Reading Ruddell, Chapters 3 and 4

Ruddell’s chapter on evaluating learning materials contained a lot of practical information. However, I always have been and remain skeptical of these simplistic methods of assessing text complexity. I appreciate the fact that Ruddell hedges her devotion to these methods by suggesting that they comprise only one part of a wholistic evaluation, but I still find the very idea of these formulas somewhat disturbing. It will be interesting to see whether the Readability Project, due later this week, will alter my opinion of this. The methods Ruddell recommends for evaluating all kinds of classroom media seem quite doable.

As I have mentioned in other threads, I am always storing away ideas for pedagogical strategies, and those mentioned in Chapter Four are no exception. I especially like the DR-TA and GMA tactics, and I have used something similar to DR-TA in the past, though it was not as formalized. The ReQuest method also seems promising, but its name is unfortunate.

Beyond the pragmatic information, I was struck with how nicely this chapter dovetails with the article I read last week by Hosp and Suchey (2014), especially the section that explains levels of comprehension. Ruddell admits that there are many theories about how to best categorize these levels, and she prefers the labels literal, interpretive, and applied. Hosp and Suchey take this idea a bit further, and I think it is worth discussing. The seauthors say that almost all models of comprehension include at least two levels: literal and inferential. Ruddell neatly divides the inferential into interpretive and applied. However, Hosp and Suchey also point out that some theorists believe even literal comprehension involves a level of inference. For example, in a passage about a hiker accidentally starting a forest fire with a carelessly discarded cigarette, the reader may have to infer that the hiker is walking in the woods and that the cigarette was lit. This may seem like a silly example, but it does demonstrate that the definitions of these levels may be rather fluid.

Hosp and Suchey seem to end up advocating a model developed by Kintsch (2004). This model of comprehension “expands the literal/inferential model” and “makes a distinction among levels of representation that translates into reading comprehension” (Hosp & Suchey, 2014, p. 65). The first level of representation has to do with the approximation of words and phrases a reader remembers from reading. The second level describes how that information is integrated into the reader’s previous knowledge. The authors say that at this level “readers must make higher-level inferences by combining their prior knowledge with text information (p. 65). According to these authors, Kintsch further divides inference in the the categories of retrieval (adding pre-existing knowledge stored in one’s long-term memory) andgeneration (deriving new information from the text itself). Retrieval and generation are similar to Ruddell’s categories of inferential and interpretive, but I think there are subtle but important differences based on the recursive nature of Kintsch’s model.

References

Hosp, John L. & Suchey, Nicole (2014). Reading assessment: Reading fluency, reading fluently, and comprehension—commentary on the special topic. School Psychology Review, 43.1, pp. 59-68.

Ruddell, M. (2008). Teaching content reading and writing (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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