categories clearly show that LD students are actively engaged as they read and respond. They are involved in many thinking activities that help them understand the story. Retelling the story in their journals helps students understand the plot better. When students assemble information about the story in their journals, they connect their knowledge about literary elements such as suspense to details in the story.


If students are having difficulty making sense of what they are reading, they indicate in their journals that they monitor their reading, expecting the story to make more

sense as they read further. They understand that meaning is not always clear and evident at first and has to be pursued to the end of the story. As a result they ask questions and when they reread their journals, they are reminded to find answers and clarify any confusions about the story as they continue their reading. Having questions in their mind slows students down, gives them time to think about associations and helps them answer their own questions.


Students who make predictions in their journals read on to confirm, modify or invalidate them as they merge new information with recollections about the story. When they inference, they fill in the gaps of the story using personal information that often takes them beyond the storyline to an interpretation of the story. At other times, they combine personal knowledge or details from the story to elaborate on their predictions or answer questions. When they personally identify with the story, characters or events, students imagine what it would be like to experience what is happening and as a result they understand the story in terms of their own lives. Finally, when students make evaluative comments, especially positive evaluations, they express increased involvement and enjoyment and indicate that they don’t want to put the book down.

Although it is commonly believed that LD students do not actually engage with books in the way that their more literate peers do, the responses in Table 1 and Appendix C show that they do actively engage with the books they read and are active participants of meaning-making rather than passive receivers of information. It is the writing in the journals that engages students and sustains them in the process of responding. This writing requires a constant interplay between the reader and the story and students become actively engaged in their own meaning-making. New understandings are often developed because more thinking is required during writing than when reading without writing is expected. As a result, students gain new understandings about the story, about life in society, about themselves as a member of society or about themselves as a reader.


An aesthetic reading of books is believed by reader response theorists to be essential in the initial reading and understanding of books. The responses of LD students show that they do connect literature to their own knowledge and experiences in life. Examples of aesthetic engagement are intertwined throughout most of the different types of response, but are especially evident when students identify or evaluate. Making personal connections with their stories is not a problem for the majority of students and making these personal connections does enhance their understanding of the story and their attitude toward reading. Taking an aesthetic approach during reading motivates readers.


When students chose their own books rather than having them assigned, they tend to choose books with topics that interest them. Therefore, they can more easily connect the stories to their own lives and this helps them personally experience the story in a deep and meaningful way. When students connect literature to their personal experiences and ideas, it gives them a purpose for reading. Whether that purpose revolves around predicting, questioning or identifying, students’ attention is focused at that moment on a particular reason for reading on in the story. Students reasons for reading does not remain constant as they read; in fact, it changes many times.

When LD students respond aesthetically, they often stop to make critical reflections about ideas that are relevant to the book they are reading. They often move beyond surface thinking and support their personal ideas with references to the story; sometimes they move toward a deeper understanding or interpretation. The Response Questions (Appendix A) that students can use encourages them to return to the story and actively ponder answers from their own perspectives which guides their critical thinking.


Creativity is a characteristic not often connected to LD readers. However, when students predict what will happen in response to the story, they create their own version of the events of a story based on what has happened up to that point. Like the writer, they create a story. They also have a sense of being there in the story, wanting to say something. Tierney (1990) believes this is integral to comprehension.


LD students process reading in a way that is believed to take place in all readers. They intertwine story cues and personal knowledge in a transactional process that is reciprocal and recursive in nature. In the transaction, the meaning that students bring to the book is transformed into a new understanding about the story. By the end of the story, students often revise their earlier views about a character or the meaning of the title of the story, making their views more in line with the intended meaning of the story. In addition, the students are also transformed, making the process reciprocal. The students, who are both active participants in creating the unfolding meaning of the story and active spectators to these unfolding events, have few difficulties understanding their books. An explanation may be related to the fact that students are encouraged and supported within the classroom to respond aesthetically, and the books they read are chosen by themselves.


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What Influences Students’ Understanding of Books?


Three aspects commonly associated with reader response, namely, the reader, the text and the context, all influence the responses that students make in their journals.


The Reader


Recognition of the influence of the reader on written responses is a basic assumption of reader response. Factors existing within the students which influence responses the most include the attitudes, knowledge and experiences they bring to the text, as well as their ability to think about these and connect these to the text they are reading.


