An Investigation of the Effects of Reader Characterisics on Reading Comprehension of a General Chemistry Text
There is great concern in the scientific community that students in the United States, when compared with other countries, are falling behind in their scientific achievement. Increasing students' reading comprehension of scientific text may be one of the components involved in students' science achievement. To investigate students' reading comprehension this quantitative study examined the effects of different reader characteristics, namely, students' logical reasoning ability, factual chemistry knowledge, working memory capacity, and schema of the chemistry concepts, on reading comprehension of a chemistry text. Students' reading comprehension was measured through their ability to encode the text, access the meanings of words (lexical access), make bridging and elaborative inferences, and integrate the text with their existing schemas to make a lasting mental representation of the text (situational model). Students completed a series of tasks that measured the reader characteristic and reading comprehension variables. Some of the variables were measured using new technologies and software to investigate different cognitive processes. These technologies and software included eye tracking to investigate students' lexical accessing and a Pathfinder program to investigate students' schema of the chemistry concepts. The results from this study were analyzed using canonical correlation and regression analysis. The canonical correlation analysis allows for the ten variables described previously to be included in one multivariate analysis. Results indicate that the relationship between the reader characteristic variables and the reading comprehension variables is significant. The resulting canonical function accounts for a greater amount of variance in students' responses then any individual variable. Regression analysis was used to further investigate which reader characteristic variables accounted for the differences in students' responses for each reading comprehension variable. The results from this regression analysis indicated that the two schema measures (measured by the Pathfinder program) accounted for the greatest amount of variance in four of the reading comprehension variables (encoding the text, bridging and elaborative inferences, and delayed recall of a general summary). This research suggest that providing students with background information on chemistry concepts prior to having them read the text may result in better understanding and more effective incorporation of the chemistry concepts into their schema.
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