Haas and Flower Essay

This essay focuses on the way people, mainly students, read and analyze text. It claims that reading should be what the author’s call a “constructive” process. Instead of reading text and interpreting it with just the words on the page, readers should use previous representations and experiences to go deeper into their analysis. They should consider knowledge about the author, his motive, the audience, but also tie in prior knowledge that may help to analyze more critically. Haas and Flower interestingly likened the process to a complex network made up of many nodes of information. While these nodes include information in the text, they can also include a “personal experience evoked by the text.” This idea helped me to better relate to and understand Haas and Flower’s idea of constructive reading. When I read, more often than not, the text manages to evoke some sort of experience or emotion not related to the text. That is generally because I read text that interests or relates to me, but it definitely helps me to evaluate what I read. The essay provides a great example of how this works when describing a study in which college students were asked to analyze text. In the end, the older, more experienced and knowledgable reader was more successful than the younger, greener student. They realized that not only did the more capable reader read and study the text more carefully, but he drew from whatever prior knowledge he had on the subject, whereas his counterpart did not.

Another important idea discussed in this essay was that of rhetorical reading. Haas and Flower believe that rhetorical reading is a great way to help students read constructively and utilize the cognitive process. Normally, when students read, they are reading for content. They look for the key information in whatever they are reading, and when they find it, they feel their reading process is complete. Rhetorical reading forces students to delve further into the text. They must constantly question and ponder while reading. While reading rhetorically, students must consider the author’s motives, the context of the piece, his audience, his tone, and so on. Identifying the key ideas is not enough. Rhetorical analysis helps readers interpret and understand those key ideas once they are found. I try to employ rhetorical reading whenever I read. It is a method of reading that has been drilled into my head since my sophomore year of high school. While I originally despised the idea of reading and re-reading, underlining and scribbling notes in what was left of the margins, I quickly realized that it helped me become a better reader. Not only does rhetorical reading help improve reading comprehension, but it also improves writing skills. After learning how to read this way, I soon began employing rhetorical strategies in my own writing. It is a challenging, but advantageous way to write more intelligently and to express your ideas.

Say What You Mean. Mean What You Say.

 

“So, what are you trying to say?”

This phase has been uttered far too many times in the history of phase uttering. Why can’t everyone just understand what everyone else means? (Do you understand?) What’s wrong with a little clarity in our lives? And besides, mystery is SO overrated.

But what if all the misunderstanding is due to our reading inadequacies? Christina Haas and Linda Flower make a case for the weight of “rhetorical reading” and, in turn, meaning construction (“Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning,” 1988).  The piece addresses rhetoric from the lens of the reader, the person whose eyes stream across the page picking up language and turning it into meaning. The authors argue that the way in which readers read varies across experience levels as they employ techniques to make that meaning. They also claim that a reader must read for purpose, motivation, intended audience and a foundation of deeper understanding as opposed for “merely an information exchange.”

We’ve been drilled through grade school, almost as if our hands write and our eyes read like puppets on the end of an instructor’s string. What’s really interesting is that our minds are the true pieces of value, according to the authors. It’s what we believe and interpret that’s important, not simply what we see and regurgitate.

Frankly, I’ve never been so meta with my own meaning making before. I would never think twice when constructing my thoughts on a Boxcar Children chapter book, TIME column, E:60 short documentary, etc. Was I thinking original thoughts or thoughts that the author intended me to think? Was it me they were targeting or was I a new sector of audience intruding with interpretation? I don’t have any answers, but I do have a new perspective from which to view.

So, do you get what I’m trying to say?

A Rather Meta Post

This essay reminded me of modern art, which is a reference I don’t always make positively. Haas and Flower argue that meaning is constructed from texts by reader. With modern art, the meaning is largely constructed by the viewer as well; that’s what makes something beautiful. The picture of a picture below could just be splotches of paint on paper or this piece could be about the process and breaking the rules of painting and questioning the role of the artist. More radically, it could be both. Maybe it’s neither.

Kazuo Shiraga- Painting With His Feet

Back to writing, my problem with Modern Art as with my problem with Reading as Construct is that it implies if someone thinks a work is bad, it is merely because they don’t appreciate it. It is on the reader, not the writer to convey meaning. For example, Kara, one of the test subjects mentioned by Haas and Flowers, thought a piece of work was confusing; does that mean she is a bad reader or does that mean that the piece of work was actually confusing? I do admit that in Kara’s case, it was her inexperience, not a lack of clarity in the work that caused her to think the piece was confusing. Still, I feeling like meaning in a piece of writing is created by both the reader and the writer. The writer must lay down a solid foundation, even if its a complicated an many layered one for the reader to build on first. Rhetorical readers seem to make the best buildings, able to incorporate their experience, context and other factors into their constructs, rather than merely summarizing for information. This kind of skill or action is one I normally associate with writing. When I write, I try to put in as little summary as possible and focus on interpretation and context. I’ve never thought to apply it to reading before now. This makes the line between the two a little thinner in my mind.

An important feature of a piece of work, which Haas and Flower mostly ignored, perhaps on purpose, is the intentionality of the writer in a piece. This is not necessarily the thesis but rather the goals of the piece. What impression is the writer trying to give the reader? What does the writer want the reader to think about them and their subject matter? What does the writer do to try to make the reader see as they see? What do the writer’s intentions discernible from this piece say about the writer. For example, when I was reading this piece I noticed that they use off phrases like “complex rhetorical model”, and  “discourse acts”, academic-style terms not fully defined.  These word choices means they are not writing for readers like Kara. They are mostly likely writing for other teachers. Writing in this formal style, referencing research in various fields and capitalizing on words like “rhetorical”, gives me the impression that they want the reader to think they’re authorities. It is their intention to put forth a piece that convinces you that their way of thinking is right -teaching rhetorical reading is critical for making better thinkers, readers and writers and thus should be implemented. There is nothing wrong about with their efforts; all writers need to establish some kind of authority to make them worth reading and have some kind of argument, preferably a goal, too.  Thinking about the writer’s intentions as more than just the information they wish to convey is important, especially when dealing with sources that are not university academics but bloggers, especially political pundits and those who have an agenda. Through reading, it is possible to  see a person through his or her writing.