An important reader-centered influence on response is attitude toward reading. Students who write positive responses tend to have a positive attitude toward reading and, at the same time, tend to have less difficulty with their reading. In contrast, students with negative attitudes toward reading tend to write negative responses and often indicate at the same time that they have difficulty understanding what they are reading.


Of particular interest is that most of the LD students’ attitudes toward reading become more positive after a reader response approach is implemented. Students like being able to express their opinions without getting into trouble for not "having just the teacher’s opinion," and positive attitudes become associated with an emerging sense of ownership. Positive attitudes are also associated with expressions of enjoyment and better understanding. Enjoyment while reading a book clearly translates into a positive "I like reading" attitude for LD students. This positive attitude toward reading provides motivation for students to continue to read and to understand.


Students who write positive responses seem to have less difficulty with their reading. Once students are given time to read, are expected to read and get used to writing in their response journals, their responses indicate that they become more involved and positive and their attitudes toward reading became more positive. Positive attitudes may also be taken as an indication that students’ reading is successful. Overall, favorable encounters reading books they choose themselves and engaging in reader response activities have a positive influence on LD students’ involvement in reading, on their reading attitudes and on their understanding of the story.


Students’ previous experiences with life and all types of media, as well as knowledge about the story and reading strategies, all have a major impact on how well students construct meaning and become personally involved in the story. Retelling parts of the story is often intermingled with aesthetic responses that come from media experiences. In addition, some responses are related to the prior knowledge about story structures and reading strategies that students learn and apply. Moreover, students’ previous life experiences provide them with prior knowledge and contribute to their responding from a personal perspective. LD students seem to have prior experiences that are adequate for understanding the books they choose themselves and this has a very strong influence on how they construct meaning.


Students’ knowledge about the story they are reading also influences their responses. When students have insufficient knowledge about the story, their responses reveal that they do not understand and are confused. Later, when they know more about the story, students often fill in previously unknown details. What students are able to glean from their reading influences what life experiences they bring to the text.

Students’ abilities to make certain connections between the story and their experiences is also important. When students focus only on the text they are reading, their responses tend to be literal retellings which limit their understanding because it excludes the aesthetic connection. In contrast, when students can relate the story to their personal experiences, they understand the story better. Even when students fail at their attempts to make personal associations at one point in the story, these attempts often serve as catalysts for later connections to be made. They reconsider and discover connections with characters later in the story. This ability to reconsider or think helps some students move beyond story facts to generalize the meaning of the story. Students who don’t think as deeply don’t weave their own ideas with their story details and, as a result, their insights about the story are not as abstract.


The Text


Students’ ability to connect their knowledge and experience to what is relevant in the story influences their reading, but is, in part, dependent upon the influence of the book they are reading. Students respond more favourably and aesthetically to books in which the author’s style of writing, the type of book and the difficulty of the book, as well as the topic, match their individual preferences.


The most frequent textual influence on students’ responses is the author’s style of writing. For some students, techniques such as flashback change the usual organization of the story and make it difficult for them to understand without extra effort or rereading. In general, books which contain a lot of action are preferred over books with a lot of detailed descriptions. Action stories keep most LD students involved and interested. For other students, rich description act as a meaningful guide for understanding character. When the style of writing matches their tastes, students mention how much they like the book and how it makes them want to read on.


Students often choose books about sports, vampires and cars because students find these topics and genres interesting. Students more easily make personal connections with topics that are interesting to them and, as a result, they have more to write about. In contrast, when the topic isn’t of personal interest, they don’t like the book as well and find it difficult to maintain interest. Without background knowledge to help them make a personal connection, they have difficulty finding something to comment on besides "it is boring." If the teacher refuses to let students abandon books when they are uninteresting to them, students become frustrated and give up trying to make sense of what they are reading. They shut down their search for meaning. If they are interested in the book, students believe that they can read better and, therefore, understand it better.


The Context


A classroom atmosphere, facilitated by a teacher who involves students in reading and writing activities is very influential in helping LD students make sense of their reading.

The response journals, in which students record their reactions to the books they read, keep LD students actively involved in understanding the story in a personal way. Having students use the letter format in their response journals personalizes their reactions to the story. Students want to "fill in the gaps" of the story for the teacher, as they do when talking to someone. It is similar to having a conversation with someone so it becomes natural for students to write what they might tell others about a story.


