Possessing new worlds: Eliciting abstract thought and empathic response through image construction

Nancy Noonan, University of Rhode Island


In this study, secondary students' responses to literature were examined in the context of a visually rich curriculum. Working within a conceptual framework inspired by Rosenblatt's theories about aesthetic transactions with text, two groups of tenth grade readers negotiated and responded to shared class readings of works by John Steinbeck using artistic viewing strategies in combination with metacognitive comprehension strategies. Study participants viewed slides of abstract and figurative artwork and responded by drawing and writing about narrative relationships. The resulting visual representations were analyzed by level of abstraction, while students' written responses to literature were analyzed for interpretive depth using criteria established through a review of the response literature. Participants' wide-ranging interpretations were characterized by empathic response and symbolic thought. Students immersed in this visually enhanced learning environment connected deeply with the texts they read and responded in emotionally charged, intellectually powerful ways using both images and words. These results support practitioners who choose to maintain a reader-response orientation in the face of institutional pressures to focus on quantifiable outcomes. The study also contributes to the growing knowledge base about effective practices for eliciting deep abstract thought through image construction in a response-oriented setting.

Subject Area

Art education|Language arts|Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Nancy Noonan, "Possessing new worlds: Eliciting abstract thought and empathic response through image construction" (2010). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3430334.