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Running Head: MEANING-ORIENTED & AUTHENTIC TEXTS

James Durney

Controversy abounds over all facets of pedagogy, and literacy is a traditional,

and popular, battleground. Everyone has opinions on how the students of the

nation should become literate. Mark Twain once warned about letting your

schooling interfere with your education; few people heed this advice. Regardless of

the path, we must identify a goal – in what skill do we ultimately want our students

to become fluent? Do we intend for our students to be able to pronounce,

accurately, every word they encounter, even at the sacrifice of comprehension? No.

Teachers and parents alike are engaged in a perpetual struggle to encourage and

strengthen the comprehension of students. I will argue that our goal of literate

children is best achieved through meaning-oriented work with authentic texts.

Once the determination of our terminal goal has been made, it is appropriate

to plan the route to achieve that goal. If we intend to teach literacy, at some point

there must be some attention given to the process of translating written text into

speech and meaning. This is a point at which there are abundant discrepancies in

theories. Some would have teachers drill students with phonemic awareness,

forcing the children to become aware of the sounds that each letter could represent.

Other educators are content to let phonemes be learned through experience, unless

the student needs extra help. So, do we introduce the correlation of letters and

sounds slowly, interjecting connections during other lessons? Should teachers

construct activities that directly teach this correlation, or does constant exposure to

written language facilitate the assimilation of this skill?

Literacy is our goal as teachers; we want students to read a text and

understand the meaning. The only way anything can be learned from a book is if

the words contained on the pages represent some kind of idea. Phonics do not

directly address meaning. If a student is aware of the sounds made by each letter
Running Head: MEANING-ORIENTED & AUTHENTIC TEXTS
James Durney

in a word, it helps to connect oral and written language, but doesn't have anything

to do with the ideas represented by that word. According to van Kleeck(2004),

“systematic phonics produces better reading growth (meaning word decoding and

comprehension).” This statement is one of a very few number that asserts how

phonics work actually increases comprehension. However, van Kleeck(2004)

continues to say, in the same paragraph, that this phenomenon was only present in

first grade or with disabled readers.

Lindfors(2008, p. 19) makes the claim that how we read is influenced by why

we read, this concept is illustrated beautifully by Serafini's(2002) discussion on

“disrupting a text.” Serafini(2002) details a process in which students read a book

that incorporates text and pictures, Where the Wild Things Are. Then, the students

read the words without pictures, and finally, examine the pictures in story-board

format. In each different method of “reading” the book, students noticed different

aspects of format, style, and meaning. In this process, Serafini is able to address

meaning, and how it is constructed by text and illustrations. There is definitely

something in Where the Wild Things Are that is able to engage students; that

something is what makes the text authentic.

When we speak to each other on a daily basis, communication of an idea is

the goal. The cause of every email and text message is to convey a message or to

evoke a response. The more specific goals become, the more we could list, but

every goal has a commonality: they are impossible to achieve if the sender's

meaning doesn't reach the receiver. The same is true of any text. If the reader

doesn't perceive the meaning, then the literature hasn't communicated anything.

Looking at any literature it is easy to see that when an author favors style,

sometimes grammatical rules are bent and broken. Conversely, literature that is
Running Head: MEANING-ORIENTED & AUTHENTIC TEXTS
James Durney

rigidly formatted or even designed to teach the process of formatting the written

word, this type of literature may lack true, natural communication. Whether or not

a text is communication based on fundamentals of language or a language lesson

molded into communication is a key aspect of an authentic text. Lindfors(2008, p.

24) uses some firm language when analyzing the literary authenticity of a book

whose meaning was built around the book's phonemic lessons, “The -ack book is a

pedagogical contrivance, not literature. It is phonics drill masquerading as story,

and the children seemed to know the difference.”

Some argue that phonics are most useful for certain students or in certain

situations(van Kleeck, 2004), while others argue that “most children only

understand sounding out once they can read”(Smith, 2003). I especially liked how

Smith(2003) illuminates the idea of using phonemes for the construction of words in

text, “Peepul hoo rite werds the weigh thay sownd ar the werst spelerz.” No matter

who yells louder in this debate, everyone has a point. A literate member of society

will be aware of phonemes, but will mostly read by chunks, if not whole words. Most

of us will have some questions about grammar, or will use an unconventional

pronunciation or spelling occasionally, but we are using words to convey meaning.

Since the real world motivation of text, speech, signs, or even gestures is

communication, students should be focused on meaning when learning to read.

Students should be made aware of how often written language is used to

communicate, because it really is everywhere. ...and what is more authentic than

life?
Running Head: MEANING-ORIENTED & AUTHENTIC TEXTS
James Durney

References

Lindfors, J.W. (2008). Children's language: Connecting reading, writing, and talk.
New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Serafini, F. (2002, Spring). A journey with the wild things: A reader response
perspective in practice. Journal of Children's Literature, 28(1), 73-78.

Smith, F. (2003, March). The just so story: Obvious but false. Language Arts, 80(4).

van Kleeck, A. (2004, Summer). On the road to reading fluently: Where is science in
helping us balance meaning-oriented and skill-oriented approaches? The
American Journal of Psychology, 117(2), 300-316. Retrieved from
http://jstor.org