Writing initial responses in journals prompts students to reflect about connections and ideas that they don’t think about when they are reading. The writing slows them down. This helps them recall and understand more easily what is happening in the story and also encourages them to think about what they have read. Response journals become students’ "think tanks" - developing their thinking during reading and providing them with a record of that thinking. It propels them beyond their usual more passive attempts at reading and meaning-making. Students recognize that when they have to write entries, they can’t just look at the words in the book to read [as they normally do]; to write about a book in a response journal they have to have learned about the book. They realize that they have to read the book and try to understand it instead of just looking at words.


Another influence on meaning-making occurs when students monitor their reading as they reread their journal entries. If something doesn’t make sense, students just look back on what they have written and it helps them understand. Students find this strategy to be a quick, relevant way to reread information about the story to re-enter their previous world of the book. This is important for students who have a lot of difficulty concentrating when they are reading because it refreshes their memories about the story and jogs their memories to find answers to questions and confirmations for their predictions. In addition, when students reread their recent journal entries, they also read the latest teacher response containing information and making associations which can strengthen their attempts at understanding the story.

It is important to allow students the freedom to respond and react in their own way. Then they express their own opinions about what they want to say instead of what they think the teacher wants them to say. The idea that their opinions are as valuable as the teacher’s encourages students to make responses about themselves and society that are quite personal and individualistic. Students become both an active participant and a reflective observer which gets them involved and active in their reading and responding.

Response Guide Questions (Appendix A) that students can choose to use, but are not required to use, have a marked influence on the variety of responses (Appendix B) that students write because the range of topics covered encourages students to think about many different aspects of the story. These questions give students a starting point - making it possible for some of them to respond when they don’t know what to say. As students skim over the questions to choose the ones they want to use, it encourages them to recall parts of the story that are relevant so they can explain it easier. This way of making sense of the text as they review all questions likely wouldn’t occur with specifically assigned teacher questions.


Some students find that Response Questions are harder than other questions to answer because they have to read and understand the story. However, the response questions help students who have difficulty responding. They prompt students to respond aesthetically, independent of direct teacher guidance. They are also one of the most powerful influences on LD students’ written responses because teachers can direct individual student’s responses toward certain areas not being covered in free response entries. When students use the response questions, they elaborate on answers to their own questions, on their predictions, on their discussions about literary elements, and on the associations they make between the story and themselves. It extends their understanding and provides structure for their thinking.


The instruction that takes place in the reading workshops in the form of mini-lessons and discussions helps shape students’ responses. These short lessons directly help students learn about literary terms and story structure, and about reading strategies such as how to bring meaning to a text and what to do if you don’t know a word. Other classroom instruction that occurs outside the reading workshop time also influences the students to respond to other literary features such as suspense and conflict. They remember earlier instruction and integrate new learning into their responses without prompting from the question sheet.


In general, LD students dislike reading and find it difficult. However, the atmosphere of a reading workshop enhances the attitudes and meaning-making of problem readers. Students’ attitudes toward reading improve and their use of aesthetic responses as well as their involvement with the books they are reading increases. They become more motivated when they have the freedom to choose and abandon their own reading material. The power of choosing one’s own books should not be underestimated in reading. Students regard interest in the topic or subject as being paramount in their selection of books. This makes their reading more enjoyable and meaningful because they can connect the literature to life around them.

Perhaps above all else, use of the reading workshop provides LD students with the time and opportunity to read. Students begin to recognize that the more they read, the more they can enjoy reading. They also recognize the value of reading lots of books even though they don’t read much at home. Therefore, they appreciate time to read in class. It also gives students the opportunity to imitate the good reading behaviours modeled by the teacher and other students. Equally important is the opportunity for students to learn from the shared responses of other students who are reading and discussing the same books. Undoubtedly, the reading workshop approach with its emphasis on time to read and its supportive atmosphere plays a substantial role in promoting reading for LD students.


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1. The "lived-through experience" created when students write aesthetic responses to literature is both possible and important for LD students’ initial understanding of books. In spite of their difficulties with reading, extensive and engaging meaning- making can be experienced by the LD students when they are supported and encouraged to write initial responses to the books they select and read themselves. Reader response activities such as writing journal responses to literature in a letter format seems to be a viable option as a teaching tool for LD students who have difficulties reading. These readers appear to be similar to non LD students as they independently read the books they select.


2. Response journals, used within the positive atmosphere provided by a reading workshop, help LD students bring meaning to the books they read on their own. Consideration should be given to implementing a reading workshop in classes with LD students.


