Three key ideas from Haas and Flower’s “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning”:
1. The “multiple-representations thesis”: When people read, the text’s information codes itself into their memories in various ways.”Readers’ and writers’ mental representations are not limited to verbally well-formed ideas and plans, but may include information coded as visual images, or as emotions, or as linguistic propositions that exist just above the level of specific words.” In other words, just because a reader can’t verbalize the meaning of a text, doesn’t mean ze doesn’t get it. Haas and Flower further explain that an ability to verbalize the “meaning” in terms of the gist of a text or to summarize it for a book review or exam is much different than deriving a multi-dimensional meaning from the text. Different readers experience texts differently because they respond to cues in the text in their own way, and for this reason, analyzing a text should be considered a “constructive” process as readers use their responses to create their own representations.
2. Haas and Flowers’ Experiment: Using a technique of “in-process probing,” Haas and Flower examined the way that readers go about “constructing” meaning and their strategies. In-process probing meant that participants in the experiment would answer questions about a text as they read it. This was meant to show how their understanding and meaning derivation from the text developed and shifted throughout the reading experience. They tested Students and Experienced Readers and found that all students relied on content strategies the most, feature strategies in part, and Experienced Readers relied on rhetorical strategies. The experiment showed that student readers mainly generated “gist” and paraphrasing content in their responses, while Experienced Readers both paraphrase and try to infer the authors’ purpose.
3. The importance of Rhetorical Reading for critical reading: Making inferences about a text’s author, context, purpose and effect helps readers understand an author’s intent and derive a text’s meaning. Haas and Flower discuss that this idea of Rhetorical Reading, though, is difficult to teach. Students in the study were able to identify the Rhetorical Reading technique in others but often unable to execute it themselves.
This article was complex but informative. I was able to see reading in a new light and consider it more carefully.