Haas & Flower, “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning”

Haas, Christine, and Linda Flower. “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning.” CCC 39.2 (May 1988): 167-183. (17 pages)

Haas and Flower explore the reading process among experienced readers (graduate students), average and above average readers (college freshman). Specifically, they look toward the strategies readers use to represent and construct meaning based on the reading. Their focus is primarily on “rhetorical reading”: “constructing a rhetorical context for the text as a way of making sense of it” (168). Specifically, a reader builds meaning through “multifaceted, interwoven representations of knowledge” (168). It is the reader’s task to bring information and prior knowledge into a new arrangement to create meaning, but readers don’t often employ strategies that work toward this goal. Haas and Flower further note that such a representation is a network of not just verbally articulated ideas, but also “visual images, or as emotions, or as linguistic propositions that exists just above the level of a specific word” (169). They focus on the ways that readers create associations, connections that not only involves translation from one representation to another, but constructing new nodes and connections to create new knowledge. They further note how reading is a “process of responding to cues in the texts and in the reader’s context to build a complex, multi-faceted representation of meaning” (169).

They hypothesize that issues in not so much an issue in what representations students are constructing, but what representations they are not constructing. They write, “What many of our students can do is to construct representations of content, of structure, and of conventional features. What they often fail to do is to move beyond content and convention and construct representations of texts as purposeful actions, arising from contexts, and with intended effects” (170).

Looking at the data from their participants’ thinking aloud protocols, they coded for three kinds of reading strategies: (1) content strategies focused on what the text is about, look toward main points of information; (2) function/feature strategies were those that focused on what the piece of information or content was doing, in other words, they looked at spatial, functional, or relational structures present within the text, and (3) rhetorical strategies focused on “recreate or infer the rhetorical situation of the text they are reading” (176). In this latter category, readers tried to look more widely at intention, purpose, and audience.

The authors found no significant difference between the use of content and feature strategies between student readers and experienced readers; however, there was a significant relationship between experienced readers and their use of rhetorical strategies. Student readers focus more attention on content features, but experienced readers often used rhetorical strategies to inform or construct the content or vice versa. In fact, those readers who used the rhetorical strategies, “recognized more claims, and… identified claims sooner than other readers: (179). The authors close by calling for teachers and researchers to look toward practices that would prompt students to think more rhetorically about their writing.

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