Proper Ordered Versus Jumbled Texts Education Essay

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Reading comprehension is a complicated process. It is generally known that many could read and simultaneously comprehend the text being read. However, there are cases when one reads a text (even in his or her L1) and understands very little of what he or she is reading at the time. Thus, it is rather obvious that some readers need more time to absorb and interpret the meaning of the text than others. Indeed, comprehension has a crucial role in reading. With respects to such importance a role, Durkin (1993) addresses this role as the 'essence of reading' (in Klingner et al, 2004:291). In search of deepening the understanding of this 'essence of reading', many issues relevant to reading and comprehension have been raised and studied widely (e.g. Carey et al. 1981, Dymock 1999, Bower and Cirilo 1985, Goodacre 1968, Lubelska 1991, Bugel and Buunk 1996, Bacon 1992). However, hardly any of these studies directly investigated individual's comprehension of two different text coherence graphs. That is, up to date not much is known whether the comprehension of reading a proper-ordered text is the same or different from that of a jumbled one. Aiming to fill this gap, the present study intends to examine this phenomenon among first year college students at English Department, University of Foreign Languages and International Studies (ULIS), Hanoi, Vietnam. Specifically, it aims at answering the following questions:

Can readers still understand the macrostructure of a text when its sentences are randomly jumbled?

What relationship is there between gender-related aspects and reading comprehension in such a context?

At large, reading comprehension depends on two different factors, i.e. text-related and reader-related factors (De Corte et al. 2001). Relevant text variables encompass the type of text and the amount of new information involved in it - the complexity of the micro- and the macrostructure of the text and so on. In terms of student variables, the list would consist of decoding skills, prior knowledge, and affective factors such as motivation and self-preparation (Hiebert & Raphael 1996, in De Corte et al. 2001).

Micro- and macrostructure are two among three major features of a text. According to Meyer (1975), a text is made up of three structural characteristics, namely microstructure, macrostructure and schematic superstructure (Meyer 1975, in Dymock 1999:174). At the lowest level of a text, microstructure deals with how sentences are organized and related to each other cohesively and coherently, whereas macrostructure is to do with the broad-spectrum meaning or global topic of the text. At the highest level of the text structure, schematic superstructure dwells on the 'overall organizing principles of the text' (Dymock 1999:175).

As far as reading is concerned, the three characteristics mentioned above are undeniably of great importance to the understanding of a text. Among these three concepts, van Dijk (1976) stresses on the roles that microstructure and macrostructure intertwiningly play in text comprehension. From Dijk's point of view, macrostructure of a text is the overall relationship of the structure of a multi-sentence text. That is, in a sequence of a discourse, at its microstructure level, a sentence has to be somehow connected, implicitly or explicitly, to another to collectively establish a topic of a sequence of the discourse. When different sequences of sentences finally constitute a text, those various topics of sequences of sentences at the same time, constitute the macrostructure. Simply put, macrostructure is the global organization of sub-topics of different sequences of a discourse unifying together about one particular theme. As van Dijk puts it, "any proposition entailed by a sub set of a sequence is a macro-structure for that subsequence. At the next level these macro-structural propositions may again be subject to integration into a larger frame, i.e. entail, jointly, a more general macro-structure" (1976:137). According to van Dijk, the organization of sentences in a text (i.e. the text coherence) is crucial for the general comprehension in reading. Mixing them all up can result in difficulty in grasping the macrostructure or low comprehension. This idea is also shared by several other authors. For example, Bower and Cirilo (1985) maintain that:

To derive macropositions, processes must be postulated that can abstract and generalize from the detailed text information to its more embracing concepts. These macroprocesses must occur simultaneously with the low-level processing. Indeed, to a certain extent, the two types of processing must be highly similar. That is, sequences of marcropropositions must be coherent with one another (1985:92).

Dymock (1999) shares the same point of view. However, she goes one step further than van Dijk by pointing out that not only are the microstructure and macrostructure of the text important for text comprehension, but also the architectural design (i.e. the schematic superstructure) of the text. Comprehension is likely to be low if the order of the sentences in the text is in an incoherent order. As she puts it, "using these designs [the architectural designs], writers convey their ideas in a way that is coherent and thus make texts more easily understood" (1999:178).

