Developing Readers

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					READING July 2991                                                                                                             25

past and present ability - others may not have taken       References
this meaning from the author.
                                                           HENSHAW, A. (1988) 'Oral reading errors and metalinpistic
More detailed studies of remedial readers' percep-          knowledge: a study of remedial readers i the Secondaryschool';
                                                            unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Keele, Keele, Staffs.
tions of themselves as readers, of their constructs of
                                                           LAWRENCE, D. (1985) 'Improving self-esteem and reading'.
what constitutes "good" and "poor" reading strat-           Educational Research 27 (3), 194-200.
eges, and of how these 'match' or 'mismatch' their         MYERS, M. and PARIS, S. (1978) 'Children's xnetacognitive
instructional needs as they are identified by their         knowledge about reading'. \oumal of Educational Psychology 70,
teachers might provide a good basis from which to           680490.
                                                           ROBERTS, G.R. (1969) Reading in Primary schools. Routledge and
proceed in future research. Perhaps such information
                                                            Kegan Paul.
would give some insight into the problem of whether        WILLIG, C.J. (1980) 'Are children aware of their own reading
or not less able readers, whose reading problems            ability?'. Language for learning 2 ( ) 27-35.
have continued beyond the Primary school years,            WOOSTER, A.D. (1970) 'The education of self as a reader' in
need to be provided with instructional opportunities        Proceedings of the sixth annual study conference of the United Kingdom
                                                            Reading Association. Ward Lock Educational.
which offer them 'something different' as well as
'more of the same' as they proceed through Second-
ary school.
                                                              CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
                                                              Ann Henshaw, Psychology Division, School of
                                                              Health Sciences, Wolverhampton Polytechnic,
                                                              62-68 Lichfield Street, Wolverharnpton W 1 1 DJ.

Developing Readers: Lessons from
Agatha Christie
Margaret Mackey

Teachers rightly devote much time and thought to           responses of the reader, and the conventions which
finding and recommending suitable books for teen-          the author uses can be called in evidence by the in-
aged readers, especially for those whose reading           vestigator of the reading process. In answering the
abilities are still maturing. It is possible that in our   vexed question of how readers acquire mastery of
preoccupation with the wonderful range of adolescent       these conventions, it can be useful to look at how
fiction now available, we do not pay enough attention      authors work, how they control the reader's reactions
to some of the tried and true adult formula fiction        and assumptions. An author like Christie, whose
which teenagers have been reading for decades, and         work follows very predictable patterns, may provide
which they continue to read today.                         more useful experience for novice readers than we
                                                           give her credit for.
A good example is Agatha Christie: available in every
bookshop and library and in many homes; so much            To make a successful connection, author and reader
taken for granted as part of the contemporary reading      have to establish some common ground. Reading
scene that she is almost invisible. What does she have     research has long been concerned with ways in which
to offer someone who has mastered the basics but           readers fail to establish links with the material on the
who is still developing as a reader?                       page.
Research into reading is only beginning to take ac-          Poor readers are unlikely to make the inferences
count of the insights available in the actual texts          required to weave the information given in a text
which readers read. It is certainly possible to argue        into a coherent overall representation. Poor readers
that a book is constructed by its reader as well as its      do not seem consistently to appreciate that . . .
author; and that therefore no two readings are the           comprehending a story or text is like completing a
same. Nevertheless, the author sets out to guide the         jigsaw puzzle: all of the information must be used,
26                                                                                         Lessons from Agatha Christie

