The Effects of Graphic Organizers and Content Familiarity on Second Graders' Comprehension of Cause/Effect Text

Anne Elizabeth Snyder

The Effects of Graphic Organizers and Content Familiarity on Second Graders' Comprehension of Cause/Effect Text
Snyder, Anne Elizabeth
Thesis Advisor(s):
Williams, Joanna P.
Cognitive Studies in Education
Human Development
Persistent URL:
Ph.D., Columbia University.
The ability to comprehend expository text is vital for academic and professional success; however, many students struggle with this genre. While it has been found that text structure-based graphic organizers (GOs) may assist older students in comprehending expository text, it is uncertain whether this type of scaffold is effective for primary-grade students. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of graphic organizers, level of text structure complexity, and content familiarity on second grade students' comprehension, recall, and sensitivity to cause/effect text structure. A mixed-factorial posttest-only design was utilized, with two between-subjects factors (graphic organizers and level of cause/effect structure complexity) and one within-subjects factor (content familiarity). Eighty second-grade students from two elementary schools were asked to read four cause/effect passages with familiar content (i.e. concerning objects and events that students encounter in their everyday lives) and four cause/effect passages with unfamiliar science content. Students were randomly assigned to either a graphic organizer condition or a control condition. Students in the graphic organizer condition read a cause/effect graphic organizer after reading each passage, while students in the control condition re-read the passage. Half of the students read passages with a one cause-one effect text structure and half read passages with a more complex one cause-multiple effects structure. Text structure comprehension, recall, and sensitivity were measured via student performance on three tasks. In the first task, students answered questions designed to assess structural awareness and comprehension. The proportions of structure questions answered correctly were calculated for the set of four passages used in this task. In the second task, students answered similar questions about non-structure sentences; again, proportion scores were calculated. Finally, students were asked to provide an oral free recall of text after reading each passage and its corresponding graphic organizer (or after reading and re-reading each passage). Protocols were scored for the proportions of structure and non-structure details correctly recalled for the four additional passages utilized in this task. A mixed factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to analyze the data. Results indicated that reading the graphic organizer, as opposed to re-reading the passage, lead to significant improvements in both recall and text structure sensitivity. In contrast, students in the control group demonstrated lower recall and structural sensitivity. There was a significant main effect for level of causal structure (one cause-one effect and one cause-multiple effects) on comprehension questions requiring structure sensitivity, with students demonstrating higher performance on the simpler one cause-one effect passages. A significant interaction was found between GO condition and level of structure complexity, such that students who re-read the text experienced a decline in performance on comprehension questions at the one cause-multiple effects level. No other effects emerged for structure complexity. Students demonstrated significantly greater performance on structure and non-structure comprehension questions and structure recall when reading familiar rather than unfamiliar content. Additionally, a marginally significant interaction was found between GO condition and familiarity; students in the re-reading condition experienced a decline in structure comprehension question performance when reading unfamiliar content. These results may inform efforts toward improving second-graders' text structure sensitivity and expository text comprehension through the use of graphic organizers.
Educational psychology
Reading instruction
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Suggested Citation:
Anne Elizabeth Snyder, , The Effects of Graphic Organizers and Content Familiarity on Second Graders' Comprehension of Cause/Effect Text, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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