As far research reviewed above is concerned, it becomes evident that for the sake of better comprehension, it is necessary to organize sentences of a text in a cohesively and coherently appropriate order. This conclusion nevertheless is not unarguable in quite a few ways.

As coherence and comprehension are taken into consideration, the above hypothesis is open to several questions. What happens to readers' comprehension of a certain text when the text they read happens to have sentences which are not in coherent and cohesive order? Can they understand anything at all? Can the macrostructure of the text still be grasped? If they are able to comprehend something in the text, how is this comprehension different from that of the fully coherent and cohesive text?

Bower and Cirilo (1985:93) argue that readers use their schemata to differentiate relevant from irrelevant proposition when they go through the text. This seems to suggest that although sentences in the text are incoherent and unorganized, readers will cognitively arrange the relevant information so that they can make sense of it. If this is the case, it is not the proper coherence and cohesion of sentences that matters most in understanding a text. Perhaps, it is the readers' schemata or 'reader's rudder' that matter most.

If it is the reader's schemata that matters, the question that would arise next is how are schemata used in comprehension? Rumerlhart (1977, in Bower and Cirilo 1985:95) explains that "schematic comprehension consists of selecting schemata to account for the text to be understood and verifying the appropriateness of those schemata". Thus, it is the relevance of the text and its appropriateness which seem to play more significant role in reading comprehension.

In research done to confirm the earlier research by Anderson, Reynolds, Schallert, and Goetz (1977), Carey, Harste, and Smith (1981) conducted a study with 142 undergraduates who were presented with ambiguously written reading passages to determine the relative effects of background and context. The authors found out that there is a strong correlation between background knowledge and test performance (Carey, Harste, and Smith (1981:207). The results of this study confirmed those of the previous one. What is significant in these two studies is that although the text is written ambiguously, its comprehension is, to a great extent, provided by the readers' schemata which are based on the coverage of the reading passage.

Gender-related difference in reading attainment is not a new issue. Goodacre's (1968) review of several studies available up to that time reveals that difference in gender can yield different reading comprehension. Gender-related differences are thus in the focus of the present research.

All in all, findings of the current study may be significant in several ways. First, it initiates a close investigation into comprehension of jumbled and fully cohesive and coherent texts. Second, it aims to confirm that text coherence and cohesion are not the only factors that contribute to reading comprehension. That is, understanding of a text is a result of many mechanisms in readers' minds. Finally, it also takes into consideration gender-related differences in text comprehension. However, it should be noted here that this study does not aim at explaining why there is correlation, if any, between gender and reading comprehension, but rather confirming whether this is a case or not.

2. Methodology

2.1. Participants

Participants in the study (n = 18) were first year students at English Department, University of Foreign Languages and International Studies (ULIS), Hanoi during the academic years of 2009-2010. These students whose major was English Language Teaching were in their first term of the program. Out of 18, three were male and the rest female having the same score (7) in the Quality Assessment Test on Reading comprehension at the beginning of the semester. This is to ensure, to some extent, that the chosen informants have roughly the same level in reading comprehension.

2.2. Design and Materials

A reading passage entitled Location is everything whose content was relevant to participants' major and is gender-neutral was chosen from Focus on IELTS by Sue O'Connell (2001: 27). Two assignments were designed on the basis of this text. First, the learners had to answer ten true-false comprehension check statements which were designed from the information of the reading text. Second, the students were required to write a summary of the text after they completed the first exercise. To be more objective, students' summaries were marked separately by three different markers. That is, the score from each rater were summed up and divided by three to find the mean score to be used in the data analysis.

While working with the text, the participants knew that there was no time constraint allocated for them to complete the two assignments. Nevertheless, they were asked to jot down the time that they started working on the reading and the time when they finished answering all the questions and summarizing the text. This was required in order to examine if time was a factor in understanding the macrostructure of the text.

The two sets of text were used at two different times. In the first experiment, the students were given a jumbled text to work on. Specifically, all the sentences except the first and the last of the first ones in text given to the students to work on in the present study were systematically mixed up. Another set of texts used in the second experiment was the original passage extracted from the book. It is worth noting that in order to make the two sets of text look identical, paragraphs were indented into a single paragraph in both jumbled and proper-ordered text (see Appendixes 1, 2 and 3). The order of true/false comprehension statements in the first experiment was not the same as in the second experiment; it was essential to prevent students from using their memory from completing the first set of assignments.

