Assessing children's inference generation: What do tests of reading comprehension measure?

  • Bowyer-Crane C
  • Snowling M
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BACKGROUND: Previous research suggests that children with specific comprehension difficulties have problems with the generation of inferences. This raises important questions as to whether poor comprehenders have poor comprehension skills generally, or whether their problems are confined to specific inference types.

AIMS: The main aims of the study were (a) using two commonly used tests of reading comprehension to classify the questions requiring the generation of inferences, and (b) to investigate the relative performance of skilled and less-skilled comprehenders on questions tapping different inference types.

SAMPLE: The performance of 10 poor comprehenders (mean age 110.06 months) was compared with the performance of 10 normal readers (mean age 112.78 months) on two tests of reading comprehension.

METHOD: A qualitative analysis of the NARA II (form 1) and the WORD comprehension subtest was carried out. Participants were then administered the NARA II, WORD comprehension subtest and a test of non-word reading.

RESULTS: The NARA II was heavily reliant on the generation of knowledge-based inferences, while the WORD comprehension subtest was biased towards the retention of literal information. Children identified by the NARA II as having comprehension difficulties performed in the normal range on the WORD comprehension subtests. Further, children with comprehension difficulties performed poorly on questions requiring the generation of knowledge-based and elaborative inferences. However, they were able to answer questions requiring attention to literal information or use of cohesive devices at a level comparable to normal readers.

CONCLUSIONS: Different reading tests tap different types of inferencing skills. Lessskilled comprehenders have particular difficulty applying real-world knowledge to a text during reading, and this has implications for the formulation of effective intervention strategies.

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  • Claudine Bowyer-Crane

  • Margaret J. Snowling

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