Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Thinking through Text Comprehension I: Foundation and Guiding Relations

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Thinking through Text Comprehension I: Foundation and Guiding Relations

Article excerpt

That is all fine and well in practice, ... but how does it work in theory?

-popular University of Chicago t-shirt

Each seated at a computer, two boys, Jeffrey and John, are asked to read a passage, read a question about the passage, and then choose the best answer from three possible choices. First, we see Jeffrey move his eyes while looking at the passage; then, we see him move his eyes in a way that directs his gaze toward the question. He moves the mouse connected to the computer and we see the on-screen cursor move to the question, then down to each possible answer, moving slowly from one to another. We see the cursor move to the passage, move back and forth in one particular spot in the passage, and then move back to the possible answers. The cursor hovers over one of the possible answers, and we see the mouse button pressed. A mark on the display screen appears. We see a confirmation that the answer is correct.

Next, we see John move his eyes while looking at the passage; then, we see him move his eyes in a way that directs his gaze toward the question. He moves the mouse connected to the computer and we see the on-screen cursor move to the question, then down to each possible answer, moving slowly from one to another. We see him pause and then move the mouse so that the cursor hovers over one of the possible answers, and we see the mouse button pressed. A mark on the display screen appears. We see that the answer is not correct.

From the observable activities, it is not easy to account for what is governing the behavior of each boy. We notice a difference in cursor movement, and we see that the boy who moved the cursor to the passage prior to selecting the answer correctly answered the question. If we want to increase the frequency of John's correct answers, should we simply reinforce cursor movements to an area of the passage? We know that that this behavior alone is unlikely to produce success. But why?

The immediate answer is that there is something occurring that we cannot see. It is private: that is, it is accessible only to Jeffrey and John. We can guess at what might be happening. We can also guess that what is happening for Jeffrey is likely to be different than what is happening for John. Both appear to be doing what can be called thinking. And further, this thinking seems to play a more important role in getting the answer correct than do any of the behaviors we can observe. Since Jeffrey and John are two fictional boys, we can take a fictional journey within their skin and share access to their private events.

Let's begin with John. As he moves his eyes along the text, he "hears" each word of text as it is read.

"It was the first day of summer. Sam woke up early and ran outside, wondering what he should do first. Then he saw his new bike leaning against the tree. When Sam saw his new bike, he grinned"

But there is more. John "sees" Sam and what he is doing. When John reads that the "new bike [is] leaning against the tree," he sees a sparkling bicycle, not an old, dirty one, and he sees it on an angle against a tree, not held up by a kickstand. John may also feel some of Sam's excitement. (1)

Next, John reads the question, "How did Sam feel when he saw his new bicycle?" Again, he hears the words. He then reads the possible answers: "sad, happy, funny." But this time he also hears himself say, "It wants me to guess at how Sam feels. I think funny sounds good." He then puts a mark next to "funny."

Jeffrey has a different experience. Like John, he visualizes Sam and what he is doing. When Jeffrey reads that the "new bike [is] leaning against the tree," he too sees a sparkling bicycle, not an old, dirty one, and he sees it on an angle against a tree, not held up by a kickstand. And Jeffrey, too, may feel some of Sam's excitement.

Next, Jeffrey reads the question, "How did Sam feel when he saw his new bicycle? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.