The relationship between some text features and comprehension (e.g. features that make texts more less “considerate.
Text comprehension is defined as “demonstrating understanding of the text at the mental model level by generating inferences, interpreting, paraphrasing, translating, explaining, or summarizing information” (Otero, Lecentsn, & Graesser, 2014: p. 17). There are various studies based on the cognitive science illustrating the understanding of text in relation to its comprehension for children (Chambres, Izaute&Marescaux, 2002). Such studies develop theoretical models for the comprehension process and test the predictions of the model by collecting empirical data from readers (Readence, J & Barone, 1997). Growth in reading is considered one of the most successful undertakings for most of the students (Searfoss, 1997).
This research paper is aimed at highlighting certain text features and methods of reading comprehension. It is based on qualitative research carried out through various scholarly articles and educational reports. A brief overview is presented to highlight recent research on the topic and presents various factors, such as level of interest and their effect on comprehension in reading. The relationship between comprehension and text features is explored through the rest of this paper. In this paper, methods will be sought for improving the learning of students, grade three and higher, through textual structures and features. As will be discussed in detail shortly, instructors who are more aware and more targeted in their use of textual structures and text features tend to yield improved reading comprehension results from their students. Consequently, it is the conclusion of this project that instructors should familiarize themselves with, if not master, textual structures and text features so that they can be better equipped to improve the reading comprehension abilities of their students.
Overview of the Study
This paper makes it clear that textbooks are informing students about the content, which is new to them. There is a relationship between the structure of the text and children’s comprehension. Educated, experienced readers can comprehend the text with complicated sentence structure more easily than the text with scrambled sentences. Readers are better able to comprehend reading materials with clear textual structures, such as problems and solutions, comparison, etc more easily than the reading materials with weak textual structures, such as, collections of different ideas.
Every year, thousands of students begin their educational learning process by the task of reading. Most of the students and their parents feel relieved when individuals are successful with their beginning reading courses. This process is relatively slow for most of the students. Existing research has explored ways to make reading more effective for students while there is further research planned to check whether there can be alternate ways to make already proficient reading students more proficient. Methods to teach reading to students are one of the popular debates in the world of education and pedagogy (Bond, Dykstra, Clymer & Summers, 1997).
When students start with the reading process, some find it easier while others find it quite complex. Teaching innovations have always focused on producing techniques and results to make students feel at ease with reading and to help them avoid difficulties and to make them successful readers. Ample approaches for reading instructions have been suggested in the recent years (Searfoss, 1997). The role of dialect and language also play an integral role in deciding the status of comprehension abilities of students.
In spite of a great deal of research on this popular topic of teaching reading to students, there is still much controversy concerning instructional procedures in beginning reading. Most of the research studies have given inconclusive and contradictory results. A study conducted by Bond, Dykstra, Clymer & Summers (1997) proved that researchers in this field have not always tried to find which teaching methods are appropriate for reading but rather how does every method contributes to the subject of comprehension attained by reading instruction (Bond, Dykstra, Clymer & Summers, 1997). Research in educational fields should be carried out in order to strengthen such researches.
Children take an interest in texts when they are highly informative and normal in terms of familiarity. This familiarity can also be enhanced by adding visuals and pictures to the text to augment the understanding of children. Similarly, if a text consists of vivid details and pictures and illustrations help students comprehend the purpose of the text more effectively. Lack of all these features often makes a text uninteresting for the students. Therefore, it remains essential for the instructors to look into this approach for an efficient relationship between text and its comprehension. If a text has certain authorship then children feel it is easier to comprehend them when they have prior knowledge about the author. Certain vivid details, which are referred as “seductive details” have a negative effect on the comprehension of children. These vivid details give negative and alienated ideas of the text than what text is actually intended to mean (Otero, Leon &Graesser, 2002).
The relationship between comprehension and text features has been highlighted by various researches that have signified the importance of sex in determining the reading comprehension skills in students. The research reveals that girls are more competent in analyzing and understanding text features, such as visual, auditory, language and articulation features in both written and oral reading materials in comparison to boys. In addition, reading abilities in female students are higher than male students. This is further explained through the scientific reasoning of girls getting mature earlier than boys. Moreover, other than biological factors, environmental factors are also responsible for this difference (Bond, Dykstra, Clymer & Summers, 1997).
It is most probable that if readers are interested in the overall topic of the text, they will take an interest in significant, informative details and illuminating ideas presented in the text. Comprehensibility has a historical connection with the curriculum. Textbooks and other books are important passages by which students reach understanding. This passage guides students to use analogies and examples to connect what they understood in one domain (Otero, Leon & Graesser, 2002).