3. Reading response journals help LD adolescents’ access their background information. The process of writing down reactions to books is important to these students as they read because writing helps students construct meaning independently. The writing also activates new thinking and learning. Writing is an effective way for students to practice independent learning, and for the teacher to recognize and accommodate individual differences in literature units.


4. The response journal seems to guide LD students into awareness of and insight into the type of experience others have through reading. Response journals record student thinking as they write responses and they serve as a catalyst to activate new types of reflective thinking. Students seem to be constructing meaning both as they read and as they write, probably because the writing activates students’ thinking about what occurred during reading which, in turn, activates new understandings.


5. LD students who use response journals can benefit from using a set of structured generic response questions to guide their initial responses. Carefully selected questions can be a powerful influence on their meaning-making. Therefore, consideration must be given by teachers to the type of questions selected for students’ responses. Questions that evoke an aesthetic response are important for initial responses. A variety of generic type questions are available and could be adopted to determine their value for individual students.


6. Consideration must also be given to the wording of response questions. While teachers need to accept and value a variety of different responses and personal interpretations that may be different from their own, teachers need also to consider carefully the implications of the responses they choose to model, ignore or encourage, because these responses can be learned and become the norm.


7. Since instruction plays an important part in the responses and meaning-making of LD students, teachers should pay very close attention to the needs of individual students and give them instruction on using reading strategies. When students indicate that they are having difficulties understanding books or finding them boring, early intervention with individuals or small groups may assist students in overcoming their difficulties. A closer look at individual students’ profiles using the categories of meaning-making devised in this study could provide the basis for pin-pointing difficulties as soon as they are apparent and for devising further instructional intervention. Instruction in strategies for choosing books, monitoring reading, predicting, questioning, evaluating and elaborating are some that seem to be appropriate for reading and reader response growth. Instruction and interventions could be planned with a focus on student growth throughout the year.


8. Since literature study, not reader response, has been the focus of most secondary English studies, many teachers at the secondary level are not as familiar with many of the reading strategies as teachers of elementary grade students. As reader response is implemented as part of the new secondary English curricula, teachers at the secondary level need opportunities to acquire the appropriate pedagogical knowledge and skills to help readers in their classrooms who are experiencing difficulties. Also, with increasing numbers of LD students being served in the regular classrooms, it is imperative that teachers know about the role of instruction in aiding student understanding of the books they read. This is especially important at the high school level where instruction has focused on teaching literature in traditional ways with little emphasis on teaching students how to read literature independently.

9. LD students appear to become involved in their reading and to enjoy it when they chose their own books to read, are given opportunities to read, and write their initial responses in a reading response journal. Teachers at the secondary level should include class time for independent reading and responding, and sometimes allow students to choose their own books. Teachers who have LD students in their classrooms could develop some units for genre study such as the short story, poetry and novel in which all students are encouraged to choose their own reading materials.


10. Selecting a text on a topic that provides interesting connections to the reader’s experiences is beneficial to the student’s meaning-making. It is even more beneficial when reading is supported by a reading workshop which facilitates the student to respond freely or use response questions to record initial responses.


11. Enjoyment of books is of prime importance especially for students whose past failures with reading have led to a general dislike of reading. Responding aesthetically within a reading workshop atmosphere has a positive influence on the experience that LD students have with reading. It is worth trying.


12. Response journals might be used as an intervention in an "adaptive" dimension for students having difficulty with regular curricula.


13. After categorizing the types of responses that students make, a teacher might try different response questions as prompts to generate responses that students are missing.


14. Response questions and journals might be tried with assigned books as well as with self-selected literature.


15. Writing, for some LD students, is more difficult than oral discussions. Therefore, teachers may introduce oral discussion in combination with students’ written responses.


16. Response journals, especially in the form of a letter to a teacher or another student, provide a rereading monitoring device for students’ own meaning-making.


17. By comparing a students’ responses to those in the nine categories that were formed in this study, a teacher could form student profiles to determine which interventions and strategies might help individual students.


Research supports using a reader response approach for both good and poor readers. A reader response approach supports students in their initial understanding of books, gives them a voice in their own meaning-making and provides opportunities for them to connect the literature they read to their own lives. Response journals actively engage students in their reading. The aesthetic responses of students reveal that the meaning activated during an aesthetic reading is as dynamic and complex for LD readers as it is for their non LD peers. It leads LD students beyond their usual summaries of a story toward critical and creative thinking and toward a positive experience with reading.


