How high school students of three levels of reading achievement perceive the reading process

Elder, Janet Arden Renfro
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The purposes of this study were to investigate (a) how ninth graders of three levels of reading achievement perceive the reading process, (b) the within-group and within-subject consistency of the information elicited by the four data-gathering instruments, and (c) subjects' instructional models of reading.

On the basis of a standardized reading test score and teacher judgment, five subjects were selected at each of three reading levels: low (3.5 to 4.9), middle (6.5 to 7.9), and high (8.5 to 10.9). All 15 subjects were enrolled in a large, urban high school, spoke English as their first language, and possessed normal or above-average intellectual ability, according to test scores in their cumulative records. Both sexes and three ethnic groups (Anglo, Black, and Mexican-American) were represented in the sample.

Four instruments (an Open-Ended Interview, a Forced-Choice Questionnaire, Silent Reading Task Cards, and Oral Reading Task Cards) were used to gather data. The Interview and Questionnaire were developed from the Burke Reading Inventory, modified after pilot testing. The Questionnaire, a printed form of the Interview, contained a decoding-focused and meaning-focused response for each question. The subject, following along as the examiner read aloud, selected the response which better represented his/her beliefs. Two concrete tasks were also used to see if information consistent with stated perceptions was elicited. The Silent Reading Task Cards (SRTC) and Oral Reading Task Cards (ORTC) consisted, respectively, of an Intact or Corrected passage and four passages altered linguistically to reduce meaningfulness to varying degrees. Subjects were asked to decide whether each SRTC was "readable" and to explain why (not). They were asked to evaluate the taped oral reading of each ORTC (after following along on an unaltered, printed version), to explain their rating and tell whether the reader had comprehended what had been read. The SRTC was based on a task Canney and Winograd developed; the researcher developed the ORTC. Some data were analyzed statistically using one-way ANOVAs, Duncan Multiple Range tests, a t-test, and chi-square tests of independence. The remainder was analyzed and reported descriptively.

Findings of the study revealed that (a) there was a relationship between subjects' reading levels and their perceptions of the reading process. The three groups conceptualized the reading process differently from each other: the low group perceived it primarily as a decoding process; the middle group viewed it as both a decoding and comprehending process; the high group conceptualized it as a meaning-getting process. The low readers indicated that they used fewer and less flexible strategies and were more dependent upon external help (from a teacher, parent, etc.) than did the other groups. The low readers believed that the main difference between them and "good" readers was that the good readers could decode more rapidly and/or accurately. The ability to evaluate accurately the comprehensibility of written material and to assess correctly an oral reader's comprehension of what had been read increased as the reading levels of the groups increased. (b) In general, the high group demonstrated the greatest within-group consistency in its responses, followed by the low and middle groups, respectively. The majority of subjects gave consistent responses across the instruments. (c) More low readers had experienced and adopted a decoding instructional model of reading; middle readers, a decoding and meaning model; and high readers, a comprehension-centered model.

Two educational implications of this study are: (a) Teachers should be aware of their own theoretical orientations toward the reading process and that of students. (b) Teachers should employ materials and methodologies which stress meaning as the primary goal of reading. Direct teaching about the nature of the reading process may also be warranted.

Reading, Reading (Secondary), Reading comprehension