UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reading comprehension to 1970 : its theoretical and empirical bases, and its implementation in secondary professional textbooks, instructional materials and tests Harker, William John


The purpose of this study was twofold: (1) to determine current concepts of reading comprehension deriving from experimental investigations and theoretical statements, and (2) to establish whether these concepts are represented consistently in currently available secondary professional reading textbooks, instructional materials, and published tests. An extensive search of research and non-research literature pertaining to reading comprehension was undertaken. Current knowledge regarding the nature of reading comprehension was found to derive from three principal sources: experimental investigations, verbal descriptions, and models. Experimental investigations have been of three main types: statistical analyses, studies of the specificity of comprehension, and introspective-retrospective case studies. Statistical analyses, most of which have involved factorial procedures, have been equivocal in their findings. Some indicate comprehension to be a unitary mental ability, while others reveal comprehension as a composite of several specific abilities. Studies of the specificity of comprehension show that the ability to comprehend is to a greater or lesser extent specific to the content area from which the reading material is taken. Introspective-retrospective case studies indicate that the cognitive activity associated with comprehension is characterized by ideational fluency, linguistic fluency, manipulation, variety and flexibility, and objectivity. Verbal definitions of comprehension are of two types, skills-based and cognitive-based. Skills-based definitions conceive comprehension in terms of the specific skills which it is considered a reader must possess in order to understand what he reads. These skills are usually organized hierarchically although some authorities question this organization. When critical and creative reading are discussed as separate types of high-level comprehension, they are described in terms of their associated skills. Cognitive- based definitions have produced widely-diverse explanations of comprehension in terms of the cognitive operations thought to be involved. Various definitions of comprehension have been provided by models. Included are definitions in terms of separate overt skills, hierarchical organizations of educational outcomes, external factors influencing the attainment of comprehension, cognitive operations, and psycholinguistic activity. Concepts of comprehension represented in secondary professional reading textbooks, instructional materials, and published reading tests are generally consistent. The concepts of comprehension represented in secondary professional textbooks are expressed by verbally defined skills-based hierarchies. Instructional materials and published tests generally embody concepts of comprehension represented by verbal non-hierarchical definitions. Many of the difficulties generally associated with verbal definitions of comprehension are apparent in the verbal definitions represented in current secondary professional reading textbooks, instructional materials, and published tests. The conclusion reached by this study was that a basic dichotomy exists between those concepts of comprehension expressed in terms of overt behavior and those described in terms of covert behavior. It is the failure of experimenters and theorists, to establish the relationship between the covert psychological process accounting for comprehension and the overt behaviors by which readers exhibit their understanding of what they read that is responsible for much of the current confusion surrounding comprehension. It would seem that a clearer understanding of comprehension depends on a fuller understanding of its psychological nature. This understanding would, in turn, provide needed precision and consistency in verbal definitions of comprehension. Further research into the psychological nature of comprehension is needed. This research should be coordinated into a program involving the experimental testing of hypotheses suggested by current and future models. The findings of these investigations could then provide the basis for developing materials and procedures for teaching and measuring comprehension.

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