Term of Award

Fall 2004

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Committee Chair

Ming Fang He

Committee Member 1

Neal Saye

Committee Member 2

John Weaver

Committee Member 3

Michael Moore


This study explores how to cultivate literary imagination and develop empathic understanding toward others through using Louise Rosenblatt's Reader Response Theory to teach literature to eighth graders in Southeast Georgia. Louise Rosenblatt's (1938/1995) reader response theory is the major theoretical framework, which is supported by John Dewey's (1938) theory of education and experience, Maxine Greene's (1995) notion of literary imagination, and Martha Nussbaum's (1997) narrative imagination Methodologically I used Clandinin and Connelly's (2000) narrative inquiry to collect the stories of my students as they read and responded to literature.

Current education in the United States is driven by standardization and accountability, a trend that has filtered down to Georgia and my school system. To achieve high scores on standardized tests, individuality is often ignored in favor of mass-producing homogenous students.

This research took place at a Southeast Georgia middle school, which the 2002-2003 Georgia Public Education Report Card revealed had 611 students in grades six through eight. Ethnic enrollment figures showed 18.7% of the student body black, 77.3% white, 2.3% Hispanic, 0.5% Asian, 0.2% American Indian, and 1.0% multiracial. The school had 53.3% of its students on free or reduced lunch. The student population is not very diversified and has limited exposure to varied cultural experiences. In addition, the homogeneous teacher population is middle class white females.

I examined eighth grade students' responses to reading and discussing an adolescent novel Crash (Spinelli, 1996) using Louise Rosenblatt's reader response theory. I composed participant profiles and collected stories through classroom observations, interviews, student journal entries, and teacher/researcher reflective journal entries.

The significance of this study lies in its possibilities of using literature: (1) to vicariously live the experience of the characters in the text without imposing one's assumptions and preconceptions on the characters; (2) to challenge one's stereotypical notions and assumptions about others, to expand understanding of the experiences of others, and to develop empathy for people who are different; (3) to develop a literature curriculum that enhances learning with joy, that broadens experience and vision of life, and that cultivates imagination for differences which are often lost in drills and standardized test-based literature curriculum.

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