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Review of  Individual differences in reading comprehension


Reviewer: Gerdine M Ulysse
Book Title: Individual differences in reading comprehension
Book Author: Camille Welie
Publisher: Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics / Landelijke (LOT)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Sociolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 30.375

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Review:
SUMMARY

The book aims to investigate the role of four components: knowledge of connectives, text reading fluency, text structure inference skills and reading motivation in Dutch eighth graders’ expository text comprehension. In the book, Camille Welie also examines whether these four components depend on these readers’ cognitive resources and language backgrounds. Although all of these components play an important role in reading comprehension, Welie found that only knowledge of connectives and text structure inference skills contribute to expository text comprehension. However, the effects of motivation on text comprehension differed for monolingual and bilingual students. The book contains 6 chapters, but Chapters 2 to 5 present studies that were already published as journal articles.

In the first chapter of the book, the author, Camille Welie presents summary of the results of the OTAW (“Opbrengst Taalonderwijs Amsterdam-West”, which means ‘Results of Language Education Amsterdam-West’) project and explains the nature of text comprehension and reading processes involved at each level of the hierarchy of text comprehension. He stated that the purposes of the project was to examine the students’ level and development of expository text comprehension and vocabulary knowledge in the first three years of secondary education (grades seven to nine, age range twelve to sixteen). The second purpose of the project was to determine whether there is a relationship between students’ language proficiency and language education characteristics. The results of the OTAW project showed that a large number of students from 12 schools (25 percent) were weak readers. In addition, expository text comprehension was a big problem for many secondary school students who participated in the OTAW project. Also, language background and SES fairly relate to vocabulary knowledge. For instance, some monolingual students outperformed their bilingual peers with language minority background in grades seven and eight in vocabulary knowledge. Results from questionnaire and interview of 55 language arts teachers revealed that there is room for improvement in terms of embedding writing and reading education in meaningful tasks with contextualized approach. Welie stated that word level reading and sentence to text level reading require different types of mental processes, and different people can have different successes at these levels, leading to individual differences in text comprehension. Moreover, working memory capacity, especially low working memory, can affect someone’s text comprehension. Readers cannot hold and integrate sentence information in working memory, leading to poorer sentence comprehension. Therefore, decoding skills and listening comprehension are the two integral components of reading comprehension.

In Chapter 2, Welie analyzes the relationship between knowledge of connectives and expository text comprehension. He specifically investigated whether knowledge of connectives contributes uniquely to expository text comprehension above and beyond sentence reading fluency, general vocabulary knowledge and metacognitive knowledge for 171 eighth graders. The author also examined whether the contribution of connectives would vary based on backgrounds of the readers. Based on different regression analyses, the findings revealed that knowledge of connectives influenced individual difference in these eighth graders’ text comprehension. In addition, the contribution of connectives to text comprehension was contingent on the eighth grader’s level of metacognitive knowledge. This relationship was stronger as the reader’s metacognitive knowledge increased. Welie also found that knowledge of connectives did not seem to have an association with these eighth graders’ sentence reading fluency, vocabulary knowledge and language background.

In Chapter 3, Welie scrutinizes the relationship between text reading fluency and expository text comprehension. He examined the relationship between these variables while accounting for sentence reading fluency, linguistic knowledge and metacognitive knowledge by dividing the eighth graders into two groups: 54 monolinguals and 117 bilinguals. He also analyzed whether text reading fluency for text comprehension would differ for monolingual and bilingual readers. Based on students’ reading tests, which targeted their fluency skills, linguistic knowledge and metacognitive knowledge and on regression analyses, the results showed that there is no connection between text reading fluency and text comprehension for both groups. Moreover, text reading fluency was not found to be associated with either linguistic knowledge or sentence reading fluency levels of the eighth graders.

In Chapter 4, the author examines the connection between text structure inference skill and expository text comprehension. Welie investigated whether text structure inference skill contributed to expository text comprehension for 151 eighth graders. Welie also wanted to see if this contribution would vary for monolingual and bilingual Dutch students, or between students who had different reading proficiency, reading fluency or linguistic knowledge levels. Using reading tests and multiple regression analyzes, the researcher found that text structure inference skill was associated with expository text comprehension for the eighth graders. However, text structure inference skill was not found to be dependent on readers’ language backgrounds or on their reading proficiency, reading fluency or vocabulary knowledge levels.