Students can form their goal by searching in a text. This searching allows them to navigate text features and comprehend information. Nevertheless, text features help students find their purpose in the text. Headings or subheadings are considered as macro-text features while captions are considered as micro text features. Table of contents or pictures is the most initial features, which makes students find their purpose in the text. Students will always find it frustrating to read a book that does not have abundant text features to give them the purpose or the goal (Wigfield, 2009).
Willis & Harris (1997) argued that race and ethnicities play an integral role in highlighting comprehensive abilities of students. For example, in the 1990s, children belonging to white families had more reading comprehensive abilities due to their dominant class in comparison to the children belonging to the lower, African American class. Educational exclusion is also one of the basic reasons for students��� inabilities to comprehend what they read (Willis & Harris, 1997).
Fisher, Frey, and Lapp (2008) investigated how instructors teach text comprehension, structures, and features, as well as well as vocabulary (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008). The observational data gathered in this study was categorized into four categories. All of such categories contained many elements. Instructors modeled thinking patterns using each of the following: comprehension, vocabulary, textual structures, and textual features. Furthermore, in addition to the content being taught, in all of the 75 lessons the researchers in this study observed many commonly used instructional practices (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008). For example, in every case students could see the text as the instructor read it aloud. Some instructors used a class set of books while a number of others had only photocopies of specific texts, and others projected the text on a screen using an overhead or document camera. The instructors also modeled reading and practiced all of the selections before reading them (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008).
The 25 instructors from this study also modeled their thought patterns and did not ask any students individual questions (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008). The focus was on how modeling thinking, which was determined by the textual structure and text features, and not on asking students comprehension questions concerning content being read. This does not mean that students were silent observers in the shared reading process. In fact, students were frequently encouraged to talk with partners, write reflections, determine and signify any agreement through collaborative responses, and ask questions (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008). One of the many ways that the readers organized the information as they read was to pay attention to any textual structures that the authors relied on. Informational texts, in fact, are commonly organized into compare/contrast, problem/solution, cause/effect, chronological/sequence/temporal, and descriptive. Narrative reading materials all have a common structure. Such reading materials use a story grammar, such as setting, plot, characters, conflict, and so forth. Instructors regularly commented, in this study, on the textual structures and explained to their students why this information was helpful (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008).
For instance, during a shared reading of The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, a seventh-grade instructor stated the textual structure acted as a way to organize information. The instructor stated:
I think that Machiavelli is comparing and contrasting here. I’m thinking that he wants me to understand the difference in the two types of fighting he discusses. I see here, where he says, “You should consider then, that there are two ways of fight, one with laws and the other with force.” I think he’s setting up to compare and contrast such two ways. This leads me to organize my thinking into categories that I can use to help me remember what Machiavelli believes. (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008: p. 551)
Furthermore, one fifth-grade instructor held that the author’s use of particular textual structures were helpful, saying:
So I’m seeing this as a process that occurs in a specific sequence. It reminds me of the water cycle the researchers in this study learned about and how that is also a process. So the author tells me about this in order. I understand from the textual structure that blood circulates through the heart chambers, lungs, body, and then back again. I see that he’s going to describe how carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen (O2) are exchanged in the lungs and tissues, and I bet that will be a process as well. This whole section is about the processes used by living things. Now that I know it will be a process, I’ll get my notes ready so that I can record the major steps of the process. (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008: p. 552)
There are several text features that readers may use to determine the meanings and the specific importance of texts, such as the headings, captions, boldface words, graphs, diagrams, glossaries, and so forth. Moreover, there are many students who do not understand ways to use such text features effectively. One instructor even stated, “I used to skip all of the features included in the text, but then I realized those weren’t just decorations. They were there to aid comprehension. I decided I better teach students how to use the features” (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008: p. 552).
The instructors in this study were observed using many common approaches for modeling or explaining reading (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008). Explaining reading is a very important component of proper literacy instruction. The expert instructors in this study reported that modeling, as expressed through shared reading, was a daily occurrence. Of course, this model must be followed by opportunities to practice and apply skills. What this study contributes is an analysis of the specific behaviors that expert instructors use during modeling. The instructors did not use all five components in each of their shared reading lessons. While many lessons focused more on vocabulary, several others focused more on comprehension. In assessing all of the 75 observations, the researchers in this study realized that no shared reading lesson focused entirely on the researchers’ factors and that each of the 25 instructors demonstrated each of the researchers’ factors at some point in the three observations. The researchers in this study find this confirming of the applicability. Moreover, given the discussions with the instructors the researchers in this study interviewed, several cautions regarding instructor modeling with shared reading are necessary.