     the information must fit into place without forcing,   Christie’s Conventions
     all of the important slots must contain information,
     and the completed interpretation must make             There are many kinds of reading experience which
     sense. Forming a coherent representation requires      Christie does not supply. No one ever accused her of
     drawing precise, integrating inferences, and draw-     creating rich and rounded characters. Her novels are
     ing such inferences is not something poor readers      schematic and the characters occupy places in the
     do routinely and spontaneously.                        plot rather than acquiring any individuality. Like-
                     (Anderson and Pearson, 1984, 286)      wise, her settings are sketchy and stereotyped, and
                                                            although she writes about mysteries she is very poor
                                                            at creating any sense of atmosphere. So what is it that
The Detective Novel                                         she offers the developing teenaged reader?
The obvious way that readers acquire this sort of           Christie’s books conform to very strict conventions.
competence in inferences and integration is simply by       She plays her plots off against those codes: the set list
reading. A highly conventional form like a murder            f
                                                            o suspects, the limited range of settings, the master-
mystery may actually provide excellent practice in          ful detective and the naive sidekick, the least obvious
putting inferences together. Walter J. Ong (1982)           suspect proven guilty in the last chapter, and so on.
considers the detective story to be the peak of that        At the same time as she uses these obvious restric-
tightly structured plot which became possible only as       tions, she is working with a second, implicit, set of
literacy replaced the old oral tradition. The resem-        rules: the conventions and codes applied by readers
blance between Ong’s description and Anderson and           to make sense of the book. It is by her use of these
Pearson’s account of what the poor reader needs to          reading conventions that Christie hoodwinks the
master is remarkable:                                       reader, and in the last chapter she often sends the
                                                            reader back into the story with explicit instructions
     In the ideal detective story, ascending action         about how they should have read a particular section.
     builds relentlessly to all but unbearable tension,     The reader who has worked on the puzzle throughout
     the climactic recognition and reversal releases the    the story literally finds the answer at the back of the
     tension with explosive suddenness, and the de-         book. This kind of confirmation of whether the reader
     nouement disentangles everything totally - every       has read appropriately can be very valuable to a
     single detail in the story turns out to have been      learner.
     crucial - and, until the climax and denouement,
     effectively misleading.
                                             (Ong, 149)

To develop experience in making the kinds of inte-          The Uses of Redundance
grating inferences called for by Anderson and Pearson,
perhaps an inexperienced reader could do worse than         Umberto Eco (1981) has pointed to another aspect of
read detective stories, which entertain at the same         detective stories which make them helpful to devel-
time. Agatha Christie, of course, is a prime candidate      oping readers: the element of redundance.
for persuading readers to make just the kind of
“precise, integrating inferences“ specified by                 The hunger for entertaining narrative based on
And-erson and Pearson. Miss Marple’s words, after              these mechanisms is a hunger for redundance. . . .
all, cover the same kinds of deductive strategies:             Paradoxically, the same detective story that one is
                                                               tempted to ascribe to the products that satisfy the
     “The point is,” she said, “that one must provide          taste for the unforeseen or the sensational is, in
     an explanation for everything. Each thing has got         fact, read for exactly the opposite reason, as an in-
     to be explained away satisfactorily. If you have a        vitation to that which is taken for granted, familiar,
     theory that fits every fact - well, then it must be       expected. . . . It is . . . a matter of . . . following
     the right one.”                                           certain ”topical” gestures of ”topical” characters
                                    (Christie, 1930, 198)      whose stock behaviour we already love. (120-121)

Agatha Christie is a world-wide bestseller (a billion-      Eco suggests that this redundance offers that necess-
seller in fact), translated into more languages than        ary sense of repose which modern readers so signally
Shakespeare and read by people of all ages (Sanders         cannot find elsewhere. The reader knows what to
and Lovallo, 1989, xxi). She is popular with many           expect. However, redundance is also a virtue in
teenagers as they begin to branch out from reading          stories for learning readers; repetition is used in
children’s literature. Obviously her evident attrac-        primers and basal readers, and also in some of the
tions appeal to teenagers as much as to all her adult       best loved ”real” stories for children. For teenagers
readers. At the same time, however, she provides            beginning to move into adult literature, this redun-
those teenagers with well-signposted exposure to            dance can offer reassurance and a base to stand on
many conventions of adult fiction.                          while other discoveries are made.
READING ruiv 1991                                                                                                 27

