Learners’ approaches to poetic metaphor

Submitted by: Bianca Strutz
Abstract: Understanding metaphor can be considered exemplary for specific procedures of interpretation: assigning a meaning to a literary text that needs to be developed beyond the literal is a process that calls on imagination and often also on abstraction. Besides, an aesthetic reading mode seems particularly apt (Rosenblatt, 1994). Poetic metaphor has specific potential for literary learning: It disturbs the reading process and can attract attention. Thus, it should stimulate imaginative elaborations as well as the construction of hypotheses (Steen, 1994; Zymner, 2003). Possibly, it supports the activation of an aesthetic reading mode. However, whether and how this potential is realised in students' understanding processes is largely unexplored.
In a think-aloud-study with students from lower secondary we focus on these processes, exploring students’ operations and aesthetic reading strategies when dealing with metaphor. The study was carried out with 69 students from Grade 6 and 9 in Germany who thought aloud on three different poems. For the analysis of data a coding system was developed and applied to the protocols. Also, for selected cases a sequential analysis was carried out. The data were analysed regarding levels of understanding and students’ strategies.
Results indicate that dealing with poetic metaphor is generally demanding with students in grade 6 and 9 and that both textual factors and the availability of aesthetic strategies have an impact on students’ understanding. We reconstructed eight aesthetic reading strategies which can be divided into the categories 1) an experience of tension being explored which can result in the unfolding of imaginations 2) the open handling of the process of interpretation and 3) the level of involvement (monitoring, emotional and evaluative responses etc.). Furthermore, poetological beliefs seem to have an impact and whether students can draw on verbal procedures of interpretation.
The paper presents levels of understanding metaphor and how they relate to textual features. Besides, the associated aesthetic reading strategies and operations of understanding that they are based on will be shown. In addition, the influence of poetological beliefs and the availability of verbal procedures is explored.

Keywords: literature education, understanding metaphor, aesthetic reading mode, reading strategies, thinking aloud

Steen, G. (1994). Understanding metaphor in literature: An empirical approach. London, UK: Longman.
Pieper, I. & Strutz, B. (2018). Learners’ approaches to poetic metaphor: A think aloud study with secondary school students in Grade 6 and 9. Contribution to a special issue in honor of Gert Rijlaarsdam Making Connections: Studies of Language and Literature Education. L1- Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 18, p. 1-35. https://doi.org/10.17239/L1ESLL- 2018.18.03.05
Rosenblatt, L. M. (1994). The reader, the text, the poem: The transactional theory of literary work. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Zymner, R. (2003). Uneigentliche Bedeutung. [Non-actual meaning]. In F. Jannidis & G. Lauer & M. Martínez & S. Winko (Eds.), Regeln der Bedeutung (pp. 128-168). Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter.