Comprehension process and study skills: strategies as the best compensatory tools

Study skills and comprehension process in secondary-level students have been increasingly debated by scholars in the last years, due their crucial role in every learning activity, both for humanistic and scientific subjects, and for students’ performance (Cain & Oakhill, 2006). Learning disabilities urge teachers to pay more attention to didactic practice. Henceforth a stronger focus on how to help students is requested, in particular concerning the acquisition of strategies: the construction of scheme or concept maps, among other aspects, leads to a semantic knowledge and makes the retrieve of information easier. Low achievement is generally associated with poor knowledge and the use of strategies is necessary for the activation of compensatory processes in students with learning disabilities or learning difficulties. To this extent, the research aims at pointing out:  the type of relation between study skills and the process of comprehension; the use of strategies and their role during the process of study; the performance of students with learning disabilities, compared with classmates.
(Co-authors: Cristina Ciociola, Beatrice Baragiola and Jennifer Biasolo, for the ECER Conference 2019. For the full paper, please contact Cometa Research)

The Research

Study skills and comprehension process in secondary-level students have been increasingly debated by scholars in the last years, due their crucial role in every learning activity, both for humanistic and scientific subjects, and for students’ performance (Cain & Oakhill, 2006). Moreover, secondary-level students need to work with expository text where language, vocabulary and structure are more complex. Learning disabilities urge teachers to pay more attention to didactic practice. Henceforth a stronger focus on how to help students is requested, in particular concerning the acquisition of strategies: the construction of scheme or concept maps, among other aspects, leads to a semantic knowledge and makes the retrieve of information easier. Reading comprehension is strictly correlated to study skills, because it implies the recognition of the relevant information compared to the irrelevant ones (Moreland, Dansereau, & Chmielewski, 1997).  Comprehension represents the condition for an effective study, preventing a mere repetition of information that the students quickly forget. However, a great number of students are characterized by a strict adherence to the text and a reduced personal elaboration of the text content (Gadzella, 1995). The use of strategies, associated with their awareness, affects study performance (Schunk, Pintrich, & Meece, 2008; Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998; Weinstein, Mayer, & Wittrock, 1986): low achievement is generally associated with poor knowledge and the use of strategies is necessary for the activation of compensatory processes in students with learning disabilities or learning difficulties. To this extent, the research, based on a qualitative analysis of the strategies (and their effective value) carried out in a first class of a secondary-level school, aims at pointing out:  

  • the type of relation between study skills and the process of comprehension, to verify that it is not possible to acquire a semantic knowledge without a comprehension of the content;
  • the use of strategies and their role during the process of study, and if their use is related to the performance;
  • the performance of students with learning disabilities, compared with classmates in order to recognize if there is any difference in the use of strategies and their performance in comprehension tasks.

Methods

Participants

72 students aged between 14 and 15 (29 females; 43 males). In the sample there are students with learning disabilities. The students attended a VET school in Como, Italy, with different curriculum. Students with disabilities are not included in the sample. Parental permission was obtained for each student participating. An expert administered the tests to the whole class in two days.

Materials

Different tests regarding comprehension and study skills were proposed.  Each participant has been given a series of standardized test specifically designed for assessing the use of strategies for studying and its awareness together with the text comprehension.

Regarding study skills the research administered Q1 VATA (Cornoldi et al.,  2005), assessing the ability to learn contents by an expository text and the metacognition competence regarding strategies’ use and their control. The procedure involved a study phase of 30 mins, a delay of 30 mins, followed by 10 multi choice questions, without further consultation of the text, and some items relate to strategies used during the activity.

Moreover two questionnaires by AMOS 8–15 (De Beni et al, 2014) were added:

  • the Approach to Study Question, which consists of 49 items, divided into five areas: organization, active elaboration, self-evaluation, preparative strategies for task, metacognitive sensitivity;
  • the two steps of the Learning Strategies Use: each step consists of 32 items, 22 of which refer to functional learning strategies and 10 to non functional learning ones, in order to evaluate the value that the students ascribe to the strategies and in the second step the degree of their use, the level of correspondence between the two steps permits to obtain the index of strategy consistency, in other words if the students use the strategies that they consider useful.

For comprehension, the research used the MT Test (Cornoldi & Colpo, 1995), to evaluate text reading comprehension skill through a series of multi choice questions; an informative text’s content was used, and the answer could be explicitly or implicitly stated in the writing. To evaluate the oral comprehension the oral lection included in CO-TT test (Carretti et al., 2013) was administered: a video lesson, about geographic characteristics of Mauritius, followed by 10 multi choice questions.

Conclusions

Data analysis is going to be realized soon. From a preliminary overview, it emerges that the difference between learning disabilities and learning difficulties in comprehension and in study skill show pattern of achievement useful for reflecting and improving didactic activity. The strict correlation between comprehension and studying is evident, but on the other hand it is necessary to understand the different process activated in these two tasks. In particular it is possible to observe that some students use strategies when they approach the study but not when they have to do comprehension activity. It leads to consider the strategies’ role and the necessity for a different approach at studying and comprehension, moreover the importance of dedicating time to learn useful strategies in order to allow an efficient use, in particular with students with learning difficulties.

References

Saenz, L. M., & Fuchs, L. S. (2002). Examining the reading difficulty of secondary students with learning disabilities: Expository versus narrative text. Remedial and Special Education23(1), 31-41.

Meneghetti, C., De Beni, R., & Cornoldi, C. (2007). Strategic knowledge and consistency in students with good and poor study skills. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19(4-5), 628-649.

Schunk, D. H., Pintrich, P. R., & Meece, J. L. (2008). Motivation in education: Theory, research, and applications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Merrill.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (Eds.). (1998). Self-regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflective practice. Guilford Press.

Weinstein, C. E., Mayer, R. E., & Wittrock, M. C. (1986). Handbook of research on teaching. Handbook of research on teaching. Edited by: Wittrock, M. 315–327. New York: Macmillan.

Gadzella, B. M. 1995. Differences in processing information among psychology course grade groups. Psychological Reports, 77: 1312–1314.

De Beni, R., Moè, A., Cornoldi, C., Meneghetti, C., Fabris, M., Zamperlin, C., & De Min Tona, G. (2014). AMOS Nuova Edizione: Abilità e motivazione allo studio. Prove di valutazione e orientamento per la scuola secondaria di secondo grado e l’università.

De Beni, R., Zamperlin, G., Molin, A., Poli, S., & Vocetti, C. (2005). Q1 VATA. Batterie per la Valutazione delle Abilità Trasversali all’apprendimento.

Cornoldi, C., & Colpo, G. (1995). Nuove prove MT per la scuola media [New MT tests of reading comprehension for the middle school] Florence. Italy: Organizzazioni Speciali.

Published by Marzia Bizzaro

Marzia Bizzaro

Marzia Bizzaro, PhD, Psicologa e Pedagogista esperta in disturbi specifici dell’apprendimento. Docente di scuola secondaria presso ISISS Don Milani di Tradate (VA) e consulente per l’area disabilità presso Cometa formazione. inoltre svolge attività didattica presso l’Università di Milano Bicocca per i corsi di specializzazione per il sostegno agli alunni con disabilità e in numerosi Master universitari di II livello su temi di valutazione e diagnosi dei disturbi specifici dell’apprendimento. E’ autrice di numerosi volumi sui processi cognitivi nell’apprendimento con particolare riferimento all’ambito delle abilità numeriche, del calcolo e della soluzione dei problemi. Tra le sue principali linee di ricerca la valutazione dei disturbi dell’apprendimento in matematica, la soluzione dei problemi aritmetici e i processi di comprensione.

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