It has been well established that skilled readers use a variety of strategies to comprehend written text (Calfee & Drum, 1986; Stanovich, 2000; Sweet & Snow, 2003). Many students will not develop these skills without the explicit teaching of comprehension strategies. Research shows, however, that the explicit teaching of comprehension is uncommon. Pressley, Wharton-McDonald, Mistretta-Hampston, and Echevarria (1998) reported a scarcity of comprehension instruction in grades 3-6. As put by Pressley et al., "We were struck by the almost complete absence of direct instruction about comprehension strategies" (p. 172). It is not surprising, then, that many students experience problems comprehending written text, especially the more complex expository text.
A summary of key findings from the research includes the following:
* Many students experience problems comprehending expository text. There are many reasons for this, one being that they can't see the basic structure of text. Some students get lost in the words and can't see the big picture (Dymock, 1998; Dymock & Nicholson, 1999).
* Some students require direct instruction in how to go about comprehending more complex expository text structures (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw, & Rycik, 1999; Pressley, 2002; Vacca, 1998).
* Teachers play an important role in assisting students to develop reading comprehension strategies including expository text structure awareness (see Dymock, 1997, for a review of text structure research; Dymock & Nicholson, 1999; Pearson & Duke, 2002; Smolkin & Donovan, 2002).
* Students who have a good understanding of expository text structure have fewer problems with comprehension (Dymock & Nicholson, 1999).
* Teaching expository text structure awareness has a positive effect on reading comprehension (Dymock & Nicholson, 1999; Pearson & Duke, 2002).
* Expository text structure awareness is one reading comprehension strategy that should be explicitly and systematically taught (Sweet & Snow, 2003).
* The Literacy Experts Group's report (1999) to the New Zealand Secretary for Education recommended that, "Especially from year 3, more attention should be paid to the teaching of comprehension skills, across a range of text types, including expository texts" (p. 6; emphasis added). Some suggest that explicit teaching of comprehension strategies, to enhance comprehension of exposition, should begin during year 1 (Duke, 2000; Pearson & Duke, 2002).
How to go about explicitly teaching expository text structure awareness
Exposition can be written with many types of organizations or structures. These structures are used to organize discourse, and often they are very complex. Students should be taught explicitly how to recognize and use expository text structures to improve comprehension and recall. Knowledge about how expository text is structured, however, will not guarantee comprehension, but having a clear understanding of how the text is structured will help the reader build a coherent model of the text.
Expository text types can be divided into two groups, texts that describe and texts that are affect ed by time (Calfee & Patrick, 1995). Young readers encounter three descriptive text types and one sequential text during their first six years at school (Dymock & Nicholson, 1999). Teaching students the many expository text structures that writers use, and showing students how...
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