Second graders' sensitivity to text structure as a function of writing prompts and content familiarity
TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter Page I. RATIONALE 1 Relationship between Sensitivity to Expository Text Structure and Writing Prompts 1 Text Structure Sensitivity , 1 Importance of Expository Text Writing 3 Expository Writing Tasks 4 Writing Prompts as a Scaffolded Task 5 Expository Text Structure Types 7 Content Familiarity 8 The Present Study 9 Conclusion 12 Research Questions 13 Hypotheses 14 II. LITERATURE REVIEW 15 Expository Text Structure 15 Schema Theory 15 Relationship between Sensitivity to Expository Text Structure and Writing Prompts 17 Text Structure Sensitivity 17 Importance of Expository Text Writing 23 i
Pa Expository Writing Tasks 26 Prompts as a Scaffolded Task 29 Writing Prompts as a Scaffolded Task 34 Hierarchy of Expository Text Structure Types 39 Content Familiarity 43 Relationship between Content Familiarity and Text Structure 48 Perspective One: Content Familiarity and Text Structure Interact 49 Perspective Two: No Interaction between Content Familiarity and Text Structure 50 Perspective Three: A more Complex Relationship between Content Familiarity and Text Structure 53 MEHTOD 57 General Purpose 57 Overview of the Tasks 59 Measures 1 and 2: Written Summarization Task 60 Measures 3 and 4: Structure Questions Task and Non-Structure Questions Task 61 Hypotheses 63 Hypotheses for Summarization Task 63 Hypotheses for Structure Questions Task 64 Hypotheses for Non-Structure Questions Task 66 Participants 67 Materials 68 ii
Passages 68 Passage Equivalency 70 Measures 72 Measures 1 and 2: Written Summarization Task 72 Measures 3 and 4: Structure Questions Task and Non-Structure Questions Task 73 Procedure 74 Scoring of the Dependent Measures 76 Inter-Rater Reliability 77 Analysis Plan 77 RESULTS 79 Participant Characteristics 79 Data Analysis 81 Dependent Variables 81 Written Summarization Task 81 Structure Elements 82 Non-Structure Elements 89 Structure Questions 93 Non-Structure Questions 95 DISCUSSION 97 Summarization Task 98 in
Chapter Page Structure Elements 98 Non-Structure Elements 105 Structure Questions Task 107 Non-Structure Questions Task 112 Overall Summary 113 Limitations 116 Instructional Implications 118 Conclusion 120 REFERENCES 121 Appendix Page A: Passages 134 B: Protocols for Classification of Text Structure Type and Content F amil iarity 138 C: Readability Summary for All Paragraphs 139 D: Summary of Passage Equivalency 140 E: Example of a Protocol 141 F: Structure and Non-Structure Questions 145 G: Scoring Guidelines 149 H: Inter-Rater Reliability for Dependent Measures Across Paragraphs.. 158 iv
LIST OF TABLES Table Page 1. Participant Characteristics - Means and Standard Deviations (N=97)... 80 2. Means and Standard Deviations for Proportion Correct of Structure Elements on Written Summarization Task (max = 4) 83 3. Means and Standard Errors for Proportion Correct of Structure Elements on Written Summarization Task for Interaction between Writing Prompt and Content Familiarity 84 4. Means and Standard Errors for Proportion Correct of Structure Elements on Written Summarization Task for Interaction between Type of Text Structure and Content Familiarity 87 5. Means and Standard Deviations for Proportion Correct of Non-Structure Elements on Written Summarization Task (max = 3).... 90 6. Means and Standard Errors for Proportion Correct of Non-Structure Elements on Written Summarization Task for Interaction between Type of Text Structure and Content Familiarity 91 7. Means and Standard Deviations for Proportion Correct of Structure Questions Task 94 8. Means and Standard Deviations for Proportion Correct of Non-Structure Questions Task 96 v
LIST OF FIGURES Page Scaffolding Levels 30 Passage Samples 69 Interaction between Writing Prompt and Content Familiarity of Mean Proportion Correct of Structure Elements on Written Summarization Task 85 Interaction between Content Familiarity and Type of Text Structure of Mean Proportion Correct of Structure Elements on Written Summarization Task 88 Interaction between Content Familiarity and Type of Text Structure of Mean Proportion Correct of Non-Structure Elements on Written Summarization Task 92 VI
