Analysis of sensitivity and comprehension difficulty among expository text structures
Cheuvront, Melinda Lee
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The purpose of this study was to examine fourth-grade students' sensitivity to and comprehension of expository text structures. It was hypothesized that a hierarchy of student sensitivity and comprehension difficulty among expository text structures exists. A total of 83 fourth-grade students from two Boston private schools read a passage, performed an immediate written recall, and answered eight comprehension questions. Two days later, students again performed a written recall. This procedure was repeated for four weeks, each time in response to a passage addressing a similar topic with a different text structure (comparecontrast- CC, cause-effect- CE, description- D, or problem-solution- PS). Microstructures, such as reading levels and sentence complexity, were controlled across all passages. A counterbalanced design of both text structure and topic controlled for order effects. Four important findings related to students' sensitivity to and comprehension of expository text structures were found. First, on immediate recalls the students were significantly less sensitive to the 0 text structure than they were to both the CC and PS structures. On delayed recalls, students were less sensitive to the 0 structure than the PS structure. Second, students scored significantly lower on the comprehension task for the 0 text structure than the CC and PS structures. Third, high ability readers outperformed average and low readers on all text structures except for 0, in which they performed significantly better than only the low group. Fourth, students who were more sensitive to text structure recalled significantly more superordinate ideas. In fact, sensitivity to text structure explained nearly 70% of the variability in the percentage of superordinate ideas recalled. In summary, data support the conclusion that a hierarchy of difficulty among text structures does indeed exist. In addition, students who were more sensitive to text structure also recalled significantly more superordinate ideas. These findings presently culminate a quarter century of research illustrating the influence of text structure on student comprehension and could impact how curricula and textbooks emphasize and sequence the instruction and assessment of expository text structures.
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