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1. What is your novel’s point of view? How do you know?


2. Does the title fit the story? Why or why not?


3. Compare the characters to yourself, family, friends, etc.


4. Would you recommend the book to others? Why or why no


5. Could you be friends with a character in the book? Why or why not?


6. How does your story start? With descriptive information? With action? With dialogue between characters? With a character thinking about something?


7. How has your feeling about the book changed from the beginning to the end?


8. Do any characters change throughout the story? How are they different?


9. What do you think will happen next in the story? Predict the ending.


10. When and where does the story take place? What is the mood at the beginning?


11. Finish this sentence: I love the way the author____________________


12. Were you satisfied with the ending of your book? Why or why not?


13. Did this book make you laugh? Cry? Cringe? Smile? Cheer? Explode? Record some of your reactions?


14. Are there connections between your book and your own life? What?


15. Would you like to have a personality trait of any particular character? Describe the trait and explain why you like it?


16. What makes you wonder in this book? What confuses you?


17. How have you changed after reading this book?


18. What questions would you like to ask the author of this book?


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(see Appendix A for original sheet)

Questions that produced assembling-type responses:

1. What is your novel’s point of view? How do you know?

6. How does your story start? With descriptive information? With action? With dialogue between characters? With a character thinking about something?

10. When and where does the story take place? What is the mood at the beginning?


Questions that produced questioning-type responses:

16. What makes you wonder in this book? What confuses you?

18. What questions would you like to ask the author of this book?


Questions that produced predicting-type responses:

9. What you think will happen next in the story? Predict the ending.


Questions that produced inferencing-type responses:


2. Does the title fit the story? Why or why not?

8. Do any characters change throughout the story? How are they different? 17. How have you changed after reading this book?


Questions that produced identifying-type responses:

3. Compare the characters to yourself, family, friends.

5. Could you be friends with a character in this book? Why or why not?

15. Would you like to have a personality trait of any particular character? Describe the trait and explain why you like it?

14. Are there any connections between your book and your own life? What [connections]?


Questions that produced evaluating-type responses:

4. Would you recommend the book to others? Why or why not?

7. How has your feelings about the book changed from the beginning to the end?

11. Finish this sentence: I love the way the author ____________

12. Were you satisfied with the ending of your book? Why or why not?

13. Did this book make you laugh? Cry? Cringe? Smile? Cheer? Explode?

Record some of your reactions.

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Samples of Retelling Responses


Retelling - Details of the Story

1. Tina was bit by some unknown lizard an was hosptilised, the doctors did some tests in some sort of slimy substance. Later on in the story an other man was susposible hurt in a machinery accident and also had the same substance in the cuts he got. He is in stable condition. He is on stable condition. They have just sent a sample of the lizard to the Columbia laboratorfor an anilization of the lizard and a friend of one of the scientist said the animale was a dinosaur. [Jurassic Park, Danny]

2. I’m reading about the Bar Mitzvah and David still has to go, but it is not as bad as he thinks know that he has met a girl. The girl David met she is shorter then David so right there that is good. At Hebrew school they had a dance and David volunteered to work the concession and he was doing a great job until he saw Amy O’Neil. It was like she but a curse on him all she ask for was a soda and a brownie, and David wanted her to notice him so he jumped over the table. [Good if it Goes, Trevor]

3. Karen and Ann-Marie were walking on the beach and a gang surrounded them and tried to rape them but these tow guys saw this and rescued them and karen like the guy they went to a resteraunt where they saw Jerry’s girlfriend Rennee. Rennee hated Karen. [Beach Party, Allan]


Retelling - Summaries of the Story

4. its about a racer who is getting her car distroyed becuse other people don’t want her to win. [Race to Win, Lyle]

5. My book is talking about Tim McCarver years in high school and who he played Baseball, and Football. He says there were a lot of scotes at his high school and the Football coach was telling his dad to make him just play football. But he made it into Baseball with the Cardinals. [Oh Baby, I Love It, Rob]

6. The book tells about how hockey became Waynes top sport. The book tells about all of the different teams he played for and how much he was on the ice. [Gretzky: The Great One, Shauna]


Samples of Assembling Information Responses


Assembling Information about the Setting

1. My story takes place near Tronto in mostly a hockey rink and a hotel. [A Boy At Leafs’ Camp, Jeff]

2. The story takes place in a suberb of Los Angeles called Venice. The mood at the beginning of the story is very happy because the two girl meet at the air port because Ann-Marie is from Los Angeles but moved to New York after high school .... So they were happy to see each other. The story takes place in a moderen autmosphere. [Beach Party, Allan]

