Affect in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Literary Reading and Response

Submitted by: Sarah Levine
Abstract: A body of cognitively-oriented research suggests that in classroom settings, high school students struggle to move beyond summarizing or moralizing in their responses to literary texts. However, a body of socioculturally-oriented research shows that beyond school settings, students can be skilled and nuanced readers who draw on their everyday interpretive resources to engage in rich transactions with literary texts. In this talk, I’ll highlight affective response as a fundamental everyday interpretive resource that students and teachers can invite into the classroom. I’ll explore a set of related classroom studies of an affect-based interpretive heuristic that guides readers to: Attend to their emerging affective responses as they read a text; identify the nature of those responses on a positive to negative continuum; and reflect on and articulate why or how aspects of a text contributed to those responses. Small and large-scale studies indicate that this heuristic plays several roles in supporting students’ transactions with literary texts in classroom settings, including: Helping students move from summary to interpretation; helping students attend to negative aspects of texts that they tend to ignore in other cases; and helping teachers disrupt conventional school-based discourses that lead to “one answer” models of literary reading and make room for students to engage in richer and more multi-layered responses to literature.