A classroom study of students' attitudes toward their interactions with literature and their responses to culturally responsive literature
The findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress 1998 Reading Report Card for the Nation revealed that African American students often develop poorer reading skills than other student populations. Learning how to better meet the needs of this student population would serve to increase their reading scores and to decrease the gap that exists between the reading ability of this student population and Caucasian and Asian/Pacific Islander students. The biggest stumbling block to meeting this goal is the amount of reading in which this population engages. These students rarely develop a love of reading. They see reading as an activity thrust upon them by teachers because of the way that literature instruction is approached in the classroom. Furthermore, they rarely see reading as an opportunity to learn about themselves or their world because they seldom see themselves in the literature read for class or have opportunities to question their place in that literature. In order to increase the reading interests of African American students, educators must find ways of encouraging reading among this population. This study was conducted with one group of students in a school in the Mississippi Delta. This school has a 99 percent African American student population. The major purpose of the study was to explore the attitudes of students toward their past interactions with literature and to analyze their responses to the literature read during this study based on Louise Rosenblatt's Reader Response theory of literature instruction. The findings of the study revealed that the students' attitudes toward reading literature were linked to the quality of their interaction with professional educators. When the professional educators with whom they shared the experiences assisted students in thoroughly understanding the material read and when the educators helped students relate to the material, the students felt like competent readers and developed a positive attitude about reading. However, when the students did not receive a complete understanding of the material read and when they could not relate to the material read, they developed a pessimistic attitude toward the reading of literature. The students also read for two purposes: enjoyment and academic advancement; moreover, they placed academic advancement as a priority over enjoyment. Academic ability also played a key role in determining the amount of recreational reading in which the students engaged. Finally, when analyzing the students' responses to the literature read for this study to determine how these students interpreted that literature, the study revealed that students were readily able to identify social issues presented in the literature read. However, they had difficulty expanding those issues psychologically and philosophically. Understanding the reasons behind students' inability to further expand their interpretations is a necessary second step into improving instruction in this area.