Russell A. Hunt Responds
Russell A. Hunt
[response to Martha A. Fisher, "The Cloze: A Comment on "Toward a Process-Intervention Model in Literature Teaching,", as published in College English 46:5 (April 1984), 507-510.]
When I first began experimenting with prepared texts, a friend of mine who knew a bit about the history of educational psychology pointed out to me that there were important precedents in cloze procedure for some of the things I was doing. When I began trying to find out more about the history of the word "cloze" (and the idea), however, I ran into what appeared to be a dead end with W. L. Taylor's article on cloze as a test for readability. since Taylor had apparently invented the term. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that cloze was, and had probably begun as, primarily a testing device. (Taylor, of course, proposed it as a test for texts, but later it came to be used rather more frequently, as Professor Fisher points out, as a test for readers.) At that time I was discovering Vygotsky's ideas about understanding human learning processes, and I was much more interested in what a person might be on the verge of being able to learn to do than what he or she could already do in the artificial isolation of a test situation. Taylor's cloze procedure therefore seemed neither an important precedent nor a very powerful tool or heuristic for my current purposes, and I pursued it no further.

What is ironic about this, of course, is that the cloze procedure, insofar as it arises out of the work of the Gestalt school of psychology, actually has its roots in an area much more congenial to my ideas than I had thought; it is, in fact, far more appropriate to learning than to testing situations. This became clear as I began to understand more about the history of the concept and of the discipline of psychology.

It was from the work of Louise Rosenblatt (The Reader, the Text, the Poem [Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982) -- but see also virtually any of her recent articles) that I first began to see that the recent history of the discipline of psychology might be charactertized, without gross distortion, as the slow excavation, from beneath the detritus deposited by the long behaviorist hegemony of the early twentieth century, of foundations which had been laid down by the Gestalt psychologists and North American theorists such as Peirce and James and Dewey. While that behaviorist paradigm held sway in psychological theory, we tended to lose sight of such notions as the idea that perception is an active probing, a process which involves hypothesizing, connecting, and creating, and is not merely a passive, camera-like acceptance of external stimuli (for an excellent introduction to this idea and its history, see Ulric Neisser's Cognition and Reality).

That idea was not, however, lost beyond recall. In some ways the mere existence of the Gestalt school -- and of James and Dewey in North America (Peirce seems in many ways still to be far underestimated, if not entirely forgotten, as a seminal influence in psychology) -- like a monastery full of unread but physically persisting texts, held available the ideas about human thought which made possible the kind of revolution in the way we think about reading and writing which has occurred in the last few years. As that revolution has proceeded it has become increasingly clear that the ideas which have had the most resonance and heuristic power for people concerned with cognitive development and the ways in which it can be fostered and directed have been those deriving from Gestalt theory. They seem to be the ideas we can build on.

What is most important about cloze procedure, accordingly, is not so much its past as its future. Even more, what is important is not the procedure itself but the collection of associated ideas and assumptions it seems almost inevitably to bring along with it. Tinkering with cloze procedures (and related devices) tends to direct us away from the notion that the object perceived is what is crucial, and toward the idea that what we should be trying to attend to most centrally is the act of perception and the character and purposes of the perceiver. To put it another way: the student, not the text; the writing, not the written; the reading person, not the reading matter.