Developmental and Individual Differences in Children's Reading Comprehension
This thesis research focused on the contributions of word decoding from print and of reliance on story organization to children's story comprehension. Two experiments were conducted, whose findings contribute to our understanding of developmental and individual differences in reading comprehension. In Experiment 1, children in Grades 3 to 6 read silently, read orally, or listened to well-organized and poorly organized stories. Both amount recalled and reliance on text organization increased with grade. Listening, which required no analysis of print, yielded equivalent comprehension to silent reading; demonstrating that differences in reading comprehension cannot be attributed only to differences in word-decoding skills. Furthermore, oral reading which required the decoding of each word in text, improved the comprehension and recall of good stories, especially for the poorest comprehenders. At each grade level a group of poor readers was identified who showed little sensitivity to story organization, in either silent reading or listening.
In the second experiment, the nature of the oral-reading benefit was examined by having Grade 6 poor readers read well-organized and poorly organized stories silently and aloud. The experiment showed that oral reading increased recall for well-organized, but not for poorly organized text. This finding suggests that oral reading served to increase text organization, rather than to direct attention to the word level. The poorest comprehenders also gained from an advance organizer that stressed the problem structure of the stories.
The first experiment identified children in each grade, up to Grade 6, who did not spontaneously rely on story organization in reading and remembering stories. The second experiment showed, however, that when story organization was made available and salient, such children were able to use it to help them read and remember stories. Finally, the results of Experiment 2 demonstrated the importance of specific diagnosis prior to developing treatment programs for poor readers.