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I always dreamed of the day I could write the acknowledgments for the completion of this work, because I owe it to a community of amazing people. I would first like to thank my advisor, Dr. Joanna Williams, who generously shared her wealth of knowledge throughout my graduate studies. She provided invaluable feedback, insightful advice and trained me to think critically. She tirelessly guided me through the challenging, and yet rewarding, dissertation process with great enthusiasm. I also would like to express my gratitude to the committee chair, Dr. Stephen Peverly, for his genuine encouragement and invaluable suggestions. Thanks also to Dr. Young-Sun Lee for her stimulating feedback and helpful comments. I also wish to thank Dr. Aaron Pallas and Dr. Susan Sacks for their thought-provoking questions and great support. In addition, a very special thank you goes to all of the administrators, teachers, and students who participated in the study and without whom this project would not have been possible. My appreciation goes also to Dr. Williams's reading lab and numerous TC students, some of whom throughout the years became wonderful friends and whom, I will never forget, took turns spending hours with my daughter Nayenne, so that mommy could finish grad school! I am especially indebted to Dr. Abi Nubla-Kung for helping me above and beyond on every step of the way with amazing sharpness and insight. I also thank her for making these demanding years more fun with our long conversations and movie marathons. A vii
special thanks to Amaya Garcia for truly caring and helping me substantially in so many ways. Thank you for the endlessly encouraging talks and all the thoughtful gestures toward me and my family. Many thanks to Amy Endo for putting a positive note on the entire process and for lending a hand even during the times she was extremely busy. Thanks to Hsiao-Ling Weng for the wonderful exchanges and edifying comments. A big thank you to Yi-Chun Chen with whom I spent countless hours studying and whose advice has been invaluable. To Anne-Marie Tan, thank you for the many insightful suggestions. Thanks also to Chi-Shun Lien for always being there even for a last-minute clarification. I also would like to express my gratitude to my other friends and my dear family. I will be grateful forever to my father, Claudio, and my mother, Laura, for their warm-hearted dedication and for respecting and embracing my choices without reservations. I will infinitely owe my great-aunt, zia Bianca, who has been pulling for me throughout my life and whose love still overwhelms me. Thanks also to my mother-in- law, Yemarshet Sissay, for supporting me in my educational pursuits. I gratefully acknowledge Nicole Zerbola for her untiring encouragement. A special thanks to Julia Kunina-Malladi for her helpful feedback and for her positive attitude. Also many thanks to Ajay, Anna, Andy, Christian, Daniela, Donna, Janice, Juditka, Kisok, Matteo, Mauro, Murray, Priska, Richard, Sandra, Paul and Tony for ensuring I would soon see the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, my deepest gratitude goes to my partner, Mehatem, for his love and amazing support, for dreaming with me and for making it happen, together. I also wish to thank our loving daughter, Nayenne, who indirectly kept my writing schedule in check viii
with her naps and who, when awake, rewarded me with joyful breaks. I am blessed with a wonderful family with whom I want to keep dreaming... S.P. ix
This work is dedicated to my family. To my loving parents, Laura Gianella and Claudio Pollini, who always encouraged me to pursue my dreams and never stopped believing in me. < ^ To my caring great-aunts, Maria Gianella, Agnese Conconi, and Bianca Gianella, who whole-heartedly supported me in all important decisions and loved me unconditionally. a* To my wonderful grandmothers, Marily Gianella and Sofia Pollini, whom I admire for their immeasurable strength and infinite kindness. a* To my devoted partner, Mehatem Ashenaffi, who taught me how to be patient and instilled in me boundless optimism. a* To our lovely daughter, Nayenne Ashenaffi, who brightens our days.
