"What did the author mean when they wrote....?"
"The use of all caps on line ____ demonstrates which of the following?"
"The author's use of a simile on line ___ accomplishes which of the following?"
"The imagery in the second stanza helps the reader understand ----"
Seriously??? Standardized test questions and language arts textbooks put so many words into the mouths of authors! How do you know what the author 'intended' by their use of a simile or all caps? How do you know what the author is feeling? You DON'T! Unless the author specifies a sentiment, emotion or 'hidden' meaning then you do not know this. You cannot assert that the reader 'intended' some 'hidden meaning' without consulting the author. An individual reader may interpret a piece of writing in whatever way they see fit. Literature has the amazing ability to adapt itself to fit the reader. Different readers will gain different insights and life lessons for the same piece of literature. Their own interpretation may even change over time. That is OK! That is why literature is so wonderful. Yet, we continue to demand a so-called 'definitive' interpretation of literature from our students.
I've been preaching this for years. I love books and writing. However, I hated literature classes in grade school AND college because teachers always demanded one single interpretation of the text that the author, apparently, intended. Most literature classes and standardized tests use excerpts whose authors are already deceased. These authors do not have the ability to protest these misinterpretations of their texts. However, one author can. Sara Holbrook discovered that two of her poems were included on the Texas STARR assessment. Holbrook wrote an article in the Huffington Post that expresses her frustrations. Holbrook concludes her article with one final reflection:
"Any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead.
This article is a MUST read.