The interaction with text of failing and normal readers

Mulholland, Helen (1984). The interaction with text of failing and normal readers. PhD thesis The Open University.



The research reported in this thesis was designed to investigate the nature of reading comprehension failure with a view to improving remedial reading programmes for those children who, although resembling normal readers in other respects, enter secondary education with an inadequate level of reading ability.

By the use of cloze tests, in which the reader is required to restore words deleted from a text, comparisons were made between failing readers at age twelve, normal readers of age twelve and normal readers of age nine who had reached the same level of reading comprehension as the failing twelve years old. The three groups' responses were classified by a system based on a view of the reading process as an interaction between the reader and the text. The effects of specific aspects of text on the three groups of readers were investigated. It was found that there were significant differences between the responses offered by the failing readers at age twelve and normal readers at age nine. Since the level of reading ability of the two groups was the same, this suggests that reading failure involves qualitative differences from normal reading development.

The types of difficulty experienced by failing readers, as reflected in their cloze responses, include difficulties of visual scanning, reconstruction of syntactic structures and vocabulary. These components did not affect all failing readers equally. Failing readers appear to have greater difficulty than normal in relating their responses to the general theme of the text and tend to treat it as a series of isolated fragments. They make less use of the context following a deleted word than normal readers. Failing readers at age twelve appear to have greater difficulty than normal readers at age nine in recognising which segments of a text contain important information.

The whole population of a secondary school, 643 subjects, was tested and it was found that failing readers at age fifteen produced the same pattern of responses as those failing at age twelve. The only improvement appearing in their reading was in the processing of complete sentences.

There were indications that remedial programmes designed on the diagnostic basis provided by the research results produced an increase in reading age in six months of a similar order to that produced by previous remedial programmes in a year. The increase was approximately twenty-four months on average for a group of failing readers whose mean reading age on entry was eight years six months. The programme caused them to alter their response patterns to resemble those of normal readers at age twelve.

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