IGEL 2016: Candice Burkett on how readers interpret fiction

At the recent IGEL meetings in Chicago I liked a paper by Candice Burkett about the correlates of more sophisticated interpretations of literary texts.  She and coauthor Susan Goldman measured how often students mentioned three kinds of indicators: basic gestures in writing (repetition, semantic) that indicate when to pay attention; rules of rupture (breaks in story continuity); and prominent placement (“When the King died, a gold ring fell out of his hand onto the floor.  Vasgo picked it up before anyone noticed.”).  They coded answers to a free form thinking aloud session (after first going through a set of questions that evolve to encourage or invite more sophisticated interpretation).  Interpretation progresses, in their schema, from understanding that some elements are symbols (the apple signifies knowledge), to discerning that the text may have a theme that is different from the plot and that involves those symbolic interpretation (knowledge of self implies moral self evaluation), to a more abstract thematic interpretation (we have free will and will make choices among immoral options).  The study had very low power though with just a sample of 40 so is really was just suggestive.  I liked the very straightforward message and the correlational goal. Honestly though I cannot remember any of the correlations!  But I liked the clear presentation and methodology and goal to try to measure something that is quite difficult to measure.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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