Observations and conversations: Constructing a grounded theory of early readers and nonfiction texts
Children are expected to read and write increasing numbers of informational texts as they progress through school in preparation for their adult lives. Expertise with informational texts may begin with early exposure to those genres during the primary years. A qualitative study was designed to discover how early readers process information and comprehend the content presented in nonfiction books. A sample of five early readers participated in three nonfiction reading response sessions. Observations of oral reading behaviors and interview conversations were recorded on handwritten documents and audio and video tapes. Running record analyses provided insights about how children processed information to read the nonfiction books. Parallel processing, the simultaneous use of several sources of information, comprised most of the children's reading. Parallel processing was evident with mostly accurate oral reading and meaningful approximations that sounded like accurate reading. Successive processing, demonstrated by successive solving attempts was frequently applied as the children solved or self-corrected errors. Technical terms posed no more difficulty than other types of words contained in the texts. The children's conversational responses before and after reading revealed how the content presented in the books was comprehended. After reading the children confirmed known knowledge -- topics related before reading, without adding details. New knowledge was designated most frequently through simple statements. Elaboration, extension of known and new knowledge, occurred less frequently. Responses after reading were often facilitated by the pictures; the children related personal experiences to a lesser degree. A grounded theory was developed to depict how early readers learn about print and from print as they read and respond to nonfiction texts. Meaning played a central role before, during, and after the children read the books. Knowledge refined denotes how the children's knowledge was verified, changed, shifted or expanded after reading the books. Knowledge was refined through responses influenced mostly by accurate reading, meaningful approximations, and successful solving attempts and facilitated through the pictures and/or personal experiences. The early readers were independent active constructors of meaning before, during, and after reading nonfiction texts, demonstrating the ability to learn to read and read to learn.