Armbruster, Anderson, and Ostertag (1987) suggested that students may struggle with expository text because they are unable to infer text patterns. Adolescents may lack prior knowledge and schemas for expository text due to the heavy reliance on narrative text in the elementary grades. As a result, research has revealed that adolescents often have difficulty learning from expository text (Armbruster, Anderson, & Ostertag, 1989; Moustafa, 1999; Spiro & Taylor, 1980). These difficulties can manifest themselves in both reading comprehension and composition.
Furthermore Hoyt (1999) affirms that expository text presents the greatest hardship for students today. According to Jean Ciborowski (1992) in her book Textbooks and the Students Who Can’t Read Them, this challenge in reading comprehension stems from a lack of nonfiction in the classroom:
Children are fed a steady diet of once-upon-a-time stories during the infant,
toddler and learning-to-read years, and so become increasingly familiar with
the format and structures of narrative text. Familiarity with story text format
makes comprehension easier. On the other hand, expository text is less
familiar to the child in both content and format. Expository text structures
differ dramatically from narrative text . . . at the same time, the content of
expository text is filled with many words an concepts the child has never seen
before. When textbooks are introduced in third and fourth grades, many
children are caught by surprise, unprepared to make the transition from learning
-to-read from stories to reading-to-learn from textbooks. (p. 11)
Being able to comprehend and respond to expository text is critical for adolescent students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a periodic assessment administered to students nationally to assess growth in reading achievement, provides benchmarks for judging performance of students across grade levels (McKenna & Stahl, 2002). For eighth-grade students to be considered proficient in reading, they must “be able to show an overall understanding of the text, including inferential as well as literal information. . . . Proficient eighth-graders should be able to identify some of the devices authors use in composing text” (McKenna & Stahl, 2002, p.32). The presence of such standards suggests the need for research on effective interventions designed to improve comprehension.
Skilled readers use different strategies to comprehend expository text (Calfee & Drum, 1986; Pressley, 2006; Snow & Sweet, 2003; Stanovich, 2000), and teachers play a critical role in the acquisition of effective strategies (Pearson & Duke, 2002; Smolkin & Donovan, 2002). Strategies should be explicitly taught over a long period of time (Snow & Sweet, 2003); we should not assume that all students will learn them in an incidental or serendipitous way.
22.214.171.124 Students with Learning Disabilities and Expository Text
Comprehending expository text, while challenging for many students, poses a particular challenge to students with learning disabilities (Seidenberg, 1989). The federal definition of a learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage (Hallahan & Kauffman, 1995).
According to Swanson (1996), students with learning disabilities often have weaknesses in the executive function of memory. This higher-order function determines the manner in which mental activities or routines will be performed. Swanson suggests that learning disabilities may be the result of breakdowns in higher-order activities such as executive functioning, rather than simply a specific type of processing weakness isolated to a particular academic domain. As it relates to reading, this conception may explain why students with learning disabilities may possess accurate decoding skills but struggle to comprehend challenging material (Samuels, 1987). Many adolescents with learning disabilities, therefore, experience difficulty comprehending expository text despite adequate word recognition skills and may need explicit instruction on how to manage expository text more than their nondisabled peers.
Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Gregg, and Anthony (1989) examined the relationship between knowledge about expository texts and reading and writing performance for students with and without learning disabilities. Englert et. al. reported that text recalls for students with learning disabilities were significantly less organized and contained fewer ideas than those of both low-achieving and high-achieving nondisabled students. Students were also interviewed about their knowledge of expository text. Students with learning disabilities possessed less knowledge and awareness about the processes involved in monitoring, organizing, and revising text based on its structure compared to nondisabled participants. Similarly, Wong and Wilson (1984) explored sensitivity to passage organization in students both with and without learning disabilities and found that students with learning disabilities were less aware of passage organization than the students without learning disabilities.
The difficulty students with learning disabilities experience while reading expository text has been attributed to their characteristics as learners. They have been described by Torgesen (1977) as inactive learners, that is, students who approach a learning task in a passive and disorganized manner. Torgesen suggested that children with learning disabilities do not adapt efficiently to tasks that require strategic processing. Smith and Friend (1986) concluded that students with learning disabilities experiencing difficulties on reading tasks may possess the innate capacity to succeed on academic tasks, but they may be unable to activate and execute appropriate strategies.
Weisberg (1988) concluded in her review that students with learning disabilities need explicit instruction on how to identify when and how to use appropriate procedures and strategies and how to monitor their effectiveness.
Undoubtedly, the most important factor that influences a student’s ability to comprehend text is his or her knowledge of reading comprehension strategies for the genre being read. Block, Gambrell, and Pressley (2002) emphasize that teachers must instruct students in valid and accurate comprehension strategies in order to enhance reading comprehension. Furthermore, the abundance of narrative text in the elementary classroom outshines the presence of expository text, with students unable to shift narrative comprehension strategies to nonfiction books (Block, Gambrell, & Pressley, 2002). Students need to learn specific strategies for expository reading so that they can be actively engaged in the text and put the pieces of the puzzle together to visualize the big picture. Among the many comprehension techniques, two categories surface: reader strategies and instructional strategies.
126.96.36.199 Argumentative text
Students read and understand arguments in a variety of classroom situations and must be prepare to continue this practice in the workplace and in real-life decision-making situations. In high-school and college classrooms, students are required to read arguments to complete class assignments (e.g., research papers, debates, and literary criticism), to meet National Standards in disciplines (National Center for History in the Schools, 1996), and to take standardized tests such as the NEAP science test and persuasive writing test. Beyond the classroom, argument comprehension is required by many college and post-graduate entrance exams such as the SAT, ACT, LSAT, GRE and MCAT. In addition to their scholastic importance, argument comprehension skills are essential for learning across the lifespan, for many careers and for participating in our democracy. Despite the importance of reading arguments and the countless opportunities we have to practice it, many high-school graduates have difficulty forming and understanding written arguments. For instance, the most recent national assessment found that only 12% of 12th graders were proficient in argument skills (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1996) and only 13% of 12th graders’ essays were judged “skillful” or “excellent” (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1998). Given the importance of argument comprehension, it is essential that all students become proficient text-based reasoners and an important step toward this goal is to assess college students’ ability to read and comprehend complex argumentative text.
Comprehending arguments involves many higher-order reading and reasoning processes; the most basic of which is representing essential argument information. In much the same way as students use narrative schema to comprehend stories (Goldman, Graesser, & van den Broek, 1999; Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Stein & Glenn, 1979; Trabasso & van den Broek, 1985), it is reasonable to assume that students use argument schemas to comprehend arguments. The essence of any argument is a claim (e.g., Cell phone use while driving should be banned) supported by one or more reasons (Toulmin, 1958). A claim forms an argument once it is supported by a reason (e.g., Distracted drivers are dangerous drivers).