The Reader’s Ally                                                “She’s the worst cat in the village,” said Griselda.
                                                              “And she always knows every single thing that
Reading just Christie forever would restrict a reader’s       happens - and draws the worst inferences from it.”
potential; but, as one ingredient in a reading diet, she         Griselda, as I have said, is much younger than
may be useful to inexperienced readers. How does              I am. At my time of life, one knows that the worst
she set up the markers within the text and direct the         is usually true. (4)
behaviour of the reader?
                                                           Here we have a list of village gossips, with Miss
To begin with, the reader is often given an ally - an      Marple already distinguished from the others; firstly,
inexperienced narrator who ”reads things the wrong         by being listed last and with a qualifier; secondly,
way“ or “reads too much into a situation.” Captain         because she is apparently an even bigger gossip than
Hastings, Hercule Poirot‘s friend, appears most            the rest; and finally, because two main characters
often, but many of the Miss Marple stories are also        disagree about her. The Vicar makes the most of his
told in the first person by a peripheral character; and,   prerogative as narrator to win the argument on the
of course, there is the famous case where the narrator     grounds of age and experience, and to vouch for Miss
turns out to be the murderer.                              Marple’s astuteness. It has taken only a few lines,
                                                           during which Christie has also confirmed what she
The reader is at liberty to feel more intelligent than     has already told us about the relationship between
this ally - to spot clues and make inferences which        the Vicar and his wife. Furthermore, all the advan-
escape the narrator’s notice. Often the detective          tages of dialogue have been adduced.
drops hints to the narratorheader that a particular
way of looking at an incident is misleading. In any        This economy of approach, along with the lack of
case, the narrator engages the reader in the close         empathetic engagement with the characters, makes
questioning of the text both on the way through and        Christie very easy to read. You are told what to think
again retrospectively in the last chapter.                 about the characters and your own feelings are very
                                                           unlikely to get in the way. It is restrictive, but for
It may be productive to look at a specific title and see   readers finding their feet, that very restrictiveness
Christie at work in some detail. The Murder at the         can offer security, combined with the novelty of the
Vicarage (1930) was Miss Marple’s first case, so some      puzzle each time. As a recipe for one kind of reading
new codes had to be established.                           practice, it has much to offer.

The narrator in this case is the Vicar himself. He, of     Teenagers want to read about adults as well as other
course, is unworldly, absent-minded, trusting and          teenagers. Christie certainly offers a safe venture into
unsuspicious, so he makes a wonderful foil for the         adult life; whatever carnage is manifest throughout
shrewd and observant Miss Marple. He aIso has a            the story, peace, order and good government are
certain social standing which makes him a useful           restored at the end without fail. She pretends to deal
repository for confidences from many different             with adult relationships; in fact, the adulteries, black-
characters. He is also, without question, a represen-      mailings, deceptions and intrigues are as bloodless
tative of the forces of order.                             as most of the murders. Genuine emotion is never
                                                           featured; nobody is ever in despair or terror or misery
                                                           in any but a notional way.
Meeting the Characters

Christie deals expertly with other issues of reading as    Textuality in the Text
well. Characters are stock but they are introduced to
readers both economically and sharply. Christie            As is often the case in “classic” detective tales, The
knows what fixed aspect of a stereotyped character         Murder in the Vicarage makes a point of its own tex-
she wants readers to attend to, and she makes it clear     tuality early on. The opening sentence says: “It is
from the outset. Here is the first mention of Miss         difficult to know quite where to begin this story,”
Marple in The Murder at the Vicarage:                      and by page 5 the Vicar and his wife are discussing
                                                           detective novels. Furthermore, this book follows a
    “What are you doing this afternoon, Griselda?”         pattern observed by Ong (1982):
    “My duty,’’ said Griselda. ”My duty as the
  Vicaress. Tea and scandal at four-thrty.”                  Not infrequently the detective story shows some
    “Who is coming?”                                         direct connection between plot and textuality. In
    Griselda ticked them off on her fingers with a           The Gold Bug (1843), Edgar Allen Poe not only
  glow of virtue on her face.                                places the key to the action inside Legrand‘s mind
    “Mrs. Price Ridley, Miss Wetherby, Miss Hartnell         but also presents as its external equivalent a text,
  and that terrible Miss Marple.”                            the written code that interprets the map locating
    “I rather like Miss Marple,” I said. “She has, at        the hidden treasure. The immediate problem that
  least, a sense of humour.”                                 Legrand directly solves is not an existential prob-
28                                                                                        Lessons from Agatha Christie

