Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Connecting Cognitive Theory and Assessment: Measuring Individual Differences in Reading Comprehension

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Connecting Cognitive Theory and Assessment: Measuring Individual Differences in Reading Comprehension

Article excerpt

The ability to read and comprehend texts is an essential component of successful functioning in our world. A substantial amount of information comes to us through written means, whether it is through regular print, Internet, or other media. Part of this information is for our enjoyment, part of it is vital for our basic functioning--application forms and tax forms that need to be read and filled out, instructions for operating a new car, prescription instructions, food labels, and so forth. The importance of reading is reflected in school settings, both as a primary means of conveying knowledge and as main target of instruction. Accordingly, the assessment of children's (and adults') ability to read and comprehend texts receives considerable attention, in both school and research settings.

In this article, we describe the complex nature of reading comprehension, review recent insights from cognitive-psychological research into this complexity, and draw implications from this research for assessment. Our purpose is to provide a theoretical foundation for the development of new and the adaptation of existing tools for assessing reading comprehension. In addition, we wish to illustrate more generally how advances in theories about psychological constructs (in this case, reading comprehension) can contribute to the development of assessment tools.

The Integrated Model of Reading Comprehension (IMRED): Combining Key Elements of Theoretical Models of Reading Comprehension

Reading and comprehending written language is a complex and uniquely human activity. Extensive psychological research over the past 2 decades has resulted in detailed and comprehensive theoretical models of reading comprehension that allow us to understand what reading comprehension is and how individuals differ in their reading comprehension abilities. Although these models differ in their details, they agree to a considerable degree on the main components (e.g., Sabatini, Albro & O'Reilly, 2012). The remainder of this section presents what we refer to as the Integrated Model of Reading Comprehension (IMREC), in which the main components of the various models are combined into a single account. By providing a single account, the integrated model addresses a major challenge in translating theory to assessment--namely, that different theories can lead to different types of assessments (Messick, 1989).

The Product of Reading Comprehension

In considering reading comprehension and its assessment, it is useful to distinguish between the product and the process of comprehending a text (Pearson & Hamm, 2005; van den Broek, Bohn-Gettler, Kendeou, Carlson, & White, 2011). The product of comprehension is the mental representation of the textual information in the reader's mind after he or she has completed reading the text (Kintsch, 1988a, 2012; Cain & Oakhill, 2012; van den Broek, White, Kendeou, & Carlson, 2009). In successful comprehension, this representation is coherent--that is, the text elements (events, facts, and so on) are interconnected through semantic relations and form an integrated whole. Different types of relations may contribute to this coherence but in most cases referential and causal/logical relations are central. Referential relations establish coherence by capturing the identity of objects, persons, and so on across text elements (e.g., the pronoun she in one sentence refers to a particular female character mentioned earlier in the text), whereas causal and logical relations establish coherence by capturing dependencies between text elements (e.g., that the action of a character is brought about by his or her motivation to achieve a particular goal).

Many of the relations that contribute to the coherent mental representation of a text must be inferred; to make these inferences the reader activates relevant background knowledge. Together, the elements from the text, the elements activated from background knowledge, and the interconnections between these elements form a semantic network that represents the reader's comprehension of the text (Graesser & Clark, 1985; Kintsch & van Dijk, 1978; Trabasso & van den Broek, 1985). …

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