1 Chapter I RATIONALE Students are expected to learn and remember content presented in various kinds of texts. During their early school years they are exposed mainly to narrative text. Typically they then transition, in the late elementary years, to informational text (also termed expository text), whose main purpose is to relay information. That is, students shift from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" (Chall, 1983). Success in school, and later in life, is closely linked to students' ability to comprehend (Duke, 2000; Duke, 2004) and generate (Christie, 1987; Donovan, 2001) such text. Most students, however, display great difficulty in using expository text effectively (Englert, Stewart, & Hiebert, 1988). Relationship between Sensitivity to Expository Text Structure and Writinfi Prompts Text Structure Sensitivity One factor that has shown to help enhance comprehension (McGee, 1982; Taylor, 1980; Williams, Hall, Lauer, Stafford, deSisto, & deCani, 2005; Williams, Nubla- Kung, Pollini, Stafford, Garcia, & Snyder, 2007; Williams, Stafford, Lauer, Hall, & Pollini, in press) and generation (Englert, Stewart, & Hiebert, 1988; Richgels, McGee, Lomax, & Sheard, 1987) of expository text is awareness of, or sensitivity to, text structure (i.e., the way in which the ideas in a text are organized). Identifying a higher-
2 order structure of text (i.e., macrostructure) helps readers organize the text (Kintsch & van Dijk, 1978; van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983). This organization helps encoding, recall and reproduction of critical parts of text. Therefore, readers who are sensitive to text structure have better reading comprehension and writing skills. The most commonly adopted measure to assess sensitivity to text structure is recall (Richgels et al., 1987). Another common measure used to assess sensitivity to text structure is summarization (with text available) or essay composition (e.g., from class discussion). Most studies on informational text sensitivity have focused mainly on students in late elementary and middle school, with a few studies conducted with adults (Richgels et al., 1987; Englert & Hiebert, 1984; Englert & Thomas, 1987; Hiebert, Englert, & Brennan, 1983; Meyer & Freedle, 1984). The question remains as to whether children in the early elementary grades are sensitive to text structure. There is a very limited body of research conducted on the sensitivity of informational text with primary-grade students. Studies have shown that second graders display some sensitivity to descriptive paragraphs on a recall task (Danner, 1976) and to problem/ solution paragraphs on summarization and question tasks (Lauer, 2002). Both studies revealed that second graders possess some text structure sensitivity when utilizing an oral response. Since, in general, it is thought that performance on comprehension tasks depends on response mode and task demand (as discussed later in this review), it remains to be determined whether a written response, as opposed to an oral response, would yield parallel results. Before discussing the literature on response modes and demand tasks, a note on the relevance of expository writing in general is presented.
3 Importance of Expository Text Writing Certain strategies are common to both reading and writing activities (Fitzgerald & Shanahan, 2000; Perfetti & McCutchen, 1987). Specifically, sensitivity to text structure appears to be a relevant strategy required not only for effectively understanding informational text, but also for effectively producing informational text (Englert & Hiebert, 1984; Englert & Thomas, 1987; Englert et al., 1988; Hiebert et al., 1983; Meyer, Brandt, & Bluth, 1980; Taylor & Beach, 1984). Moreover, the importance of an early cultivation of not only expository reading skills (Duke, 2004), but expository writing skills as well (Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2006), cannot be stressed enough. Harris et al. (2006) called for effective instructional programs in the realm of writing not only for students at the secondary level but for young students, too, especially at the primary level. They give two reasons. First, providing effective teaching instruction from the outset may help reduce children's writing difficulties (Graham & Harris, 2002, as cited in Harris et al., 2006). Second, addressing such difficulties in the later grades has not appeared to be very successful (Slavin, Madden, & Karweit, 1989, as cited in Harris et al., 2006). Therefore, expository writing merits further empirical exploration for educational purposes. To the best of our knowledge, most studies on text structure sensitivity with primary grades students in relation to expository text writing are descriptive and qualitative in nature (i.e., not experimental). For example, Donovan and Smolkin (2002) indicated that second graders were able to differentiate narrative and expository text. Their study also suggested that a few second graders were able to generate text that illustrated characteristics representing informational text.