     lem (Where is the treasure?) but a textual one          Time in Narrative
     (How is this writing to be interpreted?). Once the
     textual problem is solved, everything else falls into   Another issue which is also ubiquitous in this kind of
     place. (150)                                            book, and which may be very helpful to the develop-
                                                             ing reader is also highlighted by the problem of
The textual problem in The Murder in the Vicarage is         Colonel Protheroe’s letter to the Vicar. This the whole
a modest one, but it is important to the plol, just          question of how time is managed in a novel.
as textual problems dominate many other Christie
mysteries. In this case, it is a question of a letter        The dislocation between real time of events and
started by the dead man, Colonel Protheroe.                  narrative structuring of those events is one of the
                                                             key distinctions between story and simple sequence.
       It was a piece of Vicarage note paper, and it was     Narratologists have developed a complex analysis of
     headed at the top 6.20.                                 how time works in narrative fiction. Ideas about
       ”DEAR CLEMENT” (it began)                             narrative time, of course, go back to Aristotle and
       “Sorry I cannot wait any longer, but I must . . .”    Horace; they are not new - except to new readers.
     Here the writing tailed off in a scrawl. (36)           Most teachers will attest to the struggles learning
                                                             readers can have with even a common device like a
As the book progresses, it becomes clear, firstly that       flashback. Agatha Christie puts time into the plot and
the time written at the top of the letter was added by       makes her characters discuss it.
another with intent to deceive, and subsequently that
the whole letter was forged.                                 John Dixon and Leslie Stratta (1986) in their little
                                                             book, Writing Narrative - and Beyund, make some
The question, “How is this writing to be interpreted?”       telling observations about teenaged writers learning
is asked again and again in this kind o “classic”            to manage time in fiction. They give examples of two
mystery. Sometimes the writing is a fragment of              stories written by teenagers and comment,
paper clutched in the victim’s hand. Sometimes it is a
scrap o a letter artistically torn off so it can pass as
       f                                                       Experiences in a narrative must happen over time.
a suicide note. The Murder at the Vicarage also has a          Thus in both stories the action covers something
small role for anonymous letters which raise questions         between half an hour and two or three hours in
of textuality without responsibility, and feature in           real time. However, in story time they are over
many other detective novels by Christie and others.            after two or three minutes’ reading. What strat-
                                                               egies do the two writers make use of to deal with
In whatever guise, the textual problem is ubiquitous,          this? (8)
as Ong has observed. To use a terrible pun which
nevertheless contains a useful idea, mystery stories         Dixon and Stratta consider that developing sophisti-
are riddled with texts. Newspaper accounts of the            cation in sorting out such issues represents growth in
crime are commonly included, often with comments             a writer.
on their outlandish deviations from the truth (The
Murder at the Vicarage also contains a minor example         The questions that they raise are not simple problems
of this kind). Older newspaper cuttings are also often       even at this level, but an issue which is important in a
crucial clues, whether preserved by the victim, tracked      short story becomes even more complicated in a full
down by the detective, spotted in unlikely places, or        length book. Things happen to different characters in
whatever. Characters write to each other as well.            different places simultaneously. Prose, at least at
Letters and telegrams cause events to happen when            Agatha Christie’s level, remains linear so there is no
they are received, or when they are delayed or lost in       scope for presenting synchronicity in any artistic
the mail; sometimes they, too, are written to deceive,       way. What does happen in a murder mystery is a
and the misleading postmark is a well-known trick.           meticulous and re-iterated dissection of time in the
People in mystery stories make lists and draw maps.          novel, at least for ”the crucial period.” Where was
Wills, of course, are of major importance but Christie       everybody at the time of the murder? How can we
uses all kinds of more obscure documentation as              verify this information? What new information will
well: a set of bridge scores, clues in a treasure hunt, a    alter our original reading? How do patterns of
train timetable. In one book, the plot turns on a name       behaviour fit together for the vital moment? Such
written in the front o a book. It is simply astonishing,
                      f                                      questions are discussed by many characters as stories
especially considering how much of the plot is con-          are collected, alibis assessed, and discrepancies pur-
veyed in dialogue, just how much reading Christie            sued. Sorting out time is made an explicit challenge
characters actually do. And, o course, when they             for the reader with the narrator and the detective
read they can mis-read and cause further compli-             as guides.
cations. The reader reads along with the characters,
and is eventually shown which reading was correct -          Quite often, indeed, the detective or the narrator will
a simplification of the reading process to be sure, but      draw up a chart o alibis. {TheVicar makes a schedule
not without value to the learning reader.                    of people’s whereabouts on the day of the murder
READING July 1991                                                                                                               29

