The role of illustrations in children's oral reading accuracy, strategies and comprehension at different developmental and progress levels : a psycholinguistic investigation

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The effects of illustrations on early reading development have been subject to considerable controversy. Results and interpretations under the 'focal attention hypothesis' indicate that illustrations have a distracting effect on the learning of responses to orthographic cues in the process 6f isolated word recognition. Conversely, considerable although inconclusive evidence suggests that illustrations may be facilitative as contextual information in the process of reading and comprehending continuous prose. Within a psycholinguistic model of the reading process, the contextual hypothesis, that illustrations constitute a source of contextual redundancy which facilitates word identification accuracy, strategy and comprehension, was tested. Given the results of an earlier experiment that had confirmed the hypothesis for seven-year-old, average readers, the aim was to test the hypothesis over high and low progress readers at reading ages seven and nine. From 1868 grades I, III and V children screened on the D. Young Group Reading Test, 120 subjects at the respective reading age and progress levels were selected. Within a matched samples, 2 x 2 x 2 factorial design, subjects read 320 word narrative stories at instructional level of difficulty, with or without illustrations. Results in general confirmed the hypothesis. In particular, analysis of variance revealed that the illustration effect was strong and significant for RA7, high progress and for RA9, low progress readers; RA7, low progress readers; moderate and significant for and consistent but generally non-significant for RA9, high progress readers. This significant interactive pattern held over word identification accuracy; literal comprehension; use of semantic information (error acceptability) and rate of self-correction. Use of syntactic information was moderately and significantly facilitated across combined groups. Use of orthographic information, as predicted, was moderately and significantly reduced across combined groups. Inferential comprehension was non-significantly affected. It was concluded that, in the process of contextual reading, illustrations facilitate access to meaning; that the strength of the effect depends on the need for extra-textual contextual information and processing capabilities of the respective groups; and that the 'focal attention' effect on isolated word recognition is a particular processing case within the more general, practically relevant case of contextual reading.

Bibliography: leaves 387-403.