Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Reducing Children's Reading Comprehension Difficulties through a Training for Enhancing Sentence Organization Skills

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Reducing Children's Reading Comprehension Difficulties through a Training for Enhancing Sentence Organization Skills

Article excerpt


Reading comprehension is a complex task that draws several skills and processes. Children with reading comprehension difficulties show impairments on a range of language tasks. As a result, it might appear a difficult task to either identify which skill(s) should be targeted in children's instruction or to develop instruction that can target such a wide variety of skills. In this study we aimed to identify at least one of the skills and abilities that might be causally implicated in comprehension ability and which, therefore, might be fruitfully trained. The ability we have identified, and shown to be consistently and reliably related to comprehension skills, is sentence organization. In addition, we have provided evidence, according to which training this ability sustains the development of reading comprehension. This article is an attempt to integrate findings from research on comprehension processes, comprehension strategies, and teaching strategies in order to inform instructional practice in reading comprehension.

KEYWORDS: comprehension, verb meaning, semantic complexity, verb processing

Various authors have emphasized the need for componential analysis, as a tool for a better understanding of the complex processes involved in sentence comprehension (Perfetti & Hart, 2001; Stanovich, 2000; Just & Carpenter, 1992; Carr & Levy, 1990). In a componential analysis, sentence comprehension performance is explained by the performance on tasks which test constituent components of the sentence comprehension process. We can generally distinguish between lower order sentence components, such as letter identification or word recognition, and higher order sentence components, such as syntactic, parsing and strategies for forming an appropriate sentence representation. The latter type of components requires a good organization of working memory resources for effective sentence processing (Cain, Oakhill, & Bryant, 2004; Seigneuric, Ehrlich, Oakhill, & Yuill, 2000; Leather & Henry, 1994). In order to develop good organization skills, one has to train the ability to understand the way in which sentence components relate to each other and use most processing resources for in-depth processing (i.e., the global representation of text, integrating ideas from the text with the knowledge base of the reader etc.).

The skill called "sentence organization" allows the reader to code information in meaningful units, which are broader than the word itself (chunks). Forming and organizing these units depends to a great extent on ones' knowledge in syntax. Some studies argue for the existence of a positive relationship between sentence organization skills and comprehension performance (Duke & Pearson, 2002; Carrell, 1992; 1985). However, other authors go one step further, and they assert that training these abilities can improve text comprehension (Grabe, 2004).

The sentence anagram training, which we developed in this study, teaches children how to use chunk formation in order to build sentences of progressive lengths. The volume of information held in the short-term memory, and implicitly in the working memory, can be increased if the person groups information in meaningful, more general units (Miclea, 2000). Thus, we used a strategy that allows the delimitation of word categories according to certain rules. Children were taught to group words as a function of verbs. The aim of this method was to help participants become aware of the way in which words are systematically used in sentences (meta-cognitive ability), so that later they would be able to arrange sentences in phrases. In order to attain the above mentioned goal, participants were initially taught a strategy of grouping words, which express an action, into a single category (an operation of action categorization). This strategy requires the initial identification of the word, which expresses the action (the verb), and at the same time categorizing it in the group/category of the other words. …

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