The teachers that the researchers in this study observed averaged between ten and fourteen minutes of shared reading (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008). As the students completed the shared reading, they often provided children with a discussion or writing prompt and then the class made transitions to small-group or collaborative learning. Third, shared readings should not be used in order to repeat simply comprehension methods. The expert instructors the researchers in this study observed did not focus on one aspect of modeling or one comprehension strategy. This is consistent with the recommendations of Wigfield (2004) who expressed concerns about focusing on one comprehension strategy at a time. One of the instructors the researchers in this study interviewed explained that the text will guide you in order to determine what needs should be shared and explained (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2008).
Risko, Walker-Dalhouse, Bridges, and Wilson (2011) also investigated how structural features are effectively taught. Reading materials have numerous structural and organizational features that affect students’ comprehension and composing. Text features may include an ordering of events and descriptions of cause-and-effect relationships that are common in history and science texts, patterns of language rhythms in poetic texts, detailed (and often overlapping) illustrations to depict several story lines simultaneously in graphic novels, gestures, images, and music representing motives in digital reading materials (Risko et al., 2001).
As the researchers’ examples illustrate, children are meeting different forms of texts, both in and out of school (Risko et al., 2001). This is particularly true in classrooms where instructors are purposely integrating multiple forms of texts— such as informational reading materials paired with narratives, newspapers, and brochures— to address students’ interests, life experiences, all the while building knowledge, skills, and other strategies. In this column, the researchers in this study discuss possible challenges to students’ comprehension and composing as they relate to specific text features and draw on research to suggest instructional accommodations (Risko et al., 2001). Providing quality reading material beyond textbooks enriches students’ access to content and world knowledge, as textbooks can lack depth. Yet, features and styles of each text can be problematic for children who have not learned to be strategic in their use to support comprehension. In fact, observing students’ difficulty with inferring central text concepts, advocated for students’ use of graphic organizers to illustrate connections among main ideas and supporting details or to map out cause-and-effect relationships (Risko et al., 2001).
The researchers illustrated how instructors could highlight or underline important text concepts in order to signal a particular need for reading again and the use of problem-solving strategies in order to aid comprehension (Risko et al., 2001). They discussed the importance of previewing reading materials in order to highlight the most important ideas. Such ideas are not typically not stated explicitly but are nonetheless needed in order to provide the conceptual glue for understanding what children may perceive as disparate and unrelated ideas. Multiple features are common in conventional texts, with words, images, sounds, and movements presented simultaneously and within dynamic formats to enrich the ideas conveyed. Although the multimodal nature of such materials holds promise for deepening understandings and enhancing digital composing, such features can also intrude on comprehension (Risko et al., 2001). The illustrations captivated the attention of each student and served as fascinating motivators to reading. On the other hand, some pages consisted of many different images within several frames. When faced with such pages, the children focused on small details and “read” each picture separately. As a result, their comprehension of the main ideas suffered, because they were unable to think beyond every image and make connections to the overall story. The researchers noted the problem of middle school children attending only to parts of whole texts and advocated for teaching children how to read illustrations (Risko et al., 2001).
Because the children did not automatically know about the pictures and the text informed one another, they constructed meaning from images, ignoring the text (Risko et al., 2001). Although this allowed the children to build an understanding of the story in the moment, it resulted in comprehension problems later. As children read further, the text or pictures did not logically follow the meaning they had previously constructed. Teaching with many different textual structures and images improves the possibilities for deepening the interests of the students, as well as their engagement, and comprehension and enhancing the complexity of student compositions. In order to achieve such goals, instructors should examine their reading materials carefully to identify features that may support or intrude on meaningful understandings. This study of instructional reading materials can help instructors determine how to help children approach and investigate text meanings and generate compositions with similar features (Risko et al., 2001).
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, around one-third of American fourth-graders read proficiently for their grade level (Williams, 2005). Another third have merely limited understanding of the known information and the specific skills appropriate for reading comprehension at the fourth-grade level, and the bottom third of the population fails to reach even that low level of performance. The need for better reading comprehension teaching is clear. The researchers in this study are making progress toward the researchers’ goal of effective teaching in beginning reading. This type of approach is likely to be particularly valuable for children who have learning problems, such as attention-deficit disorders or speech and language disorders or those who are otherwise at risk for failure (Williams, 2005).
