Middle School Students’ Reading Responses

A Linguistic Perspective


  • Zhihui Fang University of Florida
  • Richard E. Ferdig Kent State University
  • Zhijun Wang Shanghai University of Finance and Economics
  • Brian K. Trutschel Orange County (Florida) Public School




language arts pedagogy, written response, functional linguistics


Reading response holds a prominent place in the English language arts curriculum. Despite its importance, few studies have explored students’ performance on the task from a linguistic perspective. This article examines a random sample of reading responses generated by students enrolled in a middle school online language arts course using a genre-specific tool that addresses content, logic, stance, and engagement. Results from the linguistic analysis show that the adolescents’ responses typically focused on personal feelings, story retelling, and character analysis, with little evidence of thematic interpretation. This finding is discussed in light of the current literature on response writing and language arts pedagogy.

Author Biographies

Zhihui Fang, University of Florida

Zhihui Fang is Professor and Head of Language Arts, Reading, and Children's Literature (LARC) Program in the School of Teaching and Learning at the University of Florida.

Richard E. Ferdig, Kent State University

Richard E. Ferdig (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is the Summit Professor of Learning Technologies and Professor of Instructional Technology at Kent State University working within the Research Center for Educational Technology and also the School of Lifespan Development and Educational Sciences. He has served as researcher and instructor at Michigan State University, the University of Florida, the Wyzsza Szkola Pedagogiczna (Krakow, Poland), and the Università degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia (Italy). His research interests include online education, educational games and simulations, the role of faith in technology, and what he labels a deeper psychology of technology.

Zhijun Wang, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics

Zhijun Wang (Ph.D., Fudan University) is Professor and Vice Dean of School of Foreign Languages at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, China. He was a visiting scholar at the University of Florida in 2009. His research interests include applied linguistics and academic writing.

Brian K. Trutschel, Orange County (Florida) Public School

Brian K. Trutschel (Ed.S., University of Florida) is currently a Literacy Coach for Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Florida. He specializes in assessment and intensive (remedial) literacy instruction.


Babbitt, N. (1977) The Eyes of the Amaryllis. New York: Holtzbrinck Publishers.

Beach, R. and Hynds, S. (1991) Research on response to literature. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal and P. D. Pearson (eds.) Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. II) 453–489. New York: Longman.

Calkins, L. (1994) The Art of Teaching Writing (new edition). Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann.

Christie, F. and Dreyfus, S. (2007) Letting the secret out: Successful writing in secondary English. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 30(3): 235–247. https://www.alea.edu.au/resources/ajll-archive.

Christie, F. and Derewianka, B. (2008). School Discourse: Learning to Write Across the Years of Schooling. London: Continuum.

Clements, A. (1996) Frindle. New York: Atheneum Books for Yong Readers.

Creech, S. (1998) Bloomability. New York: HarperCollins Publishers

Derewianka, B. (2011) A New Grammar Companion for Teachers. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia.

du Bois, W. P. (1975) The Twenty-one Balloons. New York: The Penguin Group.

Fang, Z., Sun, Y., Chiu, C. and Trutschel, B. (2014) Inservice teachers’ perception of a language-based approach to content area reading. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 37(1): 55–66. https://www.alea.edu.au/resources/ajll-archive.

Fang, Z. and Wang, Z. (2011) Beyond rubrics: Using functional language analysis to evaluate student writing. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 34(2): 147–165. https://www.alea.edu.au/resources/ajll-archive.

Fogelin, A. (2002) Crossing Jordan. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers.

Graham, S. and Hebert, M. (2010) Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading. Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Graham, S. and Perin, D. (2007). Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School. Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. and Matthiessen, C. (2004) An Introduction to Functional Grammar (3rd edition). London: Arnold.

Holt, K.W. (2001) Dancing in Cadillac Light. Toronto: Penguin Putnam Books.

Jones, P. and Chen, H. (2012) Teacher’s knowledge about language: Issues of pedagogy and expertise. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 35(2): 147–168. https://www.alea.edu.au/resources/ajll-archive.

Jones, S., Myhill, D. and Bailey, T. (2013) Grammar for writing? An investigation of the effects of contextualized grammar teaching on students’ writing. Reading and Writing 26(8): 1241–1263. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11145-012-9416-1.

Lowry, L. (1989) Number the Stars. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Macken-Horarik, M. (2006a) Hierarchies in diversities: What students’ examined responses tell us about literacy practices in contemporary school English. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 29(1): 52–78. https://www.alea. edu.au/resources/ajll-archive.

Macken-Horarik, M. (2006b) Knowledge through “know how”: Systemic functional grammatics and the symbolic reading. English Teaching: Practice and Critique 5(1): 102–121. http://edlinked.soe.waikato.ac.nz/research/files/ etpc/files/2006v5n1art6.pdf.

Macken-Horarik, M. (2006c) Recognizing and realizing ‘what counts’ in examination English: Perspectives from systemic functional linguistics and code theory. Functions of Language 13(1): 1–35. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/fol.13.1.02mac.

Macken-Horarik, M., Love, L., and Unsworth, L. (2011) A grammatics good enough for school English in the 21st century: Four challenges in realizing the potential. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 34(1): 9-23. https:// www.alea.edu.au/resources/ajll-archive.

Marshall, J. (2000) Research on response to literature. In M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal and P. D. Pearson (eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. III), 381–402. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Martin, J. (2013) Embedded literacy: Knowledge as meaning. Linguistics and Education 24: 23–37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.linged.2012.11.006.

Moats, L. (2009). Still wanted: Teachers with knowledge of language. Journal of Learning Disabilities 42(5): 387–391. http://dx.doi. org/10.1177/0022219409338735.

Myhill, D., Jones, S. and Watson, A. (2013) Grammar matters: How teachers’ grammatical knowledge impacts on the teaching of writing. Teaching and Teacher Education 36: 77–91. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2013.07.005.

Rosenblatt, L. (1978) The Reader, the Text, and the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University.

Sachar, L. (1998) Holes. New York: Random House, Inc.

Schleppegrell, M. J. (2004) The Language of Schooling: A Functional Linguistics Perspective. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Schleppegrell, M. J. (2007) The meaning in grammar. Research in the Teaching of English 42(1): 121–128. http://www.ncte.org/journals/rte/issues/v42-1.

Schleppegrell, M. J. (2013) The role of metalanguage in supporting academic language development. Language Learning 63(supplement s1): 153–170. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9922.2012.00742.x.

Smith, R. (1997) Jaguar. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children.

Stewart, T. L. (2008) The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. New York: Hachette Book Group.

Taylor, T. (1969) The Cay. New York: Avon.



How to Cite

Fang, Z., Ferdig, R. E., Wang, Z., & Trutschel, B. K. (2014). Middle School Students’ Reading Responses: A Linguistic Perspective. Writing and Pedagogy, 6(3), 531–553. https://doi.org/10.1558/wap.v6i3.531



Research Matters

Similar Articles

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.