Struggling Readers and Content Text

Posted on September 8, 2012 by


Hall, Leigh A. 2005. Struggling Readers and Content Area Text: Interactions with and Perceptions of Comprehension, Self, and Success, 29 1–19. (Temporarily forgot the page numbers from where I got all this)

  • Methods:  This year-long case study examines how a struggling reader in a sixth-grade social studies class, a seventh grade mathematics class, and an eighth grade science class “transacted” with the reading task demands of her specific classroom. Through regular classroom observations and interviews, the researcher documents how each student responded to and worked with text and reading instruction provided by her respective content area teacher.
  • “A transactional lens allows one to view learning in the classroom as involving more than only teachers’ behaviors or only student responses to teacher behaviors. As Rosenblatt (1985; 2004) explained, transactions are, “an ongoing process in which the elements of parts are seen as aspects or phases of a total situation.”
  • “How does a middle school struggling reader in a sixth grade social studies class, a seventh grade  mathematics class, and an eighth grade science  class transact with the reading demands in her class?”
  • This study was conducted in three content area classrooms: science, math, and social studies. Each classroom was located in a separate district. The students and their teachers did not know each other.
  • Data collection for the sixth grade classroom was conducted from August 2002 — May 2003. Data for the seventh and eighth grade classrooms occurred from August 2003 — May 2004. Data was gathered through bi-weekly field observations, questionnaires, interviews, student comprehension assessments, and collection of student work. All classroom observations, interviews, and comprehension assessments were audio-taped. Field notes were taken during each observation. An average of 52 observations, 50 minutes each, was conducted per classroom.
  • Data analysis procedures followed methods recommended by Miles and Huberman (1994). Guided by the research questions, I first began by reading and rereading field notes to identify emerging initial themes in the data. Next I generated pattern codes as a way to group these themes together. As I coded the data, I regularly wrote memos (Glaser, 1978) that summarized my work, identified questions I needed to address, and theorized about the relationships I was discovering.
  • Data from each case was first analyzed individually. While working through this process, it became clear that the data gathered from the students could be categorized under three broader themes. These themes included: (a) the challenges each student faced when transacting with the reading task demands, (b) the successes they had when transacting with the reading task demands, and (c) their concepts about what it meant to be a successful reader. Within these themes, data was analyzed to determine not only what each student did, but also how often, why, and the contexts in which these actions occurred.
  • This study was designed using a descriptive, case study approach (Yin, 1994).
  • future research may wish to focus on (a) how to help teachers become aware of students’ identities as readers and (b) how to interact with students once they have this knowledge. In addition, research may also want to take into consideration how teachers’ understandings of students’ identities affect the ways in which they work with students as well as the impact that such understandings can produce in teacher/student interactions around text and reading instruction.
  • Findings:  results suggest that each student attempted to be engaged with text as much as possible and was interested in learning course content. However, the ways in which the students approached text was heavily influenced by how she saw herself as a reader.
  • Analysis of these textbooks revealed several problems that include: (a) not providing enough background information on the topics being discussed (Graesser, Leon, & Otero, 2002), (b) containing content specific vocabulary (Beck, McKeown, Sinatra, & Loxterman. 1991), and/or (c) introducing new concepts too quickly (Engelmann, Carnine, & Steely, 1991). This may result in struggling readers having significant problems gaining access to content, passing courses, and doing well on state and national exams if they are expected to read texts to gain knowledge.
  •  Research studies in content area reading typically focus on methods teachers can use that can help students comprehend content area texts (Guastello, Beasley, & Sinatra, 2000; Klingner, et al, 1998; Lederer, 2000; Montali & Lewandowski, 1996; Musheno & Lawson, 1999; Spence, Yore, & Williams, 1999). These studies suggest that students’ comprehension of expository texts can be improved when: (a) they are taught how to use graphic organizers, (b) when they are explicitly taught how to be metacognitive and apply specific comprehension strategies, and (c) when students are able to hear text read aloud as they follow along with it.
  • Some students decided they would rather not understand a text rather than risk revealing their perceived inabilities to their teacher and/or peers.
  • Observations revealed that Alisa engaged in two behaviors when completing lab assignments: (a) writing down the answers as a group member said them aloud, and (b) watching her group perform the lab and attempting to answer the questions on her own.
  • During five of the 10 labs, Alisa was observed writing down answers whenever a group member stated them out loud. On these days, group members would do some work, state an answer, and then the cycle would repeat itself. Alisa never challenged or questioned these answers and may have assumed that they were always correct. In an interview she stated, “I usually get the answers from them [the group members]. They will just do the labs and stuff and they’ll just tell me and I’ll just write it [the answers] down.”
  • Nicole was observed asking for help with her assignments on 22 days. During this time, she posed a total of 30 questions to her peers and 18 questions to Mrs. Harding. Nicole explained that the only reason she directed more questions to her peers than to Mrs. Harding was because of convenience:
  • Though Nicole may have believed she understood the text, 47% of the questions she posed were about comprehension questions whose answers could be found in the text. However, none of Nicole’s questions indicated that she did not understand what the text meant. Instead Nicole asked her teacher or peers to help her locate the answers to the assignment questions.
  • For Alisa, this allowed her to believe that she was able to comprehend the textbook, but not the labs. Alisa recognized that she was only able to pass lab assignments when she copied answers from the students in her group. Though Alisa also explained that she copied answers directly from the textbook, and that she could not answer questions not found directly in the book, she did not see this as a sign of failure to comprehend on her part. While there is no data that provides an explanation for this, one possible reason is that Alisa felt successful in reading the textbook because she located the answers on her own, using the book, and with little assistance.
  • Nicole also based her reading abilities on her grades, an issue that was problematic given the grading policy in her classroom. Nicole’s math teacher, Mrs. Harding, graded all assignments, quizzes, and tests. However, given that (a) all homework assignments were automatically given a 100% for completion and (b) all quizzes and tests could be retaken, the way in which grades were calculated did not appear to be an accurate measure of how well Nicole comprehended the text. Across all four grading periods, Nicole’s test average was an 88%. Her quiz average was an 80% and her homework average was a 94%. However, before retaking quizzes/tests, Nicole’s average quiz grade was 72% and her test average was a 69%.
  • These cases add support to the theory that students’ interactions with text may be based on their socially situated identities, how they perceive themselves as readers, and how they want others to view them (Dillion & Moje, 1998; Gee, 1996; McCarthey, 1998; McCarthey, 2002).