Williams (2005) is much further behind in the area of reading comprehension. For many years it was thought that once children acquired the basic ability to read, they would automatically and without specific teaching be able to understand whatever they could decode. However, the researchers in this study have discovered that this is not the case. There are comprehension difficulties that are independent of inadequate basic decoding and fluency skills, and researchers are beginning to recognize the need for a specific technical focus on comprehension. The National Reading comprehension Panel highlighted two general topics within comprehension: word choice and comprehension strategies. The work reported that has been reported thus far focuses on comprehension strategies that utilize textual structure and text features independently (Williams, 2005). However, although word choice plays only a minor role in the work presented thus far, many other researchers have recognized vocabulary as a crucial component of reading comprehension, as it concerns text features and structures, that should be included in any comprehensive reading comprehension program (Williams, 2005).
One of the main purposes for teaching comprehension strategies is that students derive more meaning from the text when they engage in intentional thinking (Williams, 2005). That is, when people encounter difficulties in trying to comprehend what they have read, the specific application of particular strategic cognitive processes, such as utilizing specific textual structures and features, will improve their comprehension. In fact, many studies have shown that teaching spcecific comprehension strategies is very effective in helping kids to develop and learn strategies. Furthermore, when such strategies are applied, improved comprehension follows (Williams, 2005). The goal of this type of teaching is for the student to develop the strategy internally so that its particular use becomes an automatic process.
Constructivism, for which the Williams (2005) textual structure and features approach is based, has long affected the ways in which reading comprehension has been taught in the last several decades. This approach, according to some scholars, has resulted in a teaching style for instructors that is not as well structured as many others (McNamara, 2012). The approach incorporates certain strategies of teaching that are meta-cognitive, which requires instructors and students alike to use self-reflection (Duke & Pearson, 2008). The Williams (2005) teaching approach is shown to be highly effective for students in many different grade levels. Even so, such an approach is considered problematic for very young children as well as any children with a history of prior failures in academia. Thus, many scholars argue today that a much more well-structured and direct approach is necessary for children to be able to effectively develop their reading comprehension skills through textual structures and features, rather than under a constructivist approach. Under the direct approach, the conceptualization of reading comprehension strategies is virtually the same, Williams (2005) argues, even though it is interpreted more directly by the students. In other words, there is a greater emphasis on text features and their structures and less on metacognitive processing.
The Williams (2005) approach, or a very similar version of it, has been shown to be particularly effective in teaching other academic content for children who have shown prior struggles with reading comprehension (Bakken & Whedon, 2002). In fact, strong support has been found for the following strategic approach:
Introduce content in small increments, moving from the simple to the complex, providing (a) modeling by the instructor, (b) scaffolding that fades as teaching progresses, and (c) at each step, substantial practice with feedback, first guided and then independent. In the same spirit, the teaching materials (the texts) that I have used in this reading comprehension work are simple and are sometimes developed specifically for the teaching, so that they exemplify with clarity the particular textual patterns that are the focus of the teaching. (Williams, 2005: p. 13)
Furthermore, well-structured texts tend to enhance recall and comprehension for those students who have acquired a particular sensitivity to structure (Williams, 2005). Several studies have provided strong evidence that teaching that is specifically designed to help teach children recognition of any underlying structures of text improves reading comprehension substantially (Pardo, 2004; Bakken & Whedon, 2002). This teaching typically involves teaching children to identify the important structural elements of a particular type of text and then to memorize a list of generic questions that cue a search for those important elements. It involves acquiring known information about the text and using this known information strategically. Other types of text may be organized in different and particular ways. Furthermore, narrative text tends to follow one general structural pattern, while expository text tends to come in a variety of unique patterns such as description, sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, and problem/solution (Pardo, 2004).
Children develop sensitivity to narrative structure early and use it to comprehend simple stories before they enter school (Otero, Lecentsn, & Graesser, 2014). In other words, they note the settings of the text, the main characters in the text, the important conflicts, and the story resolution while they read. However, this story-grammar structure encompasses narrative only at the plot-level of analysis. Traditional teaching at the elementary level has focused almost entirely on the concrete plot level (Williams, 2005).
Expository text comprises a variety of structures (Williams, 2005). Because of this, and also because it more often deals with unfamiliar content, expository text is generally more difficult to comprehend (Coiro & Dobler, 2007). Findings in the Williams (2005) study clearly support the hypothesis that highly structured and explicit reading comprehension teaching is appropriate for early elementary school children at risk for academic failure. In developing reading comprehension teaching, one can follow the same theoretical paradigms and use the same pragmatic strategies that have been shown to be very successful in teaching beginning reading, writing, and mathematics. The researchers in this study have shown that children at risk can respond well to teaching that requires higher necessary processing if it is designed appropriately (Williams, 2005).