which he offers to Miss Marple for her comments.)                 "What strikes me as so curious, and has done
Here we see the textual representation of time made             from the first is the subject matter of that letter."
explicit with a vengeance. In fact, the textual treat-            "I don't see that," I said. "Colonel Protheroe
ment of time is emphasized in the detective novel               merely wrote that he couldn't wait any longer -"
more thoroughly than in most other popular fiction.               "At twenty minutes past six?" said Miss Marple.
The plot is the excuse, but the abstract issue which            "Your maid, Mary, had already told him that you
lies behind it is a very important one for young                wouldn't be in till half past six at the earliest, and
readers.                                                        he had appeared to be quite willing to wait until
                                                                then. And yet, at twenty past six, he sits down and
                                                                says he 'can't wait any longer. ' "
                                                                  I stared at the old lady, feeling an increased
                                                                respect for her mental powers. Her keen wits had
 Re-assessing and Re-assembling the Details                     seen what we had failed to perceive. It wus an odd
                                                                thing - a very odd thing. (76)
Another helpful feature of mysteries is the stress laid
on re-assessing what has been read already. Geoffrey         This is but one example out of many; the detective
Thornton (1986) looked at evidence gathered by the           takes information already known to the attentive
Assessment of Performance Unit about the reading             reader and reconsiders what makes it significant. If
abilities of eleven-year-olds. He offers a useful            the reader has already noticed a discrepancy, there is
summary of some of the problems created by poor              a moment of achievement; if not, the reader is still no
readers for themselves:                                      more obtuse than the narrator and need not be too
                                                             discouraged. Furthermore, this kind of discussion is a
    Difficulties arise from the mismatch between the         clue about how to read the rest of the book.
   child's preconceptions of what the text requires
    and the nature of the text itself, and, if they have     In many of these mysteries, a slightly different form
    no strategies for closing the gap, those difficulties    of re-capitulation and summary is provided by the
    will not be overcome. . . . Low scorers often            inquest. In The Murder at the Vicarage more than two
   based their responses not on the text in front of         pages of Chapter 18 are used to highlight essential
   them but on some personal knowledge which they            elements of the mystery up to this point. Once again,
   allowed to influence their approach. They exhibited       the helpfulness of this convention to the developing
   a reluctance to modify their initial perceptions, to      reader is obvious.
   such an extent that any interpretation incompatible
   with those perceptions was virtually excluded.
   High scorers, on the other hand, showed them-             Conclusion
   selves willing to adapt initial assumptions to take
   account of new information in the text. Low scorers       Teenagers reading Christie and other detective novel-
   also demonstrated an inability to pick out relevant       ists are probably in search of undemanding entertain-
   clues from the text, other than a key word which          ment more than anything else. However, to solve the
   might lead to a correct answer. They relied on            mystery calls for a synthesizing of all the details,
   invention rather than deduction, or the provision         which must be noted accurately on the way through,
   of an inappropriate quotation rather than an infer-       processed, and questioned. If the reader does not
   ence. High scorers showed greater versatility, and        take in every detail, the detective in the last chapter
   were more successful at selecting and re-ordering         will supply what was overlooked. It may feel un-
   relevant facts from a text into a synthesis of their      demanding but it is not unproductive for readers still
   own. They were more willing and more able to in-          feeling their way towards adult mastery. The poten-
   terrogate the text in order to get at the meaning. (40)   tial in this kind of formula reading should not be
Thornton quite properly emphasizes that he is talking
about high and low scorers rather than good and
poor readers because he is talking about responses to        References
a particular task set by the APU. Nevertheless, the
link between the kinds of noticing and inferring             ANDERSON, R.C. and P.D. PEARSON (1984) A schema-theoretic
which he says are necessary and the process of                view of basic processes in reading comprehension. In P.D.
                                                              Pearson (Ed.) Handbook of Reading Research. New York: Longman.
instruction and re-assessment which the detective            CHRISTIE, A. (1930) The Murder at the Vicarage. New York:
regularly presses on the narrator and the readers is an       Berkley Books (1984).
illuminating one.                                            DIXON, J. and L. STRA'ITA (1986) Writing Narrative - and Beyond.
                                                              (CCTE Monographs and Special Publications) Ottawa: The
For example, here is Miss Marple commenting on                Canadian Council o Teachers of English.
                                                             EC0,U. (1981) The Role of the Reader: Explorntions in the Semiotics of
what the Vicar, the other characters, and presumably          Texfs. London: Hutchinson.
the readers have so far made of Colonel Protheroe's          ONG, W.J. (1982) Orality and Literacy: The Technologzzing of the
letter:                                                       Word. (New Accents Series) London: Methuen.
30                                                                                                     Teachers as Readers

