Imagery in student poetic response to literature

Date of Completion

January 1999


Education, Language and Literature|Psychology, Cognitive|Language, Rhetoric and Composition




Busy teaching the analytical skills underlying critical interpretation, English teachers may ignore the elements of the reader's imagination engaged in the reading experience itself. One such element, reader-produced imagery, has been studied by having students report and discuss their images. In this manner, cognitive researchers have shown that imagery responses are influenced by specific text features and reader characteristics. For their part, literary critics have attempted to clarify the types and functions of imagery used in the text itself, but the responses of readers to that imagery in this regard have not been examined. Conspicuously few researchers have studied the imagery used by students in creative written responses to literary texts, such as character diaries, poems in response to poems, and continuation stories. Feeling uncertain how to respond to such creations, teachers may curtail the use of these valuable response opportunities. The purpose of this study, then, was to offer the basis for future studies that aim to develop a model for recognizing and understanding poetic response imagery. ^ The poetic response protocols of six high school students writing in response to each of three literary texts were examined. A case study analysis was conducted to determine the nature of the imagery employed in the writing, the ways in which this imagery reflected an interpretive response, and the presence of text-supplied imagery in the writings. An analysis of across-story effects addressed the question of the particular influence of each reading upon the protocol imagery. ^ Analysis revealed that students employed a fairly broad range of visual images much related to the features of the text and to the purposes of the protocol writing itself. General methods of depiction and possible elements that might delineate a writer's “visual style” were identified. The incorporation of text-supplied imagery was extensive, often connected to an interpretive dimension. The organizational and stylistic features of each text that most influenced the imagery of the corresponding protocols were identified. This study's findings should encourage the development of instructional practice and assessments that use poetic response opportunities that engage students' visualizations of text. ^