Explicit Instruction on Rhetorical Patterns and Student-Constructed Graphic Organizers: The Impact on Sixth-Grade Students' Comprehension of Social Studies Text

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Using a pretest, posttest two group design, this study investigated the effect of explicit instruction on rhetorical patterns and using those patterns to represent the content graphically on sixth-grade students’ ability to comprehend social studies text. Students in 13 classes from four middle schools in Pennsylvania received either explicit instruction in identifying rhetorical patterns found in social studies textbooks and representing that text graphically or routine social studies instruction. Routine social studies instruction was identified as the instructional activities documented during observations conducted six weeks prior to the intervention. When the intervention began, intervention group students learned to identify rhetorical patterns, construct graphic organizers using the rhetorical patterns, and write summaries of textbook content. Comparison group students continued with routine social studies instruction. All students were assessed with (a) pre- and posttests in which they constructed graphic organizers and wrote summaries using social studies passages and (b) comprehension quizzes during on-going instruction. Randomly selected students from each group engaged in think-aloud tasks at the end of the study.

The pre- and posttests results indicated a statistically significant interaction between time and group for both graphic organizer construction (with a very large effect size) and summary writing (with a moderate effect size). Intervention group students outperformed students in the routine social studies group in both constructing graphic organizers based on rhetorical patterns and writing complete summaries. For the comprehension quizzes, students receiving routine social studies instruction outperformed students in the intervention group when answering multiple-choice and essay questions requiring recall of content. Think-aloud responses demonstrated that students in the intervention group were able to graphically represent social studies textbook content using rhetorical patterns as well as transfer that knowledge to a textbook from a different domain while students in the comparison group recognized there was a structure to the content of the text but did not accurately represent that content graphically according to the appropriate rhetorical pattern. Observational data showed intervention students were more engaged with graphic organizers and work samples demonstrated they were able to identify key information in the text and represent it in graphic form.