Thursday, February 20, 2014

Approaches to Interpreting Literature

February 20, 2014

Hi, All!
     At times, an author blog site can serve as a wonderful repository for information.  I'm going to use this site today to place some material for the Literature for Young Adults class I'm now teaching at my university.  The students in that class will be using this information for an assignment they've been given.  For the rest of you, I also encourage you to read through these six approaches to literature study. Why?  Because a reader can better understand "what a story does" by looking at the story through these six approaches.  In short, think of each of these approaches as pieces of an apple pie.  Together, they form the shape and taste of the pie -- and allow for full appreciation of it.  Think of the parallel to this in the world of literature study and your reading experiences just might become more intense and fruitful.
    Here are the six approaches.  Read on -- and enjoy!
P.S. In my next post I'll be giving more information about my next book project -- so stay tuned!

                            Six Basic Approaches to Interpreting Literature

The Historical Approach:  This approach emphasizes the biography of the writer and the literary and historical events of the age in which the writer lived.  Overemphasis on this method often makes literature appear secondary to the history and biography.  However, if this method is used skillfully, students see how literature is a changing, developing art.  More importantly, students are better able to see where they fit into the calendar of literature and human development.

The Socio-psychological Approach: This approach has a threefold purpose.  First, it helps students increase their knowledge of people (through study of characterization). Second, it helps students understand the age in which the literature was written.  Third, it helps students apply these insights to current living.  This approach does overlap the historical approach.  However, it is different in that there is an attempt to compare the flesh and nerves of the there-and-then with the flesh and nerves of the here-and-now.  The weakness in this approach is that it may lead to the neglect of some of the qualities we call "literary."  However, this approach depends upon helping the students understand the Universal Themes in literature and life.

The Emotive Approach:  This approach leads the teacher to say, "isn't this beautiful," in referring to a certain work -- or "This is fun!" in referring to literature as a whole.  In a practical sense, this is when a teacher points out to students what and why specific portions of a piece of literature are thought of so highly by that teacher.  In other words, this is sharing with students what the "experienced teacher" finds to be most satisfying in the literature.  Students often will not see this love for the literature immediately.  However, this helps students develop, over time, their own "rubrics" used when evaluating literature -- and in determining the "quality" of a piece of literature.

The Didactic Approach:  This approach helps students find the author's purpose and the author's observations made upon life.  These observations may or may not be ethical principles or morals.  The search for and discussion over the author's purpose leads to improved reading ability and to a thoughtful attitude toward the text.  Students usually enjoy finding a significant idea or a memorable thought capsule in a text.  When used carefully, the Didactic Approach may ultimately help the students to shape their own life philosophies.  When this approach is carried too far, the discussion may disintegrate into a hunt for all the "morals to the story."

The Paraphrastic Approach:  Using this approach, the teachers tell students to re-state a passage from the text using their "own" words.  This is related to Bloom's "Knowledge" and "Comprehensive" levels of thought.  This approach is particularly valuable in interpretation of literature which is difficult to comprehend (because of a dialect used, unknown historical references, or misunderstood character motivations -- just to mention a few areas).  The usual objection to this approach is that paraphrasing only gets to the approximate meaning.  However, without understanding of what is going on at the "surface level" in a text, the students will not be able to move into interpretive responses and higher-order work.

The Analytical Approach:  When teachers use this approach, they encourage students to examine how the elements of literature are used by the writer to build the story (setting, plot, characterization, language use, etc.).  This approach also helps students see the function and inter-related nature of each element -- and provides a look at the craft of the writer (his/her particular skills and weaknesses within the story).  The weakness of this approach is that students often feel the literature is being "picked apart."  However, with careful planning, teachers can use this approach to help students understand both how writers build stories -- and why readers respond to the literature as they do.



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