Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Procedural Text: Following Directions vs. Answering Questions

I love procedural texts...and so do kids! Procedural texts guide us into learning new skills and making things. My kids at home pore carefully over the Lego guides to put together complicated structures. (Six bags of Legos! What a task!)

Why is it that the same kids who love to read and follow procedural texts struggle with questions about procedural text on standardized tests? 

As it happens, readers read differently depending on their purpose. A study of skilled readers found that reading directions with a goal of performance leads to better outcomes than reading directions with a goal of answering questions (Geiger and Millis, 2004).

Let me say that again--readers show better comprehension when they read directions with the goal of actually doing them, not just answering questions about them. Well, of course they do! Reading with the goal of just answering questions isn't kid's idea of a good time. 

Sadly, of course, their reading comprehension (and our skill as teachers) is measured by students' ability to answer questions. Here are some things that we can do to beat the odds and help readers succeed with both answering questions and performing tasks.

Helping students to read procedural texts goes beyond just assembling items in the classroom. Because our students will need to be able to answer questions about procedural texts, we have to help readers to go more deeply into the texts to answer questions.

Geiger, John, and Millis, Keith. 2004. “Assessing the Impact of Reading Goals and Text Structures on Comprehension.” Reading Psychology 25 93-110.

*Okay, the study gets even more interesting. When readers had to read to perform tasks, they actually showed the best comprehension with the narrative style directions--totally the opposite of the way that most directions are written! This sounds weird, but actually makes sense when you consider research that texts with low cohesion and out-of-order ideas actually seem to improve learning for skilled readers. 

You can find the fairy bread text here.

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