2.3. Procedures

The study included three stages. In the first experiment, the jumbled text was given to the learners at their English reading session. The participants could read the text as many times as they needed, but they were not allowed to take down notes. They were encouraged to use their general understanding of the topic of the text to write the summary.

The second experiment was scheduled a week later. One week distance was chosen to be congruent with Rott's (1999) study. In this study, the participants were tested on the same matters with one week interval. During the second experiment, the students were given the same text but with a cohesive order of sentences. They had to answer the same true/false comprehension questions and summarize the text under the same conditions as in experiment one.

The final phase of the study was an oral interview of one third of the participants on their performance. From the second experiment, five students were interviewed - the highest scorer, the average and the lowest scorer. The other two were selected randomly out of the rest of the participants (see the questions used in the interview in appendix 4). The interview lasted from three to five minutes. The information obtained was used qualitatively to back up the quantitative findings. This final stage was important to determine whether the participants noticed differences in the two texts and how exactly they processed the provided information. The interview took place two days after the second experiment when the researcher had all the scores of the participants. The scores were not revealed to the students and none of those who were interviewed were told the scores or the reason why they were chosen for the interview.

2.4. Scoring and Data Analysis

For all the comprehension questions, only one rater marked on students' answers against the answer keys. The content of the participants' summaries were examined in terms of the number of main ideas that the students had caught. To determine the achievement scores for each participant, the scores that each rater gave to each student's summaries were summed up and divided by three. The students' overall performance was a combination of the scores of the comprehension questions and the summaries.

3. Result and Discussion

3.1. The Experiments

3.1.1. Differences between the 1st and the 2nd Experiments

The experiment one yielded the following results: out of the total ten comprehension questions, none of the participant could get a perfect score - the range was 2-9. In the summary section, the scores ranged from 4 to 8 (see Table 1 for details).

No.

Participants

Gender

Age

Comprehen.

results

(10/10)

Summary

results

(10/10)

Total

score

Start

(h: mm)

Finish

(h: mm)

Duration

(mins)

1

A

F

19

4.0

7.0

11.0

9.30

10.20

50

2

B

F

19

2.0

6.0

8.0

9.20

10.12

52

3

C

F

19

5.0

7.0

12.0

9.29

10.25

56

4

D

F

19

6.0

8.0

14.0

9.29

10.18

49

5

E

F

19

5.0

7.0

12.0

9.29

10.20

51

6

F

M

20

5.0

6.0

11.0

9.35

10.20

45

7

G

F

19

8.0

5.0

13.0

9.20

10.20

60

8

H

F

19

9.0

5.0

14.0

9.19

10.30

61

9

I

F

19

4.0

6.0

10.0

9.20

10.20

60

10

J

F

19

8.0

7.0

15.0

9.20

10.30

70

11

K

F

19

6.0

8.0

14.0

9.20

10.15

55

12

L

M

19

7.0

6.0

13.0

9.20

10.15

55

13

M

M

19

8.0

8.0

16.0

9.23

10.23

60

14

N

F

20

7.0

8.0

15.0

9.21

10.23

58

15

O

F

19

8.0

4.0

12.0

9.25

10.35

70

16

P

F

19

5.0

7.0

12.0

9.24

10.35

71

17

Q

F

19

5.0

7.0

12.0

9.25

10.10

45

18

S

F

19

9.0

5.0

14.0

9.30

10.35

65

MEAN SCORES

5.94

6.39

12.33

51.83

Table 1. The results of the 1st experiment

As can be seen from Table 1, the total scores for comprehension and summary ranged from 8 to 16 and the time the students took to complete the assignments extended from 45 to 70 minutes. On average, it took 51.83 minutes for the participants to cope with the first experiment.

The second experiment, which took place one week after the first one, provided interesting results.

No.

