The dissertation by Constance L. Pearson focuses on the issue of reading comprehension and the barriers associated with reading comprehension. Pearson identifies a variety of factors that impact reading comprehension. The motivation level of the reader, the reader’s reading level, the level of the content, and the reader’s interest significantly impact an individual’s comprehension ability. (Pearson, 1987). Pearson argues there is a direct relationship between schema and reading comprehension. Schema refers to the background knowledge on a specific topic or idea an individual has, it is all the ideas someone has related to a particular word or concept (Rumelhart, 1980). Pearson claims graphic organizers are an effective tool for measuring and teaching background knowledge, “reading comprehension appears to be enhanced by the use of advanced organizers (Pearson, 1987). Teaching methodologies and the popular research concerning reading comprehension has changed significantly over the decades. Reading comprehension was initially believed to be a process activated by the text alone.
The new popular research indicates reading comprehension is complex and influenced by many variables (Pearson, 1987). The research indicates students need some background knowledge or basic understanding of the topic beforehand to fully comprehend the subject matter. The student’s level of prior knowledge significantly impacts reading comprehension. Pearson uses the term schema to refer to this background information or prior knowledge the reader posses beforehand, “Schema is all the ideas someone has related to a word or concept (Rumelhart, 1980). Pearson points to the study of Social Studies to demonstrate this point.
The study of Social Studies and History is a continuous story covering a wide range of issues and topics, many of which require the reader to have substantial background knowledge to fully comprehend the subject or connect the various pieces of History. For example, it would be extremely difficult for students to analyze the causes and effects of WWI and WWII without any background information on globalization. In order to improve student’s reading comprehension it is essential to ensure students have the necessary background information to be fully comprehend the selection. The dissertation discusses the use of advanced organizers as a tool to help readers connect information, specifically prior knowledge to newly learned information.
Background knowledge or schema has a greater impact on reading comprehension than any other single factor. The theory was introduced in the 1970s and attempts to explain the learning process (Pearson, 1987). Schema refers to the entire collection of information a person has on a specific topic. It describes the collection of thoughts, ideas, images, and beliefs that are automatically triggered when a student is introduced to a particular topic or issue. The greater the students collection of background information or the more prior knowledge the reader possesses on an issue or topic the greater that students level of comprehension when exposed to new materials related to those topics or issues (Turner, 1988). Students often times simply lack the essential background knowledge or schemata to fully comprehend the information (Pearson, 1987).
As a result teachers must structure their lessons to provide students with the necessary background knowledge to fully comprehend the subject matter being taught. Teacher must focus on content and then comprehension will improve, “if teachers focus on helping students understand the content, comprehension skills acquisition will occur almost incidentally” (Pearson, 1987). Expecting students to comprehend a topic or issue they know nothing about is a poor example of responsible teaching. It is the teacher’s responsibility to provide students the necessary information to make informed and reasonable decisions.
Pearson argues the advanced organizer is the solution to the reading comprehension problem. The best advanced organizers are teacher created. High quality commercial graphic organizers are not readily available. They are often limited or poorly matched for the topic or lesson at hand and many are outdated as educational research continues to improve. Pearson identifies three types of advances organizers, the verbal organizer, the anticipation guide, and the graphic overview advance organizer. The verbal organizer is the simplest of the three and a reliable tool for introducing new information. The organizer introduces students to new information my associating or linking it with prior knowledge. The verbal organizer has proven an effective tool for increasing reading comprehension (Vacca & Vacca, 1986).
The anticipation guide requires students to think about the information before hand by answering a series of true and false questions related to the topic. Students rely on their prior knowledge to answer the questions, then make the necessary changes as they read the selection and learn new information. The guided reading activities that often accompany new content are a perfect example of this. The graphic overview organizer is possibly the most popular of the three and has received a great deal of attention.
It is well suited for the visual and tactile learner. The graphic overview organizer focuses on content and key terms. The graphic overview organizer uses pictorial images to connect key terms to the main ideas presented in the text. Pearson provided a good amount of information supporting the effectiveness of the pictorial organizer, the graphic overview organizer proved particularly effective in increasing reading comprehension among students with low levels of prior knowledge (Pearson, 1987).
The dissertation was informative and interesting; it helped me to understand a number of issues related to reading comprehension. It clearly explained the huge push for the use of graphic organizers across my district over the last few years. As a Social Studies teacher I will examine more closely how I present information to students. I often take for granted their prior knowledge and then find myself wondering why some are struggling comprehending the main ideas. As Pearson pointed out successfully comprehension of Social Studies curriculum requires the essential background knowledge.
The main argument of the dissertation is there is a direct relationship between a student’s level of comprehension of a topic and the student’s prior knowledge in relationship to that subject. Students struggle with new information because they lack the required schema to fully comprehend the subject matter at hand. The use of advanced organizers helps students develop their background knowledge. The more the student knows about the topic, the better the student will be able to understand that topic. Pearson claims increasing a student’s schema will improve the students reading comprehension ability and it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide students with the background information to fully comprehend the topic.