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Are Good Texts Always Better? Interactions of Text Coherence, Background Knowledge, and Levels of Understanding in Learning from Text

Danielle S. McNamara, Eileen Kintsch, Nancy Butler Songer and Walter Kintsch
Cognition and Instruction
Vol. 14, No. 1 (1996), pp. 1-43
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3233687
Page Count: 43
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Are Good Texts Always Better? Interactions of Text Coherence, Background Knowledge, and Levels of Understanding in Learning from Text
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Abstract

Two experiments, theoretically motivated by the construction-integration model of text comprehension (W. Kintsch, 1988), investigated the role of text coherence in the comprehension of science texts. In Experiment 1, junior high school students' comprehension of one of three versions of a biology text was examined via free recall, written questions, and a key-word sorting task. This study demonstrates advantages for globally coherent text and for more explanatory text. In Experiment 2, interactions among local and global text coherence, readers' background knowledge, and levels of understanding were examined. Using the same methods as in Experiment 1, we examined students' comprehension of one of four versions of a text, orthogonally varying local and global coherence. We found that readers who know little about the domain of the text benefit from a coherent text, whereas high-knowledge readers benefit from a minimally coherent text. We argue that the poorly written text forces the knowledgeable readers to engage in compensatory processing to infer unstated relations in the text. These findings, however, depended on the level of understanding, text base or situational, being measured by the three comprehension tasks. Whereas the free-recall measure and text-based questions primarily tapped readers' superficial understanding of the text, the inference questions, problem-solving questions, and sorting task relied on a situational understanding of the text. This study provides evidence that the rewards to be gained from active processing are primarily at the level of the situation model rather than at the superficial level of text-base understanding.

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