School Improvement in Maryland
English/Core Learning Goals

Evaluating Texts

The ability to evaluate texts is the culmination of the four English core learning goals. The first three goals are foundation for, and synthesized in, Goal 4. Those goals are designed to equip students with the necessary background and knowledge to be able to evaluate their own texts and those of other authors. Students need to bring their knowledge of the processes of reading/listening/viewing, writing and speaking; their knowledge of the effect language choices have on the effectiveness of a communication; and their entire background of experiences with texts—their own and others'—in order to demonstrate mastery of this goal.

Content, Organization, and Language of a Text

These three elements of a text—content, organization, and language—work together to convey meaning and affect reader, viewer, and listener response. Content refers to the vehicle chosen to carry the meaning forward. Organization refers to decisions regarding the best way to order the content to fulfill most effectively the purpose of the text. Language refers to the deliberate decisions made by the author regarding syntax, semantics, level of formality, diction, and other choices which affect responses to the text.

Effect of a Text on a Listener or Reader

What kind of reaction does interaction with a particular text evoke in a listener, viewer, or reader? While there are certainly individual differences in reaction to a particular text, there also may be a lot of similarity in those reactions. If this were not the case, there would be no reason to have reviewers or critics. Critics use phrases like, "If you liked [an earlier work], you will like this one," predicating their recommendations on a presumed common effect on many readers, listeners, or viewers with similar tastes, backgrounds, or interests.

Personal Response to a Text

A personal response to a text is that reader's, viewer's, or listener's subjective depiction of a text. This depiction is composed of the intermingling of the reader and the text in a unique way which cannot be replicated or repeated by another reader, viewer, or listener. A personal response may include a statement of preference, but it is much more than that. The complete personal response includes the evocative reading, listening, or viewing experience; an examination of alternative responses based on other points of view suggested by the text; and a reflection on the application of the text to the reader's own life and experience.

Supporting a Personal Response

Despite the subjectivity of a personal response to a text, the strength of the response is based on the text support which is used to verify the plausibility of the depiction. While it is true that each reader, listener, or viewer brings unique perspectives to the text, those perspectives must be consistent with the text. A fully supported response will not only show the positive relationship between the reader's, viewer's, or listener's response and those parts of the text which support the response, but will also deal with those parts of the text which are seemingly contradictory to that depiction.

Effectiveness of Authorial Choices

Whenever a composer "translates" an inner vision for an outer audience, many decisions are made in regard to that communication. After the decisions of purpose and audience are made, authors address other choices including which medium to use, which form to use, and what format to employ. The quality of the decisions composers make in order to fulfill the purpose of the communication and meet the needs of the audience determines the effectiveness of the choices. Students need to be able to describe the choices they and other authors have made in a composition and evaluate how well those choices have supported the purpose of the communication.

Diction that Reveals a Purpose

Attention to connotations of words, choice of details and how those details are revealed, decisions about form, format, and genre are important in creating texts. However, nothing exerts greater influence on a reader's, viewer's, or listener's understanding of the "real meaning" of the text than the careful language choices made by the author.

Revising Diction

Conscious changes of language made to either address a different audience, fulfill another purpose, or fit another medium—or to be more effective with the original audience, purpose, and medium—are examples of diction revision.

Textual Changes that Alter Tone

"What does this word mean?" "Would a six-year-old say this?" "Does this sound satirical or sarcastic?" Questions like these deal with the tone of a composition. Word choice for both denotation and connotation, authenticity of language and voice, and author's attitude reflected in the style of a composition are all part of tone. Often the tone which the author wishes to convey and the one which the reader or listener perceives do not match. Changes in texts are made to create consistency between author's intention and audience perception.

Selected Bibliography of Professional Readings

Harris, Theodore L. and Hodges, Richard E., The Literacy Dictionary: The Vocabulary of Reading and Writing, International Reading Association, 1995.

Langer, Judith, Envisioning Literature: Literary Understanding and Literature Instruction, Teachers College Press, 1995.

Padgett, Ron, Creative Reading: What It Is, How to Do It, and Why, National Council of Teachers of English, 1997.

Pirie, Bruce, Reshaping High School English, National Council of Teachers of English, 1997.

Rosenblatt, Louise M., Literature as Exploration, The Modern Language Association, 1995.

Vine, Harold A. and Faust, Mark A., Situation Readers: Students Making Meaning of Literature, National Council of Teachers of English, 1993.