However, when programs like this are evaluated as “successful,” some researchers in may not assume that every child exposed in order to them will succeed (Calisir & Gurel, 2003). It would be rare in order to find any program that met such a high criterion of success. Certainly, every time the researchers in this study have evaluated either of the researchers’ programs, there have been a few children whose posttest performance indicates that they did not gain very much from the teaching. It is necessary to note this in the evaluation of any program and in order to work further to develop other methods and techniques to ensure that all children have an opportunity to learn to read well. Moreover, a child who is found to achieve in well-structured programs cannot necessarily be considered to have moved out of the at-risk category (Stahl & McKenna, 2009). Some children, even with a very congenial approach, will continue to need more than average teaching support as they move from grade to grade (Kendeou & van den Broek, 2007). It is the job of the teaching designer to continue working toward the goal of providing suitable teaching for such children at every step of the way (Lapp, Fisher, & Grant, 2008).
The researchers in Williams (2005) study have not yet asked all the questions that warrant investigation. For example, the researchers in this study do not have evidence as to how long-lasting the effects of the researchers’ teaching might be. This question of maintenance is easy enough to answer conceptually, but in the real world there are concerns of feasibility. Sustainability, also, has been shown to be a problem for many researchers in the field, though the researchers in some studies believe that this will not be a major concern (Hedin & Conderman, 2010). In some studies, it is the regular classroom instructors who do the teaching (Hedin & Conderman, 2010). Many believe that teaching the program can help make instructors aware of the value of structured, explicit comprehension teaching (Williams, 2005). They may even teach strategies to apply to other teachings.
The Williams (2005) program deals primarily with cognition. It is also essential to design teaching that appeals to children and engages them. The researchers’ programs provide interesting reading comprehension content and a variety of teaching activities to keep children’s attention well focused during the lessons. Many studies have attempted to determine how the children are responding effectively. In the researchers’ posttest interviews, children have reported that they enjoyed the program very much. However, second graders are still enthusiastic about school and, when questioned directly, they rarely indicate displeasure with what is offered to them in teaching (Williams, 2005).
Williams (2005) conducted debriefing interviews with the instructors, and they have reported satisfaction in two ways. First, they feel that children do respond with positive affect to the programs. Second, instructors themselves report that they like the programs; they like the explicitness, the built-in repetition and reviews, and the organization. Many believe that such programs are well designed and easy to teach to all students. Nevertheless, constant refinement will serve to continue improving the abilities of reading instructors to develop the proper programs to help more of their students’ master reading comprehension.
In addition, Williams (2005) changed the graphic organizer from an activity designed to teach a strategy for textual structure analysis to one that supported the researchers’ new content goals. Given that the researchers in this study were not doing a componential analysis in which the researchers in this study could determine which instructional components were contributing to the outcomes, the researchers in this study necessarily based the researchers’ decision to change the organizer on instructors’ comments and the researchers’ classroom observations. Furthermore, Williams (2005) decided that the other two structure strategies, namely, the clue words and the strategy questions, were sufficient lead children to develop well-structured and accurate comparative statements. Also, in an effort to streamline the program, the researchers in this study eliminated the teaching on the pro/con structure.
Finally, findings were also positive concerning the content objectives (Williams et al., 2005). On both word choice concepts and content measures assessing known information concerning animal classifications, which includes both the textual structures and features and the content groups performed better than the control group. Consequently, the textual structure program did not detract from the students’ acquisition of the content that represented the focus of the content goals. However, the findings on the third content measure, detail questions, showed a different pattern of performance. This measure, which tapped content tangential for the program’s content goals to be fulfilled, showed better performance on the part of the content students. The researchers in this study conclude from such findings that teaching in textual structure that also seeks to impart a serious amount of content does not reduce the acquisition of the content that is central to the objectives of the program (Williams, 2005). A program that focuses only on content acquisition, on the other hand, will lead to anacquisition of the most tangential content along with the central content of the program.
This research paper has aimed at highlighting how particular text features can improve reading comprehension. Since the relationship between text and its comprehension is aligned together which cannot be overlooked. Therefore, it is the conclusion of this project that the instructors should take this matter into serious consideration so that they are able to make the student comprehend the text efficientlyit. Moreover, they should familiarize themselves, if not master, textual structures and text features so that they can be better equipped to improve the reading comprehension abilities of their students. By doing this, instructors can design lesson plans that make proper use of sentence structures and features to maximize the educational benefits to students. Finally, instructors can revise and refine their existing teaching materials to allow students to gain more experience with more complex sentence structures and features.