Rosenblatt's Transactional Theory
Rosenblatt’s literary theory (1938/1995; 1978) diverges from the New Critical perspective that readers examine texts in order to extract "the meaning." Rosenblatt states that during transactions with literary texts, readers draw on past and present literary and life experience to create meaning and posits that “'[t]he poem’ comes into being in the live circuit set up between the reader and 'the text’” (1978, p. 14). Faced with traditional curricular and new high stakes testing requirements, today's literacy educators are pressured by technology’s promise to expand the repertoire of students' literacy experiences. At this juncture, Rosenblatt’s theory offers an important reminder that regardless of, and perhaps even because of increased pressures, it is the role of the teacher to "foster fruitful... transactions" (Rosenblatt, 1995, p. 26) between readers and all kinds of texts. Transactional theory also highlights the active, recursive, and multifaceted nature of reading and response, creating a model of classroom reading that values students’ initial responses as a significant first step in meaning negotiation toward mature, considered responses (1938/1995; 1978).
Transactional Theory and Technology
Bridging Rosenblatt’s theory with 21st-Century technologies, McEneaney (2003) explored hypertext as rooted in transactional theory, suggesting, “[a] transactional view of text structure... requires us to reject the notion of structure as a property of text in the same way [the transactional] theory rejects the notion that meaning is a property of text” (p. 273). As students make meaning from today's variety of texts, they transact linearly, laterally, and unsystematically— not only with words but also with infinite combinations of images, sounds, and videos (Kress, 2003). Thus, today’s teachers must not only help students respond to text but also must acknowledge that when students transact with literary texts, they do more than establish a “live circuit”: they add new transistors and switches (McVerry, 2007).
Transactional Theory, Technology, and Poetry
To enrich the content and affect of the poetry classroom, technology may seem like an unwelcome stranger. Research has found, however, that “multimedia texts and multimodal composing may actually shift classroom culture toward a more learner-centered paradigm” (Chandler-Olcott & Mahar, 2003, pp. 381-2). Thus, with careful embrace, technology may create fertile classroom conditions; robust, dynamic new texts, contexts, and representations show promise to crack into marble of New Critical and five-paragraph essay monuments that historically mark reading and writing in English classrooms (Pirie, 1997). We propose that by responding to poetry through non-verbocentric activities and becoming authors of multimodal texts, students will not only explore and refine 21st-century skills, but also, by building contemporary live circuits, they may benefit from new understandings of poetry and a powerful means of self-expression.