3. At the begining the mood is intence because it is the middle of a hockey game and his friends just got a cheep shoot to the head, he went down to the ice. [Ice Hawk, Danny]


Assembling Information about the Characters

4. My mane person in my stort is phillip enright he is shor and realy smart. [The Cay, Neil]

5. The [main] character in my book is real smart and level headed. [The Outsiders, Shauna]

6. One of Rufus friend is Baby Gibson. Baby is a huge powerful guy. [Durango Street, Kirby]


Assembling Information about the Plot and Literary Structures

7. The story is told in third person becuse the other talks about the story as if he wachedit. [Five True Horse Stories, Lyle]

8. The conflict is external because it is between the soc’s and the Outsiders. [The Outsiders, Jeff]

9. Theres a conflict between the boy and the dad right now, about the dad inberssing him at school on his first day and getting in a fight. [Cowboys Don’t Cry, Shauna]

10. The suspense part of my book is right wear I am reading becuse Rufisfas jest got caught by cops. [Durango Street, Lyle]

11. My book starts off by the girls talking about a death that Just happened in the middle of fear street woods. [Prom Queen, Yvette]

12. The book is an autobiography. [Gretzky the "Great One," Shauna]

13. I’m on the flashback where Tommy punches Craig. [Catch a Killer, Rob]


Samples of Monitoring Responses


Monitoring - Tracking

1. From what I read on the back is that the stepsister ends up being evil and is destroing Emilies life slowly. [The Stepsister, Allan]

2. Well they never actually said the Craig knapped him but I have a feeling Craig did. [Catch a Killer, Marcus]

3. The part I am at is the part where the climax is starting to come down. [The main character Ponyboy is the on his way to the hospital to get treetment from a burn that happened when they tried to rescue the kids.] [The Outsiders, Allan]



Monitoring - Postponing

4. Theres no connections with the story because Mr. Enright is a killer I think but Sandy wants to be a doctor and so do I. [Dirk, Marcus]

5. I haven’t found out if the title fits the story because Iam not that far in the book. [Cowboys Don’t Cry, Jeff]

6. The title of my book does sorta fit the story but it sorta Doesn’t because it talks a vampire but it Does not make sense. [Vampire Diaries, Yvette]


Monitoring - Denoting

7. I can’t get into much tetal because only on pg. 5. [Oh, Baby I Love It, Trevor]

8. i’ll tell you the rest next time. [Beach Party, Allan]

9. This is all I know about the characters. [Turk, Kirby]


Monitoring - Misconstruing

10. My story dose not fit the title because it a bout peoples years in baseball. [Oh, Baby I Love It, Rob]

11. I think it is the climax of the story because Bill was coming to the puck and so was Benney and Bill saw someone coming so he put his shoulder down a Benney’s helmet flew of a Benney fracured his skull. [A Boy At Leafs’ Camp, Jeff]


Monitoring - Audience Awareness

12. and something happened real embarrassing, but you’re going to read the book to find out. [Good If It Goes, Trevor]


Samples of Questioning Responses


Questioning - Wondering

1. When I was reading I wondered about what they were going to do next. [The Outsiders, Danny]

2. I wonder why Gladston never want out to see want happened to the cheif and the portorol cops. Whan they go out to the place and find Benson but he is not by his car and where are the other two guys and are they dead. [Catch a Killer, Rob]

3. This book makes me wonder if pony will get in a bous home and if Johnny will live from burns from saving those kids. [The Outsiders, Jeff]

4. It makes me wonder why would people make fun of some one that had half of his face brund off. [The Executioner, Kirby]

5. There is another part of suspense in my book to its about Johny if he’s going to die or be alright. [The Outsiders, Shauna]


Questioning - Confusions

6. if the kid didn’t kill the policman who did this is the confusing part [Catch a Killer, Trevor]

7. My book makes me confused because I don’t get what they are getting across. [The Cay, Marcus]

Questioning - Questions

8. If I could asked the author one question it would be what gave you the idea to write about a bunch of kids (missphits), whose parents die and they are living on their own. [The Outsiders, Danny]

9. If I could ask the author of the’s book I would ask if any of the characters or happenning happened to his or any of the character resembol any of the people in his family or any people he has meet before. [A Boy At Leafs’ Camp, Jeff]

