Academic journal article Reading Improvement

Varying Readability of Science-Based Text in Elementary Readers: Challenges for Teachers

Academic journal article Reading Improvement

Varying Readability of Science-Based Text in Elementary Readers: Challenges for Teachers

Article excerpt

This investigation compared readability formulae to publishers' identified reading levels in science-based elementary readers. Nine well-established readability indices were calculated and comparisons were made with the publishers' identified grade designations and between different genres of text. Results revealed considerable variance among the 9 formulae. All formulae tended to inflate readability calculations for nonfiction science-based text, whereas fiction science-based text was more closely aligned to the publishers' grade levels. Implications are discussed for elementary teachers' awareness of readability variances in science-based resources, and the professional learning that is required to support the use of elementary readers, including understanding the limitations of using common readability metrics.

Keywords: readability, science-based text, elementary readers


Reading research has advanced our understanding of the reading process considerably over the past 100 years. Early work in reading research focused on the role of perception in reading, then research shifted to the influence of behaviourism on reading, and most recently are the multidisciplinary conceptual views of reading (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2004). Similar to many other domains, theoretical models of reading have come to the fore to further explain the intricacies of learning. However, despite these refinements in our theoretical perspectives, the theory-to-practice connection continues to challenge practitioners, especially teachers. Effective reading teachers are ones who question their teaching, reflect on their practice, and try out new theories of practice, methods, and resources (Mazzoni & Gambrell, 2003). This study offers a salient example of the use of traditional measures of readability applied in popular reading resources and the disconnect that can occur between science-based text and these common measures.

The constructivist perspective of learning supports the active role of learners in using experience to build an understanding of information through constructive processes to operate, form, elaborate, and test mental structures (Driscoll, 2000). Accordingly, cognitive constructivist theory contends that reading instruction should focus on decoding, understanding words, constructing meaning, and developing reading comprehension strategies (Morrow, 2001). Teachers assist student readers to construct meaning by using their prior knowledge and knowledge of individual words (Samuels, 1994).

As a function of the reading process, a literate individual is able to make meaning from what is read and consequently learn from this experience. Learning from text is integral to learning in any discipline; it is foundational to build knowledge to explore concepts and essential skills. In this fashion, learners interact with what they read and continue to construct knowledge. Thus, fluent reading and comprehension are strong contributors to learning in content-based subjects such as science, and contingent upon the quality of the text that learners read.

Reading, comprehending, and learning from science text are important functions that contribute to a fundamental sense of scientific literacy in both elementary and secondary students (Norris & Phillips, 2003). Reading proficiency demands that readers decode, identify written words, and understand what those words mean. When students read more effectively, they become better engaged in the content (i.e., science) and comprehend the scientific concepts being presented in the text. For some readers, learning to read text proficiently is not mutually inclusive to learning to understand text (Biemiller, 2007). However, it is interesting to note that many students who read effectively in early grades might struggle to comprehend science text when they are in later elementary grades. Among the several reasons for compromised reading comprehension, a lack of vocabulary or word knowledge is one of the most important (Becker, 1977; Chall & Conard, 1991; Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990; Scarborough, 2001; Spira, Bracken, & Fischel, 2005; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). …

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