4 Expository Writing Tasks Following are two relevant experimental studies conducted at the third-grade level. They underscore the fact, as mentioned earlier, that sensitivity to text structure varies according to the response mode and the kind of task students are asked to perform to demonstrate such sensitivity. Englert and Thomas' (1987) study showed that the display of text structure sensitivity appears to be contingent upon different response modes (i.e., oral versus writing task). These authors examined four text structure types and found an effect of text type for the reading measure, but no effect for their writing measure. Therefore, even though Lauer (2002) has demonstrated that second graders were sensitive to text structure when evaluated using oral summaries, we cannot, without an empirical basis, simply assume that second graders are also sensitive to text structure if evaluated using written summaries (a measure commonly used to assess text structure sensitivity), since these are two different response modes. Furthermore, text structure sensitivity has been shown to differ among students depending on the task demand (Englert et al., 1988). Englert et al. presented three kinds of text structure (sequence, enumeration, compare/contrast) to third graders and sixth graders. They used two writing tasks (i.e., generate a superordinate main idea from three subordinate ideas and generate two detail sentences from two initial stimulus sentences). Readers displayed better performance in generating main ideas for the enumeration and compare/contrast structures than for the sequence text structure. No difference was found between enumeration and compare/contrast structures. There were also no differences
5 among the three structures on the detail task. Overall, both groups showed low text structure sensitivity. Third graders displayed even lower sensitivity than sixth graders. According to Englert et al.'s (1988) study, it might be reasonable to expect that if second graders were to complete a writing task, their sensitivity would be nearly nonexistent. But a general statement like this should not be made unless one has used a very simple writing task. The Englert et al.'s tasks could have been simplified; for example, their study did not involve prompts. One way a writing task can be modified is in the kind of writing prompt utilized (Stein & Albro, 1997). There is a general agreement that scaffolding plays a critical role in enhancing comprehension (Clark & Graves, 2004). Scaffolding is a convoluted instructional concept and assumes a variety of forms, with prompts being one of them. Moreover, within the realm of prompts there are still several distinctions. One major differentiation is between oral prompts and writing prompts. For instance, a number of studies have indicated that providing oral prompts that cue on how to search information embedded in expository text is an effective type of strategy instruction for primary grade students (Kobasigawa, Lacasse, & MacDonald, 1988; Kobasigawa, Ransom, & Holland, 1980, as cited in Symons, MacLatchy-Gaudet, Stone, & Reynolds, 2001). Writing Prompts as a Scaffolded Task There are very few studies on writing prompts. Those that exist have examined the effects of gender stereotypes embedded in writing prompts, writing prompts that presented the beginning versus the ending of a story, and writing prompts that fostered the outline plan of the story (Graves, Montagues, & Wong, 1990; Isaacson & Matton,
6 1990; Trepanier-Street, Romatowski, & McNair, 1990, as citied in Hudson, Lane, and Mercer, 2005). It is relevant to note that these studies investigated different kinds of writing prompts but did not examine their facilitative effect. With the exception of Hudson et al. (2005), which looked only at compositional fluency, that is, number of words produced, there are no studies that have investigated the facilitative effect of writing prompts for young students. Therefore, research in this area is warranted. Writing prompts are ubiquitous. For instance, they are utilized in high-stakes standardized tests in order to elicit written work (Hudson et al., 2005). Teachers utilize them to facilitate young students' production. Resource materials for teachers also advocate writing prompts (Hudson et al., 2005). An example of an effective writing prompt is seen in Stein and Albro's (1997) study on narrative text. Children were supported by a story starter, and they were able to produce goal-directed stories. In fact, Bamberg (1997) remarked that "the use of story stem (with familiar characters), given to children in the study" "strikes as a methodologically ideal exemplar to bring out children's optimal narrative abilities" (p.2). However, Stein and Albro's (1997) study did not include a no prompt condition. Comparing prompt present versus prompt absent would have allowed for a better assessment about the relative effectiveness of the writing prompts. Furthermore, this study did not address the question of expository text. Thus, it seems critically important to examine the effect of writing prompts in relation to expository text
generation, since such prompts could potentially be efficacious cognitive crutches to help students evoke their sensitivity to text structure in writing. In accordance with the taxonomy of scaffolded tasks developed by Donovan and Smolkin (2002), Stein and Albro's (1997) prompt fell into the category of "minimal level of scaffolding." It is quite possible, therefore, that by providing a similar "minimal level of scaffolding" (e.g., writing prompt) for informational text, we may evoke second graders' sensitivity to informational text structure as demonstrated in writing tasks. This finding would indicate that writing prompts may be a viable teaching tool for instruction focusing on text structure. Expository Text Structure Types Results as to whether second graders are sensitive to text structure in writing may also differ across the several types of expository text structure, since a definitive hierarchy of difficulty across structure types has not been established. Therefore, another question to ask is whether second graders' sensitivity to informational text on a written task differs as a function of type of text structure. Description and problem/solution appear to be an optimal selection, since the two studies (Danner, 1976; Lauer, 2002) that investigated second graders have already shown sensitivity to these two types of text structure on oral tasks.
