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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making meaning : using syntax as a tool for reading comprehension Chrtetien, Dianne Dorothy


In summary, this study was designed to investigate whether teaching students to approach scientific texts using their knowledge of language (specifically syntax) would help them better understand the passages they are reading. It has long been taken for granted that the study of grammar is unhelpful in teaching students to write. Much of the research in the past decades has been used to provide evidence that the study of the structure of our language restrains the generative, creative process. The reading process, however, must be admitted to be a more analytic process. Constructive, yes, in that the reader does more than merely receive meaning from the text; rather, he or she constructs meaning from it. But the text is a whole which must be first broken down into parts in order for the reader to reconstruct the frame. Simultaneously, the reader is adding to the text frame from his or her own store of knowledge, and the final product of the act of reading will be the construction of something new and unique to that reader. The theoretical framework upon which the study is based is van Dijk's and Kintsch's concept of discourse structure which represents reading as a process involving the building of both a text base, the aforesaid "frame" and a situation model, the new and unique product of the reader. William Adler's theoretical framework upon which he based his book How to Read a Book also serves as a point of reference. Adler describes reading as an active process that requires taking apart an argument proposition by proposition (a process which he says requires a certain amount of grammatical knowledge) in order to fully comprehend it and reconstruct it. Such a complex analytical approach is usually unnecessary when reading fictional narrative, but the reading of content area text presents different and greater challenges to the young student, and, of all content areas, science can present the most complex concepts. Processing science concepts becomes even more difficult when the concepts are counterintuitive, as in the study of forces in physics. The questions addressed in this study were the following: 1. Is direct teaching of syntax effective in raising syntactic awareness in young students? 2. Can young students be taught to apply syntactic knowledge during the reading process? 3. Will an increased awareness of syntax and application of syntactic knowledge be accompanied by an increase in reading comprehension of science text? In the course of the study the experimental group received a pretest and a posttest testing syntactic knowledge and reading comprehension and a seven week intervention which included whole class lessons teaching students to recognize sentence structure, chunk sentences and use connectives as cues for relationships between propositions. The intervention also included guided reading sessions applying the syntactic concepts to reading science text. A control group received only the pretest and posttest. Results indicate that the experimental group improved in syntactic knowledge and maintained their scores comprehension, while the control improved slightly in syntactic knowledge and, on the whole, did not improve in comprehension. Furthermore, observation notes from the intervention indicate that the intervention allowed students to gain a sense not only that they needed to adjust their pace of reading while reading dense, science text, but a notion of how and where to do so, using commas, connectives and their knowledge of phrases and clauses as points at which to stop and think. What follows in this chapter is an interpretation of the findings and the conclusions that can be drawn in light of the research questions. The quantitative data composed primarily of the pretest and posttest results and the qualitative data in the form of the observation notes on the intervention will be discussed separately.

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