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The Beneficial Effect of Chunking on Good Readers' Comprehension of Expository Prose Author(s): William G. Brozo, Ronald V.

Schmelzer and Hiller A. Spires Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Reading, Vol. 26, No. 5 (Feb., 1983), pp. 442-445 Published by: International Reading Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40034503 . Accessed: 17/02/2013 21:19
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Brozo is in the Department of Developmental Reading at Georgia State University, Atlanta. Schmelzer is assistant director of the Counseling and Human Development Center and Coordinator of Academic Skills at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Spires is a learning/skills consultant in academic skills at the University of South Carolina.

The beneficial effect of chunking on good readers' comprehension of expository prose

William G. Brozo Ronald V. Schmelzer Hiller A. Spires


One possible difference between good and poor readers' comprehension may lie in the way they organize what they read. Presumably, students who fail to code the words they read into meaningful phrases or "chunks" may have difficulty comprehending even when they can attach meaning to individual words (Cromer, 1970). Skilled readers, on the other hand, are presumed to organize input into meaningful units (Anglin and Miller, 1968; Epstein, 1967; Martinez, Ghatala, and Bell, 1980; McFarlandand Rhodes, 1978; Weiner and Cromer, 1967; Wong, 1978). Several studies have shown that poor readers' comprehension is improved when words are preorganized into meaningful groupings for them (Cromer, 1970; Levin, 1973; Oakan, Weiner, and Cromer, 1971). Few, however, have shown that word for grouping aids comprehension competent readers. Stevens (1981) improved the comprehension of high school sophomores who had high reading ability by using such preorganization, but Carver's (1970) effort with chunked typography for accurate mature readers did not produce salutary effects. In light of the mixed research findings, we asked essentially the
442 Journal of Reading February 1983

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same question: Can researcher-imposed chunkingimprovegood readers' comprehension? Presuming good readers already code material into chunks, we hypothesized that organizing words into meaningful units for them would not alter their own coding strategies and, thus, have little effect on comprehension. If, on the other hand, we could show that the chunking of reading material for good readersfacilitates theircomprehension, then chunking may not be a generalized abilityof all good readers. This would imply that they are using effective coding strategies other than chunking, but could still benefit from learning to chunk.
Experiment 1

then came to an agreement on their few differences. An example of the chunked typography is as follows:
In 1933 / little had changed / in the everyday lives / of the vast majority / of rural Tennessee Valley people / since the turn of the century.

A first experiment compared good readers'performance with and without having material preorganized into meaningful units. Forty-four "good" college readers (those students who scored above the 50th percentile on Paragraph Comprehension on the McGraw-HillReading Test [Raygor, 1970]) from developmental reading classes in the fall of 1981 were randomly assigned to the chunked vs. unchunked groups. No preexperimental differences in reading comprehensionexistedbetweenthe groups. The study used an article of expository prose approximately 820 words long accompanied by a criterion test with 10 comprehension questions. For the chunked group, the article was divided into meaning units by slash lines. Unitswere based primarily on the criterion of meaningfulness set forthby Lefevre(1964):"grammatical and syntactical structures; noun and verb groups and cluster, clauses, sentences." Three judges independently determined where to place the slash lines,

One of the two researchers presented a short lesson to the chunked group on how to read the phrased material. Following Stevens's (1981) example, we showed students chunked, unchunked chunked, and inappropriately material on the blackboard, and told them of the importance of reading in meaningful units. We told subjects that the slash lines represented meaning units and that they should use the lines to organizetheirthoughts while reading. The lesson took 10 minutes. Then we told the subjects to read and answer the comprehension questions without referring back to the passage. We instructedthe unchunkedgroup to read in their normal fashion, then answer the comprehension questions without looking back. An independent t test, computer generated, analyzed the difference between the comprehension scores of the chunkedand unchunkedgroups. Therewas a slight though insignificant trend in favor of the chunked group. Nevertheless, the experiment failed to suggest that the chunked format would improve good readers' comprehension. We felt the trend might have been stronger if not for a difficultywith the criterion test, on which both groups averaged 9 items correct out of 10. The items had not been carefully analyzed for their technical qualities before use and clearly did not differentiate between good and poor comprehenders.
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Experiment 2 In a second experiment, efforts were directed toward investigating chunked and unchunked formats with a standardized reading test, which was known to have items that discriminated effectively. In the spring of 1982, we selected 58 students from a section of a developmental reading course. All had scored above the 50th percentile on the McGraw-Hill Paragraph Comprehension subtest (Raygor, 1970), and were randomly distributed to either the chunked or unchunked group. A t test revealed no preexperimental differences in the groups' ability to comprehend what they read. The passages and questions were taken from the Paragraph Comprehension subtest of the Minnesota Reading Assessment (Raygor, 1980). The subtest is made up of four short passages followed by five comprehension questions each. In the chunked format, slash lines were inserted to indicate the boundaries of meaning units. Again, three judges worked independently on this task, then met to reconcile discrepancies. As in Study 1, before giving subjects the chunked materials, we instructed them on organizing their reading into meaningful units. The difference between the mean number of questions answered correctly by the chunked and unchunked groups was significant (t = 2.33, p <.O25). The good readers reading under the chunked condition answered more questions correctly (mean = 17.5, s.d. = 2.16) than did the good readers reading under the unchunked condition (mean = 16.8, s.d. = 2.04). This second study in particular indicates that even good readers can benefit from such preorganization. Some good readers are apparently
444 Journal of Reading February 1983