Participants

Gender

Age

Comprehen.

results

(10/10)

Summary

results

(10/10)

Total

score

Start

(h: mm)

Finish

(h: mm)

Duration

(mins)

1

A

F

19

4.0

6.0

10.0

8.50

9.20

30

2

B

F

19

5.0

6.0

11.0

9.09

9.35

26

3

C

F

19

8.0

6.0

14.0

8.48

9.15

28

4

D

F

19

5.0

7.0

12.0

8.45

9.50

65

5

E

F

19

5.0

5.0

10.0

8.55

9.35

40

6

F

M

20

5.0

7.0

12.0

8.50

9.30

40

7

G

F

19

5.0

7.0

12.0

9.05

10.05

60

8

H

F

19

5.0

6.0

11.0

9.05

9.55

50

9

I

F

19

6.0

5.0

11.0

9.05

10.05

60

10

J

F

19

7.0

7.0

14.0

9.00

10.15

75

11

K

F

19

7.0

7.0

14.0

9.05

10.02

58

12

L

M

19

5.0

7.0

12.0

9.10

10.15

65

13

M

M

19

7.0

8.0

15.0

9.20

10.25

65

14

N

F

20

5.0

8.0

13.0

9.20

10.10

50

15

O

F

19

7.0

5.0

12.0

9.25

10.35

70

16

P

F

19

6.0

7.0

13.0

9.23

10.14

51

17

Q

F

19

6.0

6.0

12.0

9.20

10.00

40

18

S

F

19

9.0

5.0

14.0

9.25

10.25

60

MEAN SCORES

6.17

6.5

12.67

51.83

Table 2. The results of the 2nd experiment

As can be seen from Table 2, the most interesting finding is that the range of comprehension scores from 4 to 9. In terms of performance in summarizing the passage, the range was 5-9 (see Table 2 for details). The total scores of both comprehension questions and summary rated from 10 to 15. The fact that the performance of the participants in the second experiment was slightly higher than that of the first was revelatory. The records showed that the duration of completion, on average, was 51.83.

Table 3 presents the comparison between the mean scores and duration of the two experiments.

Comprehension

Results

(10/10)

Summary

Results

(10/10)

Total

Score

Duration

(Mins)

Mean scores of the 1st experiment

5.94

6.39

12.33

51.83

Mean scores of the 2nd experiment

6.17

6.5

12.67

51.83

Table 3. The comparison between the mean scores and duration of two experiments.

It is obvious that the students performed better in the second experiment, and that they spent the same amount of time doing it. What seems to be surprising is that the comprehension of the jumbled text (12.33), regardless of time, is only slightly lower than the proper-ordered one (12.67). This implies that the learners have understood the macrostructure of the passage without its cohesion and coherence.

This finding seems to disregard the importance of microstructure (the coherence and cohesion of a text structure) in reading comprehension that van Dijk (1976), Dymock (1999), and Lubelska's (1991) had earlier proven. The present experiment has demonstrated that even though the sentences were in a jumbled order, the informants could comprehend it.

However, this is not meant to say that coherence and cohesion of a text structure are of no importance at all. As Dymock (1999) puts it, they play a very important role in making the text easier to understand. It is undeniable that this finding confirms other researchers' findings that comprehension in reading is the cognitive outcome of various mechanisms including 'reader's rudder' (Cohn 1972: 369) and background knowledge (Bower and Cirilo 1985).

3.1.2. Gender and Comprehension

To examine whether there was any gender-related difference in comprehension, the average scores and times of the female participants' performance in the first experiment were compared to those of the male participants'.

Comprehension

Summary

Total

Duration

results

results

Score

(mins)

(10/10)

(10/10)

Mean scores: Females

6

6.2

12.2

50.87

Mean scores: Males

5.67

7.33

13

56.67

Table 4: Gender-related differences in the performance of the 1st experiment

Table 4 shows the results of this comparison. As can be seen from Table 3, the male participants' average score is slightly higher than that of the females' (male average score = 13.53; female average score = 12.53); the same applies to the average duration of their performance (male average time = 56.67 minutes; female average time =50.87 minutes). There seems to be a correlation between the performance duration and comprehension level of the participants. The male students who spent more time doing the assignment ended up scoring better than the female informants (total score of male = 13 and that of female = 12.2). However, the second experiment revealed different results (Table 5). The first experiment was concerned with the jumbled text, the second experiment with the proper-ordered one.

