Academic journal article Trames

The Relationship of Text Features to the Level of Interest in Science Texts

Academic journal article Trames

The Relationship of Text Features to the Level of Interest in Science Texts

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Interest in texts is an important facilitator and result of learning (Alexander 2003, Alexander, Kulikowitch, and Schulze 1994, Bray and Barron 2004, Guthrie et al. 2007, Hidi 2001, Jetton and Alexander 2001). In the study by Dai and Wang (2007), the correlation between comprehension and interest was .23 to .57 and in the investigation by Alexander, Jetton, and Kulikowitch (1995) from .40 to .63. By analyzing 36 studies, Schiefele (1999) reached a correlation of .27 between personal interest and text learning and a correlation of .33 between situational interest and learning. The connection appeared to be stronger for deep learning than surface-level learning. Singh, Granville, and Dika (2002) examined the effects of motivation, attitude and academic engagement on achievement among 3 227 students in the eighth grade. The effect of attitude, including interest, was .34 and this influenced science achievement in terms of academic time.

Many researchers have studied the features of texts that encourage interest. The sources of interest in texts have been found to be novelty of content, unexpected or surprising information, concreteness, visual imagery, ease of comprehension, text cohesion, vividness, personal engagement, etc. (Hidi 2001, Jetton and Alexander 2001, Schraw, Flowerday, and Lehman 2001).

Alexander and Jetton (1996) wrote that narrative texts are more interesting than expository ones. Expository texts are seldom related to the students' long-term interests and many readers have little domain knowledge to make understanding expository texts as easy as narrative texts. Narrative texts have a familiar structure, which facilitates comprehension.

Sadoski, Goetz, and Rodriguez (2000) investigated the effects of concreteness on comprehensibility and interest in four text types: persuasive, expository, literary stories and narratives. They asked students to assess the familiarity, interest level, etc. of text passages. Text interest correlated strongly with text concreteness (.85), comprehensibility (.85), and familiarity (.71). The corresponding path coefficients were lower: the effect of concreteness on interest was .44, of comprehensibility .37, and the effect of familiarity was .07.

Stories about people make texts concrete and interesting and so Flesch (1948) elaborated a formula that enabled him to calculate the index of Human Interest relying on the percentage of personal words and personal sentences in the text. Personal words are words denoting people and pronouns that refer to people. Personal sentences are sentences in quotation marks, questions, requests, exclamations, and grammatically incomplete sentences. However, the coefficient of the multiple correlation of the formula was only .43.

One way to include people in science textbooks is to give historical data. Rodrigues and Niaz (2004) wrote that textbook presentations based on a history of science can arouse student interest. Baumann (1980) investigated the efficiency of including historical circumstances in a chemistry textbook, and his students in the sixth grade evaluated the texts with the history of discoveries as the most interesting.

Hidi and Baird (1988) have investigated the strategies for increasing text-based interest. They added salient descriptive elaborations and questions that need resolution to expository texts. Fourth and sixth grade students evaluated the new texts as more interesting than basic texts, but the recall of scientific information remained at the same level.

Alexander and Jetton (1996) reviewed the literature on seductive details in expository texts. They concluded that vivid anecdotes, lively quotations, and so on raise the students' level of interest in the texts, but these elements have a negative effect on the processing of the main content of the text. This result can be explained using cognitive load theory (Leahy, Cooper and Sweller 2004, Sweller, Merrienboer and Paas 1998), which elucidates that interesting and emotional elements in a text may require a significant part of the capacity of working memory and, therefore, the processing of the main content of the text is disturbed. …

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