Chapter 5 presents the relation between motivation and expository text comprehension. Welie particularly scrutinized the connection between types of motivation and the effect of cognitive skills on 152 eighth graders’ expository text comprehension. The author also wanted to analyze whether the contribution of motivation to expository text comprehension differed between monolingual and bilingual students, and between poor and good readers. These participants took reading tests, which assessed their expository text comprehension, sentence reading fluency, linguistic knowledge, metacognitive knowledge and motivations to read expository texts. The findings revealed that motivation did not contribute to the effect of cognitive skills on expository text comprehension for both monolingual and bilingual readers. These results remained true for poor and good readers.

To the author, the different experiments in this book reveal the importance of not only vocabulary knowledge, but also metacognitive knowledge, knowledge of connectives, and text structure inference skill for expository text comprehension. This means all of these components and skills should be considered in instruction. Moreover, reading fluency should not be the only focus at the secondary school. At that level, a student can also benefit from instruction in connectives and text inference, which are pivotal for reading comprehension.

EVALUATION

This book presents a well-written and coherent study, which highlights the importance of sub-reading skills and reading skills’ instruction for text comprehension. In addition, Welie’s main goals, which were to analyze the relationship between four components (knowledge of connectives, text reading fluency, text structure inference skill, and reading motivation) and expository text comprehension, are achieved with the book. His second aim, which was to investigate whether these four components’ contribution to comprehending expository text comprehension would vary for monolingual and bilingual Dutch eighth graders, was also achieved. The use of regression analyses and reading tests are appropriate to assess these skills or potential factors.

This book would benefit language researchers, especially those who are interested in psycholinguistics, and language instructors. The implications of these results for language instructions are numerous and valuable. This study shows not only the importance of these components for (expository) reading comprehension, but it also reveals the significance of teaching these skills in the language classroom. The experiments in this book show that expository text comprehension requires more than general knowledge of vocabulary. Moreover, knowledge of connectives and metacognitive knowledge are found to be beneficial to both bilinguals and monolinguals. These results suggest that language instructors should try to find teaching strategies which help students develop these abilities.

While the methods and analyses were appropriate, test administration was not reproducible. It is not very clear how the tests were administered. Test administration should be well controlled in order to regulate for other indirect factors, such as time of day and administrators’ notes that could influence reading test results. For instance, Welie stated that administrators took notes as participants took different reading tests, which happened at various times of the day. In addition, inclusion and exclusion of a participant in the study were sometimes based on these administrators’ notes. This might make one wonder about the role of these administrators in the outcomes of the study, and whether there was a systematic way of assessing these participants’ behaviors. Another concern may be related to the different test taking times. Cognition and academic performance may be impacted by time of the day (Hines 2004). In other words, the time of the day of these test administrations might affect student’s performance on the reading comprehension tests. It is also important to point out that many chapters from the book (Chapter 2 to 5) are already published, which creates some overlap in background information and parts of the methodology sections.

This book shows the importance of (linguistic) backgrounds and skills for reading, especially second language (L2) reading comprehension. Welie’s study also serves as support for Koda’s (2005) stance on the different skills at play in L2 reading comprehension. Koda argues that factors such as decoding ability, working memory in their L1, L2 proficiency, L1’s influence and as well as learners’ culture can affect their reading performance (Koda 2005). This means linguistic and social backgrounds are to be considered in language learning and L2 reading instruction. The experiences of the eighth graders dictate their proficiency and their reading competence. However, this does not diminish the value of instruction. Reading skills can always be cultivated with appropriate instruction. This rather implies that these readers’ prior experiences with a language and experiences with print will most likely affect their reading performance. For future studies, it would not only be important to compare the differences in the four central components (knowledge of connectives, text reading fluency, text structure inference skill, and reading motivation) between bilingual and monolingual Dutch eighth graders, but it would also be interesting to consider the influence of L1-L2 distance on the expository text comprehension. Welie’s book could tremendously help understand the interdependence between reading skills and reading comprehension and would undeniably help improve reading instruction.

REFERENCES

Hines, C. B. (2004). Time-of-Day Effects on Human Performance. Journal of Catholic Education,7(3).

Koda, K. (2005). Insights into Second Language Reading. Cambridge University Press.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Gerdine Michel Ulysse is currently pursuing a PhD in Second Language Acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University. She has a Master’s in French with specialization in Teaching French as a Foreign Language. She has taught both Haitian Creole and French using Communicative Language Teaching and multiliteracies approaches. Her interests include multilingualism, language pedagogy, and biliteracy. She is particularly interested in social and psychological factors affecting Creole literacy development.