Artist or Author? Making Meaning through Verbal and Nonverbal Texts in Secondary English Language Arts




Reilly, Kathleen Anne

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This qualitative study examined ways a 10th grade ELA teacher integrated analyses of literary texts and evocative, nonverbal texts (e.g., images in visual art or advertising) to teach meaning-making processes. The study sought to understand the teacher's goals and methods as well as how her students responded, both as a class and as individuals. Data were gathered over one semester and included field notes, interviews with the teacher and five focus students, student work and journals, and researcher memos and journal entries. Findings show that students and the teacher integrated the modes--verbal and nonverbal--seamlessly as they practiced and discussed meaning-making. Nonverbal texts helped the teacher emphasize aesthetic meaning-making and dispel preconceptions, held by some students, that a single autonomous meaning was embedded in literary texts. Students participated more readily when the texts were nonverbal, and this participation may have served to support meaning-making processes with verbal texts. Some students expressed confusion about what stance to take toward texts, sometimes reading for information or representation when an aesthetic transaction was more appropriate. Some students showed resistance to evidence-based meaning-making, expressing a preference for personal, emotional responses, based only loosely on only a portion of a text. Findings suggest that integration of evocative nonverbal texts in the study of meaning-making allowed more students to access texts and, thereby, the processes used to create meaning. Nonverbal texts also helped challenge the expectation, held by many students, that they were expected to find a single meaning embedded in a text.



Secondary English language arts, Visual texts, Common core, High school English, Literary texts, Nonverbal texts