not skilled in coding written input into chunks, since one group of good readers outscored a comparable group by taking advantage of the researchergenerated chunking scheme. Value of teaching chunking Based on these findings, Cromer's (1970) hypothesis, that good and bad readers are differentiated by the good readers' ability to code input into chunks of meaning, must be questioned. If it is a strategy they are employing every time they read, why did the chunked group comprehend better than the unchunked group? Perhaps the ability to chunk, like many other reading improvement strategies, is a skill possessed by some good readers but not by all. This supports Stevens's (1981) findings that readers of all ability levels may improve their reading comprehension by chunking text into meaningful units. Another important research question should be addressed: How do good readers chunk expository prose? This could be determined by having good readers themselves chunk reading material instead of providing them with a researcher chunking strategy. If different chunking schemes are apparent among good readers, then the practical ramifications of this knowledge should be investigated. For instance, are certain chunking schemes generally superior to others with respect to comprehension? Or, are chunking schemes a matter of personal preference related to learning style? Previous literature has already demonstrated that poor readers can improve their comprehension by using chunking. This study suggests that there may be some benefit in teaching chunking to good readers as well. For those people who teach reading

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improvement courses, it may be helpful to prepare instructional material in such a way that the meaning units are obvious to the learner. Later these divisions could be phased out. Good reading strategies would be modelled by the text structure and later incorporated by the learner into his/her repertoire of reading strategies.

References
Anglin, Jeremy M., and George A. Miller. "The Role of Phrase Structure in the Recall of Meaningful Verbal Material." Psychonomic Science, vol. 10 (October 1968), pp. 343-44. Carver, Ronald P. "Effect of a 'Chunked' Typography on Reading Rate and Comprehension." Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 54 (June 1970), pp. 288-96. Cromer, Ward. "The Difference Model: A New Explanation for Some Reading Difficulties." Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 61 (December 1970), pp. 471-83. Epstein, William. "Some Conditions of the Influence of Syntactical Structure on Learning Instructions, and Chunking." Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, vol. 6 (June 1967), pp. 415-19.

Lefevre, Carl A. Linguistics and the Teaching of Reading. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1964. in Poor Levin, Joel R. "Inducing Comprehension Readers: A Test of a Recent Model." Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 9 (August 1973), pp. 12-20. Martinez, Patricia R., Elizabeth S. Ghatala, and John A. Bell. "Size of Processing Unit During Reading and Retention of Prose by Good and Poor Readers." Journal of Reading Behavior, vol. 12 (Summer 1980), pp. 89-95. McFarland, Carl E., and Deborah D. Rhodes. "Memory for Meaning in Skilled and Unskilled Readers." Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 25 (April 1978), pp. 199-207. Oakan, Robert, Morton Weiner, and Ward Cromer. "Identification, Organization and Reading Comprehension for Good and Poor Readers." Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 62 (February 1971), pp. 71-78. Raygor, Alton L. McGraw-Hill Basic Skills System Reading Test and Examiner's Manual, Form A. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1970. Raygor, Alton L. The Minnesota Reading Assessment, Form A. Rehoboth, Mass.: Twin Oaks Publishing, 1980. Stevens, Kathleen C. "Chunking Material as an Aid to Reading Comprehension." Journal of Reading, vol. 25 (November 1981), pp. 126-29. Weiner, Morton, and Ward Cromer. "Reading and Reading Difficulty: A Conceptual Analysis." Harvard Educational Review, vol. 37 (1967), pp. 620-43. Wong, Bernice. "The Effects of Directive Cues on the Organization of Memory and Recall in Good and Poor Readers." Journal of Educational Research, vol. 72 (September/October 1978), pp. 32-38.

The dictionary should have this


Helpful new word: multinym a word with multiple meanings. Not to be found in your local dictionary, but first encountered Karlin;s Teaching Reading in High School, 1964, on page 121. in Robert

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The beneficial effect of chunking

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