Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

What Retellings Can Tell Us about the Nature of Reading Comprehension in School Children

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

What Retellings Can Tell Us about the Nature of Reading Comprehension in School Children

Article excerpt

The idea that comprehension is a constructive process of meaning making is well established in the research literature on the reading process (e.g., Beaugrande, 1980; Duke & Carlisle, 2011; Fox & Alexander, 2009; Kintsch, 1998; Pearson, 2009; Rand Reading Study Group, 2001; Smagorinsky, 2001). Readers, as active participants, are conceived as building an understanding or representation of a text based on such factors as their background, the purpose for reading, and the text itself. Reader background reflects not only linguistic and cognitive experiences with the world, but sociocultural encounters as well. Importantly, the very purpose for any reading emerges from the environmental context in which both the reader and the text are situated and in which they operate. Given such activity on the part of the reader, as well as the role of the environment in text processing, it should come as no surprise that the meanings ultimately constructed may not be limited to only those represented in print. Situationally-based activity ultimately results in a contribution to meaning on the part of the reader. Text meanings, once conceived as static, are now understood as dynamic and even variable.

The use of retellings, recalls, or responses to understand the nature of reader comprehension has a long history in the research literature. In the earlier part of the last century, Bartlett (1932) and Rosenblatt (1938) investigated reader understanding by analysing what readers remembered and experienced from their transactions with written language. During the 'cognitive revolution' in the second half of the 20th century, numerous researchers continued this tradition (e.g., Anderson, Reynolds, Schallert & Goetz, 1977; Anderson, Spiro & Anderson, 1978; Rumelhart, 1984; Steffensen, Joag-Dev & Anderson, 1979). More recently, Kintsch (1998) and Porat (2004) have employed recalls to explore text comprehension.

Retellings have also been used to explore the relationship between the comprehension patterns of narrative and expository texts (e.g., Cunningham & Gall, 1990; Kucer, 2013; Roller & Schreiner, 1985; Wolfe, 2005; Wolfe & Mienko, 2007; Zabrucky & Moore, 1999). Findings from this research are mixed. In terms of familiarity with text structure, readers tend to have well developed story schema which they can utilise to help them understand and recall narrative text. Expository texts, because of the greater variability in their structures, are less supportive of readers. Therefore, in general, recall of content tends to be better for narrative than for expository text. When content was controlled across the two text types, contradictory results were found across studies. Perhaps most importantly, when familiarity with the content was examined, readers with high degrees of relevant background knowledge did better than those with low degrees, regardless of text type.

Interestingly, for the most part these researchers have used proficient, older readers. Developing readers in elementary school have only infrequently served as informants to investigate the characteristics of comprehension through retellings. This is the case despite the common use of retellings as a pedagogical tool in many reading curricula (e.g., Brown & Cambourne, 1987; Raphael, George, Weber & Nies, 2009) and assessment systems (e.g., Goodman, Watson & Burke, 2005; Leslie & Caldwell, 2009; Stahl, 2009). Additionally, again with the some exceptions (e.g., Bartlett, 1932; Rosenblatt, 1938, 1978, 2005), retellings have largely been examined in terms of retold ideas that matched ideas expressed in the text read. Nonmatching ideas were not part of the analysis systems employed.

The following inquiry addresses the lack of comprehension research using retellings with children as well as the limited way in which retellings have been utilised. I begin with a brief discussion of why retellings have been found to be an effective avenue for investigating reader comprehension. …

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