8 Content Familiarity The answer to the question of whether second graders are sensitive to text structure in writing may also depend on whether the content is familiar or unfamiliar. Content familiarity has shown to be an important factor in students' text comprehension (Alexander & Jetton, 2000; Black, 1985). Content familiar knowledge (i.e., prior knowledge) facilitates comprehension of both general and domain-specific knowledge (Chiesi, Spilich, & Voss, 1979; Spires & Donley, 1998). Nevertheless, few studies in reading comprehension have investigated the interaction between text structure and content familiarity, and findings are still inconclusive. Taylor and Beach (1984) showed that reading text that is organized well (that is, well structured), aids in the comprehension of unfamiliar content but not in the comprehension of familiar content. McKeown, Beck, Sinatra, and Loxterman (1992) showed that a well-organized text (the authors had revised it to improve text coherence) is useful for both familiar and unfamiliar content. Similar results were seen in Lauer's (2002) study for concept and structure questions. However, McNamara, Kintsch, Songer, and Kintsch (1996) obtained different results. These authors suggested that the relationship between text structure and content familiarity may be task dependent. In fact, they showed that for text-based questions there is no interaction between content familiarity and coherent text. However, for situation-model questions the two factors interacted such that low-knowledge students (for whom the text contained unfamiliar content) performed better when they read high- coherence text than when they read low-coherence text, whereas high-knowledge
9 students (for whom the text contained familiar content) performed better when they read low-coherence text than when they read high-coherence text. In light of these findings, more research is warranted to further clarify the role of content familiarity as well as its relationship with text structure. The Present Study The current study examined the effect of (1) writing prompts, (2) type of text structure, and (3) content familiarity on second graders' sensitivity to text structure through writing. Writing prompts. Presenting writing prompts may be an effective scaffolding method to help evoke second graders' nascent text structure awareness in expository text generation. In fact, studies have shown that prompts (e.g., writing prompts) have been successfully utilized to evoke text structure sensitivity on narrative text (Stein & Albro, 1997). Therefore, we examined whether second graders display sensitivity to expository text structure on a writing task if a writing prompt is introduced. In the present study, an example of a writing prompt for a descriptive passage was: "This paragraph is about many types of ", followed by a second statement: "For example ." An example of a writing prompt for a problem/solution passage was: "The problem in this paragraph is ", followed by a second statement: "To fix this problem ." According to Donovan and Smolkin's (2002, 2006) taxonomy of scaffolded tasks, these kinds of writing prompts are categorized as "minimal level of scaffolding." They mirrored the level of a scaffolded task adopted by Stein and Albro
10 (1997) in their study of narrative comprehension, in which students were able to produce goal-oriented stories with story starters (also categorized as giving a minimal level of scaffolding). In the present study, it was expected that students would display expository text skills by generating summaries of the intended expository text structure. Type of Text Structure. The answer to the question of whether second graders are sensitive to text in a writing task may not be the same across all types of expository text structure. In fact, text structure sensitivity has yielded different results depending on the types of text structures investigated. We do not have enough evidence to indicate that there is a specific hierarchy of difficulty among informational text structures. Therefore, an additional question asked in the current study was whether second graders' sensitivity to text structure differs, in a writing task, as a function of type of text structure. The two text structures investigated were description and problem/solution, since it has already been established that second graders display some sensitivity to both of them on oral tasks (Danner, 1976; Lauer, 2002). Content Familiarity. The answer to the question of whether second graders are sensitive to text structure in a writing task may also depend on whether the content is familiar or unfamiliar. Findings have indicated that content familiarity influences text comprehension. Furthermore, general knowledge was utilized. The reason is twofold. First, there is a dearth of research on general knowledge as opposed to domain-specific knowledge, which has been investigated abundantly. Second, studies that investigated general knowledge have also shown that it has a positive influence on students' understanding of text (Lauer, 2002; Spires & Conley, 1998). Lauer's study examined familiar content that tapped general knowledge of second graders, and findings showed
