Comprehension and Learning from Social Studies Textbook Passages among Elementary School Children in Korea and the United States
Chambliss, Marilyn J
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Earlier research has shown that cultural schemata affect readers' comprehension from an expository text (e.g., Carrell, 1984, 1987; Swales, 1990). Previous research also suggested that there are shared features of well-designed text across cultures (Chambliss & Calfee, 1998) and that reader characteristics like background knowledge affect text comprehension (e.g. McKeown, Beck, Sinatra, & Loxterman, 1992; McNamara, Kintsch, Songer, & Kintsch,1996). However, little research has shown the relations among culture, text design, and reader characteristics. Accordingly, I first analyzed four US and Korean social studies textbook passages about two topics. Then, 63 Korean and 57 US 10-year-olds read in their own language one of the four passages that differed in topic and country of origin counterbalanced to insure that all passages were read by an equal number of students. Students completed perceived and demonstrated knowledge and individual interest measures before and after reading, and main ideas, conceptual understanding, free drawing, problem-solving, and situational interest measures after reading. I analyzed the large-group data with either mixed or between-subjects ANCOVA with background knowledge as a covariate. Additionally, four protocol students from each country thought aloud as they read one of the four passages and answered some interview questions after reading, which I qualitatively analyzed. The results of this study suggest that although cultural schemata made differences in the design of a text about the same topic, children's comprehension was not affected by cultural differences in text design. It did not matter whether a text was from their own or the other country. Rather, the comprehension of children from both countries was affected by their own background knowledge about the topic and whether a particular text was familiar with realistic examples, had interest-enhancing but not seductive features, had explicit statements or signals, and had features that facilitate active engagement such as why and how questions. More importantly, all of these textual features in comprehensible texts were coherently structured around main ideas. These findings indicate that comprehension and learning from text depends on the effective interplay between well-designed text and a reader who brings a certain level of background knowledge to text.