10. Now the suppence is if Jhonny will die or live because of the big board fell on him when they saved those kids in the fire. [The Outsiders, Jeff]

11. Is there nother book that continue the story. [The Outsiders, Wesley]

12. Do you read the back of the books before you take it out? Or do you just find a nice cover and deciede to take it out? [Petrified, Marcus]


Samples of Predicting Responses


Predicting - Outcomes

1. I think Micheal will win the M. V. P. for the NBA. [Michael Jordan, Danny]

2. In ten years I think Ponyboy will be an author. [The Outsiders, Jeff]

3. The next thing that I think is going to happen in the book is someone id going to get killed and holly is going to get very worried and is not going to want to stay there any longer as a councellor. [Lights Out, Allan]

4. Im just guess but I think that Rufus is going to terrible. and they he might be come a football player. [Durango Street, Kirby]

5. When and if Tawney finds Andrew I don’t think he will be able to convict Andrew because Craig took the gun with him so they wouldn’t have any evidence to put him on trial. [Catch a Killer, Erma]

6. From all the inform they got I think the money is hidded down stairs because Frank redid the downstairs or it could be in a restr [The Mystery of the Talking Skull, Kirby]

Predicting - Confirming/Invalidating later

7. When I finish the book my feelings changed because at the start I thought that he would be in some other type of training other than beening set up and in the end he found out it was a set up. [Jim in Training, Danny]


Samples of Inferencing Responses


Inferencing - General

1. I think that the title fits the story bewcause it is about some kids that are misphits that are in a gang and their parent most of the time don’t want any thing to do with them! [The Outsiders, Rob]

2. The characters in this story are greasers and they are critisicsed for where they are born and that is not good. [The Outsiders, Allan]

3. Tina doesn’t care if she wins or loses she doesn’t want to up set her friends and rune their relationship. [Race to Win, Lyle]


Inferencing - Hypothesizing

4. Now Ruhis will have to talk his way out of the mess so he doesen’t go back prison. [Durango Street, Lyle]

5. but they [Ponyboy & Soda] can’t [get thrown in jail] if they do [get caught ] they will probably be put in a phoster home or a boy’s home [The Outsiders, Danny]

6. if he dosen’t win he will have to get his job back or find a new one. [A Time to Choose, Wesley]


Inferencing - Retrospecting

7. When I finish the book my feelings changed because at the start I thought that he would be in some other type of training other than beening set up and in the end he found out that it was a set up. [Jim in Training, Danny]

8. At first I did not think the title fit it because it just didn’t. As I got to the end of the book Bruce went on a ram page because people laughed or made fun of his face. [The Executioner, Kirby]

9. Kevin has changed since the beging of the story because he was on the ice in a fight and bet up somebody. Now he is worryed if the kid is going to die or not because he has internal bleeding in his head. [Ice Hawk, Danny]



Inferencing - The Theme

10. Yes I think he is tring to give a message about life. I think he is trying to say that you can play sports and work, and do some erinis. [Dirk, Marcus]

11. But it sets a good example because it tries just to get the meaning across by getting you not to quit because it says, that you shouldn’t every quiet it kind of says that. ["Goalie" Marcus]


Samples of Elaborating Responses


Elaborating - on previous questions - (elaborations, not questions are underlined)

1. I wondered about what they were going to do next. When I continued to read I found out that the went to see Dally because he’s always go a plan to get out of trouble. [The Outsiders, Danny]

2. ...there in some caind of desert but I don’t know where his going or why he is going. I know why his in the deset for. he is following this name I [man in] black ant the meats some people. They are all trying to get this name in black. [The Gunslinger, Rob]


Elaborating - on predictions - (elaborations, not predictions are underlined)

3. The last thing I told you was that I think that Karen and Jerry will start going out together. Well sence then Keren and Ann-Marie went to the beach and they saw Renne and Jerry there. Renne had her squba gear there with here. At the end of the story Keren went squba diving and they went out really far and Keren. [Erma]

4. Im just guess but I think that Rufus is going to terrible [get in trouble]. I just found out that Rufus is in terrible [trouble] be gassers. Gassers is a gang that drives around looking for terrible. [Durango Street, Kirby]


Elaborating - on literary elements - (elaborations, not literary connections are underlined)

5. the conflic in the story so far is man against man . Why I think is that bacuase the Gremans are attacking a small island in the caribbean. [The Cay, Neil]