11 that it enhanced their comprehension (i.e., when the events in the text were events that were likely to happen in students' everyday lives as opposed to when the events in the text were unlikely to happen in students' everyday lives). Therefore, a further question asked was whether second graders' display of sensitivity to informational text in writing would differ as a function of content familiarity (i.e., general knowledge). Further, a note on the relationship between content familiarity and writing prompt: A few studies have investigated the relationship between the organization of text and content familiarity. Results from several studies have led to three different conclusions: (1) the organization of text and content familiarity interact (Taylor & Beach, 1984; Roller, 1990); (2) the organization of text and content familiarity do not interact (Lauer, 2002; McKeown et al., 1992; Wylie & McGuinness, 2004); and (3) the relationship of organization of text and content familiarity is task dependent (McNamara et. al, 1996; McNamara, 2001). It appears that a definitive position on this matter has not been determined. Therefore, another question we asked was "what is the relationship between the organization of text and content familiarity?" It is important to note that organization of text in the aforementioned studies referred to text that had either a more coherent or a less coherent structure (well structured versus poorly structured text). However, in the present study the organization of text did not change; what changed was whether the writing prompt was present or absent. It was expected that the writing prompt would cue the students to use more of the text's organization in their summary - which they could do only if they are in fact aware of the organization of the text. That is, students who read a passage and who had the writing prompt should be aided in recognizing the structure of the text and therefore
12 display better comprehension than students who read a passage but who did not have the writing prompt. This effect, in a certain sense, would parallel the finding of previous studies in which students who read a well structured passage found it easier to recognize the structure of the text than students that read a poorly structured passage. Finally, we also examined the interactions between writing prompts and type of text structure, type of text structure and content familiarity, and among all three variables (writing prompts, type of text structure, and content familiarity). Conclusion Presenting writing prompts may be an effective scaffolding method to help evoke second graders' nascent text structure awareness in expository text generation. Further, examining two text structures may reveal possible differences in sensitivity to different types of informational texts. In addition, investigating the difference between presenting informational text containing familiar or unfamiliar content may provide guidance about whether second graders should, at early stages of instruction, be given familiar content. This is an important question because the informational text that students encounter in schools usually contains unfamiliar content. Finally, it is of interest to examine possible interactions among these three variables: writing prompt (present or absent), type of text structure (descriptive or problem/solution), and content familiarity (familiar or unfamiliar). The pattern of results would be relevant for instructional purposes. If performance with writing prompts is superior, prompts could be introduced in initial instructional lessons on expository text
13 structure, as an effective method to elicit text structure awareness. Further, if performance, with the cue of a writing prompt, is similar for both familiar and unfamiliar content, and for both types of text structure, no specific sequence of presentation is needed during instruction (i.e., writing prompts can be introduced with descriptive text or problem/solution text written with either familiar or unfamiliar content, interchangeably); if results show a different pattern for any of these variables, instruction might need to be tailored according to the specific differential findings. Research Questions The present study examined writing prompts, type of text structure, and content familiarity in relation to text structure sensitivity and reading comprehension of second graders through writing. The following questions were addressed: 1) How does second graders' sensitivity to informational text, as shown in writing, change as a function of the presence or absence of writing prompts (i.e., scaffoldings)? 2) Does second graders' sensitivity to informational text, as shown in writing, differ as a function of type of text structure? Two organizational structures will be investigated: (a) description and (b) problem/solution. 3) Does second graders' sensitivity to informational text, as shown in writing, differ as a function of content familiarity? 4) Is there an interaction between the presence/absence of writing prompts and type of text structure?