Experience begets Knowledge

The process started when I was alone in the stacks at the graduate library.
When I started reading the academic piece by Christina Haas and Linda Flower entitled Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning I felt extremely disconnected from the subject matter. Although I was in a model environment to get work done, I couldn’t understand what the reading was saying during the first encounter I had with the concepts Haas and Flower were discussing. I knew that it was going to be a challenge for me to get through this scholarly article, so I tried something new, something stated in the text that helped me tremendously. The process that helped me was thinking and reading aloud. So there I was, in the stacks alone talking to myself in an effort to understand the advanced writing styles of Haas and Flower. Surprisingly, it helped me feel much more engaged with the piece. I was beginning to feel like this reading process wouldn’t be such a drag after all.

In addition to reading aloud, one of the things that resonated with me from the article was the study taken on the different students’ interpretation of part of the preface Sylvia Farnham-Diggory writes in Cognitive Processes in Education. It is my understanding that the primary goal of this study was to highlight the differences in the knowledge that an experienced reader can extract from a text and the knowledge a novice reader can extract from a text. Haas and Flowers suggest novice readers should try to incorporate more rhetorical reading into their reading process rather than primarily reading for knowledge-getting purposes. The text states that rhetorical reading is, “an active attempt at constructing a rhetorical context for the text as a way of making sense of it” (Haas p. 122-123). I thought I did that, but when I read in detail what conclusions this process lead to, I realized that I wasn’t as experienced a reader as I thought.

Kara-an average college student 19 years of age-and Seth-a PHD student 27 years of age-had very different encounters with the text and their experiences are reflected upon in depth in the article. When Kara read the passage she made generalizations, similar to ones that I’d made about the work as a University of Michigan student 19 years of age. Our conclusions centered on the knowledge rather explicitly stated in the text. I thought it was really funny that she was confused as to what the word “glibness” meant in the preface because I looked that same word up on thesaurus.com when I was reading the piece. According to the text, she wasn’t reading rhetorically, therefore, I wasn’t either my first time through the text. By contrast, Seth went made much more in-depth claims and these were the sort of claims that eluded Kara and I. Making in-depth claims is characteristic of a rhetorical reader.

The article says that all readers should try to be rhetorical readers, like Seth, rather than knowledge-getting readers like Kara. One of the quotes that resonated with me from the article concerning this topic said, “In rhetorical reading strategies readers use cues in the text, and their own knowledge of discourse situations, to re-create or infer the rhetorical situation of the text they are reading.” (Haas p.130) Although the people conducting this study tried to find a piece that would “require equally active problem solving”(p.126) by both the experienced reader and the novice reader, I think their efforts were futile. The experienced reader, Seth, has accrued an abundance of knowledge over the years in academia that Kara and I have yet to experience. This experience makes it much easier for him to decode the meaning of texts faster. While Kara and I were looking up what the word “glibness” meant, he could have been thinking about some of the themes he could extract from the text and how these themes are applicable to some of his other life experiences.

Experience begets knowledge seemed to be a fitting title for this because experienced readers are able to understand texts much easier than novice readers because they have experienced more texts. When I first read through the preface I thought like Kara, but the third time I read through the text, I was thinking more like Seth.

It isn’t impossible for me to think like a rhetorical reader, it just takes more time for me to understand points and cues than it does for Seth because I haven’t had as much experience with academic writings as he has. I think at age19 Seth was in the same boat as Kara and I are in, and he developed into the rhetorical reader he is now. I think the more experience students like Kara and I get with reading we will become better rhetorical readers.

Overall, I am happy that I printed this article out and marked it up with my comments in the margins and my highlighter because I am confident that the in-depth reflection on the, “simple, three-part coding scheme distinguished between Content, Function/Feature, and Rhetorical reading strategies.” (Haas p.129) will be beneficial for me in the future. Although I think I will be able to extract deeper meaning from academic texts in time, what if I am completely wrong about a message that I thought was implicitly stated in the text? This is the only problem I anticipate having when transitioning to be a rhetorical reader. I think through experience, I will get over thinking in that apprehensive state. When I do, I will no long be bogged down in content as a reader, because my experience will allow me to tackle more exigent issues in a text. I have a solid foundation now, and it is up to me to continue to build on my foundation. The more experience I am able to attain, the easier it will be for me to build on my knowledge and become a rhetorical reader. As of now, I am a work in progress as a reader, but the foundation is there and I am working to be better.

One thought to “Experience begets Knowledge”

  1. Very, very good blog this week. Strong diction, transitions, and use of the article.

    I think you’re right–one of the benefits of a college education is becoming skilled at reading. And like you mentioned, it only makes sense that this is true. By the time we graduate, we will have read thousands of articles, book chapters, blog posts, etc., and constructed a skillset off of that experience. The ability to read depper than just the words before you is a powerful tool that requires hard work to master.

    I think your concern about implying the wrong idea from a text is legitimate. If I had to write a critique of Haas and Flower’s article, this would be one of my main arguments. It goes without saying that many authors have a set number of points contained in their works, which the reader may or may not have to work a little to uncover. I am dubious as to whether some texts lend themselves to this aspect of rhetorical reading. Are my own life experiences relevant in the slightest to this piece? Should I even be attempting to dig below the surface in this author’s book?

    Questions like these are probably best resolved through utilizing proper discretion when engaging in rhetorical reading. An academic article about the characteristics of a model of Supreme Court decision making probably is written by an author who would prefer that we read about his/her main points before us and take them home. On the other hand, more creative/less scholarly pieces probably do have benefits to working to implicitly gain new points while implementing some personal background.

    Regardless, I think rhetoric reading is particularly helpful in how it simply allows the reader to follow the text more closely. Thinking about intertwining past experiences or looking for clues to undercover ideas puts the reader up close and personal with the author, which will help us remember the article going forward and implement it in strengthening other points as we reach that level of productive rhetorical readers.

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