SANDERS, D. and L. LOVALLO (1989) The Agatha Christie Com-
 panion: The Complete Guide to Agatha Christie's Life and Work.     CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
 (Revised edition) New York: Berkley Books.                         Margaret Mackey, 4923-126 Street, Edmonton,
THORNTON, G. (1986) APU Language Testing: An Independent            Alberta, Canada T6H 3W1.
 Appraisal of the Findings. London: Department o Education and
                                                f                   Telephone: (403) 436-6268

Teachers as Readers
John Williamson

Introduction                                                      The kinds of encouragement of children's voluntary
                                                                  reading touched on throughout the chapter on
The impetus for this study derived initially from an              Reading (see, for example, 16.22, 16.24, 16.30) bring
article in English in Education by Frank Whitehead                to mind the affirmation of Wade and Cadman (1986,
(1988) which brought back to mind the major study of              p. 28) that "we need . . . to signal our enthusiasm by
children's reading interests undertaken by Whitehead              our behaviour. If children never see us reading books
et a1 in 1977. I began to wonder about teachers' read-            which interest us, then what we say may be contra-
ing interests and what we might find out about them.              dicted by how we behave."

It has long been plain that this is not a trivial ques-           This is a view which has been endorsed by many
tion. It is now about fifteen years since the Bullock             writers on this subject (see, for example, the work of
Committee (1975, p. 126) noted, with respect to the               Fisher (1989, pp. 11-12) and Dombey (1987, p. 19))
influence of variations in home environment on                    and yet we have the evidence of Southgate, Arnold
children's reading, that "It hardly needs saying that             and Johnson (1977, p. 155) that only three of the
where reading has no status and books no place the                teachers in their sample of 127 "mentioned personal
incentives to read will be slight. But it is clear to us          example as a motivating influence." There are several
that the school can make a very big difference to this            important points which may be adduced in relation to
situation." It is at least arguable that the school will          this finding. First, as Southgate, Arnold and Johnson
only make a big difference i teachers themselves
                                f                                 themselves point out (p. 155) "it may be that this is
accord status to reading as an activity and give books            taken so much for granted that specific mention was
- and other reading material - an important place in              not thought necessary." It may be the case that this
their lives.                                                      kind of encouragement has become more common
                                                                  since 1977 or it may be that teachers, for whatever
The significance of this issue has, if anything, in-              reason, do not feel that they transmit their love of
creased in the years since Bullock, with more teachers            books to their pupils. There is, however, a fourth
espousing a philosophy based, in whole or in part, on             possibility, which this article seeks to explore, that
'real books', on an apprenticeship model of reading,              teachers do not themselves have the kind of enthusi-
on a sense of the centrality of reading as an enjoyable,          asm for books which would be a positive force in
meaning-making activity. Waterland (1988, p. 27)                  developing positive attitudes to reading.
very forcefully puts the proposition that "There is no
use in going any further in enabling the child to learn
to read if the knowledge of the importance and                    Methodology
pleasure of books is missing."
                                                                  To explore teachers' attitudes to reading and to find
The advent of the National Curriculum, we are de-                 out about their reading habits, I distributed a ques-
lighted to note, seems unlikely to reverse these                  tionnaire (see appendix) to five groups of people.
trends of recent years. "Reading is much more than                First, I piloted the questionnaire on my colleagues
the decoding of black marks on a page: it is a quest for          on the teaching staff at the School of Education in
meaning and one which requires the reader to be an                Newcastle University. As a result of this preliminary
active participant." (DES, 1989, 16.2) Further, "The              enquiry, I found it necessary to modify three of the
pleasure principle should motivate the programmes                 original questions, so this group does not appear in
of study, and always be given high priority." (16.4)              all the tables which follow. The final form of the