6. The mood at the beginning of the story is very happy because the two girl meet at the air port because Ann-Marie is from Los Angelas but moved to New York after high school. They had been frindes from child hood and they usually meet every summer. So they were happy to see each other. [Beach Party, Allan]



Elaborating - on personal connections - (elaborations, not connections are underlined)

7. This book is truly weird in a sene the Paul the ghost is a future ghost and Melissa was supposed to kill her and she knows nothing about it. Paul has come back to kill her. If that ever happened to me I would scream. [Haunted, Allan]

8. It’s about a boy name Bruce who got drunk a drove.....Then Bruce got into an axed and his face ways bured badly. in a way the book makes me feel sad for him. [The Executioner, Kirby]


Samples of Identifying Responses


Identifying - themselves with story characters

1. My book really makes me think about the way are lifes are so much different but bery much the same. I think thats really weird. [The Outsiders, Shauna]

2. he uncously day dreams and is very courouse about new Things. so yes he could Be a friend of mine. [Needful Things, Neil]

3. I think that Jim and I are similar because he was set up and sometimes I think that I’m being set up also. If I was Jim I would be upset. [Jim in Training, Danny]

4. There’s no connections with the story because Mr. Enright is a Killer he not like Sandy she seems like a nice girl to be friends with. [Dirk, Marcus]


Identifying - people they know with story characters

5. The charater reminds me of my grandpapa because he fought in Vietman war whan he was around the age of this guy. [Guns Up, Rob]

6. Jhonny is physicly alike my brother. [A Boy At Leafs’ Camp, Jeff]


Identifying - their experiences with story events

6. I’m on the part were he gets hit by a hockey stick If he would of hit me I would have hit him back. Then when they start running after him I would have fold him. [Catch a Killer, Trevor]

7. So far all I know is that he is just getting out of the dales house* or something like that [Durango Street, Kirby]

8. My favorite part in this book his when Johnny died. Its my favorite part because it makes me fill sad but its sole cool how he risked his life to save the kids. [The Outsiders, Kirby]


Identifying - with ideas in the story

9. I think that anybody that was born in a certain part of town is creticised of where their born. Take regina for instent people think if you live in the down town area that you are lo life scum, but my grandparents live doen their and they are not lo life scum. People should not be critisized for where they live [The Outsiders, Allan]

10. I would feel bad if my son didt want to see me in the hospital. [The Outsiders, Jeff]

*Note: Dales House is the name of a local residential assessment & treatment centre for disturbed children


Samples of Evaluating Responses


Evaluating - a book

1. My feeling have changed I thought I would not like this book but it is very exciting. [The Outsiders, Yvette]

2. It is a very good book if you like horre books. [Haunted, Allan]

3. I hated it was terrible I hated it the only thing It talk about was the river and didn’t talk about the characters at all are the values or anything but this stupid river . [The Rock, Trevor]

4. Most of this Chapter is kind of boring so I skip a few paragraphs. [Catch a Killer, Trevor]


Evaluating - a character

5. I don’t really like the main character Jocie that much cause she is really crul espically to her cosin Pam. [Silent Night, Erma]

6. I don’t like my main character because he obnoxious. [Dream of Fire, Wesley]

7. I like my main character because he is a hockey athlete. [Scrubs on Skates, Charles]


Evaluating - the author and his style

8. I love the way the Author makes the suspense. [The Outsiders, Yvette]

9. This book wasn’t to great at first because it went back and forth about the two players. [Dan Marino and Joe Montana, Kirby]

10. The ending was a strange way to end a book because Johnny died. [The Outsiders, Danny]


Evaluating - then recommending

11. I would recomend this book to cowboy’s becase mabe they have to same problem or it someone with troble with there parents so they can relat to it [Cowboy’s Don’t Cry, Jeff]

12. I would not recommend this book to others because it is hard to understand there are two many big words, unless you area able to understand this book then read it. [The Cay, Yvette]



Evaluating - leading to self-realization

13. I goes so slow and ther is no adventeas or good, excenting parts in it. [Durango Street, Kirby]

14. and when I frist look at the book I thought that it was a commode and I was wrong it was on family problems and I guess if I read the title closer I would of pick another story. [Trevor]

15. I have choosen a new book because I don’t understand what is going on in the other book and who is talking and when. [The Stepsister, Allan]

16. I wanted to pick another book but then I decide to stick with it. [Catch a Killer, Marcus]


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