Comprehension

Summary

Total

Duration

results

results

score

(mins)

Mean scores: Female

6.07

6.47

12.53

50.87

Mean scores: Male

6.67

6.67

13.33

56.67

Table 5. Differences in gender's performance in 2nd experiment

As can be seen in Table 5, the average time that the male and female students spent doing the assignments was almost the same and the same to theirs in the first experiment. Still the males' mean score was higher than that of the females (13.33 versus 12.53). The comparison between the first and the second experiment tends to point out that when it comes to both incoherent and coherent text, the male learners tend to make more sense out of it than the female learners. This particular finding is opposite with other previous studies which found out that generally females outdo males in reading skills (e.g. Goodacre 1968, Evans, Schweingruber, Stevenson, 2002, Rutledge, 2003 online).

3.2. Oral Interviews

The interviews with five students (students A, B, N, P and M) from the second experiment revealed similar information among the selected participants. All of them admitted that they found the first passage quite hard to understand. They even reported that they noticed differences between the two texts. The quantitative results of the study show that the students who performed well in the second experiment were those who performed well in the first experiment as well. The interview with these students revealed interesting information. Thus, Student M reported that when reading the first text, he doubted that the sentences were in a coherent and cohesive order. To understand the text better he read everything quickly and then connected sentences that seemed to relate to each other to make a more complete sense out of them. As a result, he could understand the text better.

This was also found to be the case for the student who got an average score. This probably explains why learners generally spent more time reading the first text. What was different with the low-score student was that although he noticed some differences, he did not actually realize that the sentences in the first text were in a jumbled order and thus did not try to connect those junks together to form a whole piece. Instead, this student read the text several times in order to make sense out of each junk. As a result, this particular student (student A) spent thirty five minutes less than student M in reading the first text, and comprehended much less.

As regards which text was easier or more difficult to read and understand, all the interviewed participants unanimously shared the same view that the second text was much easier. When asked to explain why this was so, all of them pointed out that the flow of the information in the second passage was much smoother than in the first one. The students who performed poorly also noticed this, but only when they were reading the second passage did this came to their mind. Unlike these students, those who performed well realized the differences right away after scanning the text.

When asked how they summarized the passage, the high-score students explained that they used their general understanding to figure out what the text was all about. This was not the case with the poorly-performed student. He admitted that he had to reread again and again and summarize the passage accordingly. Also, there was paraphrasing of some sentences in the text. The students who got an average score maintained that they used both the strategies mentioned above in writing their summaries.

Thus, the present interview revealed strategies that the learners used to understand various types of texts. It also revealed approaches that different individuals applied to arrive at the macrostructure of the text.

4. Conclusions and Implications for Teaching

The study makes it obvious that comprehension does take place with either properly ordered or jumbled order texts. The findings of this study confirm that the essential factors in text comprehension are sufficient background knowledge, familiarity with the content of the reading passage, and sufficient linguistic knowledge. Further, the study has demonstrated that the students performed better with properly ordered texts, though they spent the same amount of time doing it in comparison with doing jumbled text. What seems to be surprising is that the comprehension of the jumbled text, regardless of time, is only slightly lower than that of the proper-ordered one. This reveals the fact that the learners have understood the macrostructure of the passage without its cohesion and coherence.

The study has also unearthed some gender-related contrasts in text comprehension. Thus, reading appears to be males' area of expertise, especially when reading jumbled texts, as the males performed this assignment much better.

These findings have following implications for teaching, specifically, for teaching reading skills:

Reading speed and comprehension may be enhanced by exposing the learners to both types of text - coherent and incoherent.

Background information relevant to the topic of a reading passage might be of great importance for students' understanding. Thus, it is essential to provide students with information which may help them understand the passage much better.

If a text appears to be poorly coherent, more time should be given to the students to process information and interpret the general meaning of the text.

Expect some differences in reading comprehension between male and female learners when they are dealing with highly and poorly coherent texts. Certain reading strategies should be taught to students to overcome such a difficulty. For example, they should be taught to relate information from different sections of the text to establish a firmer understanding of it.

Taking these suggestions into consideration could make a great deal of difference in improving students' reading skills, skills that are essential in academic life and real world communication.

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