Cognitive, Psychological and Ecological Components of Reading Comprehension in Chinese Elementary School Children Learning English as a Second Language



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Background: The Componential Model of Reading (CMR) proposes that cognitive, psychological, and ecological domains are essential to understanding reading comprehension. Difficulties in any of these three domains can lead to reading comprehension difficulties. Although the individual contributions of cognitive, psychological, and ecological factors to reading comprehension have been well documented in the literature, very few studies have investigated the full CMR model. Little is known about the interactions among the three domains and their contributions to English reading comprehension in the students who learn English as a second language (ESL). Additionally, many young ESL students are struggling with reading comprehension. Among a handful of studies that have reported cognitive predictors of reading comprehension difficulties, very little research has been done to provide insights into psychological and ecological sources of reading comprehension difficulties. Purpose: The current study aimed to examine the reading comprehension performance of Chinese ESL students drawing on the CMR model. The first goal of the study examined whether the CMR model was applicable to Chinese ESL students. The second goal of the study identified underlying sources of English (L2) reading comprehension difficulties among poor comprehenders who have difficulties in reading comprehension despite adequate decoding skills across the cognitive, psychological and ecological domains. The specific questions guiding the study were: 1) What are the relationships between the three domains and reading comprehension? Are there any direct or indirect relationships among the three domains in predicting reading comprehension? 2) Do poor comprehenders, average comprehenders and good comprehenders perform differently across the cognitive, psychological, and ecological domains? Methods: Two hundred and ten Grade 6 students who have received formal English instruction for two-and-a-half years were recruited from one elementary school in China. The Cambridge YLE (Young Learners for English) Starters Level Reading and Writing section was administered to assess the students’ English reading comprehension. Nonverbal ability and Chinese (L1) reading comprehension were used as control variables. The cognitive domain consisted of three measures: English decoding (The Woodcock-Johnson Reading Test, Word Attack), English listening comprehension (Cambridge YLE Listening comprehension assessment), and English vocabulary (adapted from PPVT-IV). The psychological domain included a reading attitude questionnaire and a reading motivation questionnaire to assess the individuals’ reading attitude, motivation for learning English as a second language, and teacher ratings on the students’ learning behavior. The ecological domain was assessed by a home literacy questionnaire completed by the parents. Structure equation modeling was used to address the first research question on relationships between the three domains and reading comprehension. Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted to address the second research question on the differences among the three groups in the three domains. Results: The results showed that the cognitive domain exerted direct influences on reading comprehension, whereas the psychological and ecological domains exerted indirect influences on reading comprehension. More specifically, the contribution of the psychological domain to reading comprehension was fully mediated via the cognitive domain. The contribution of the ecological domain to reading comprehension was fully mediated via the psychological and cognitive domains. Moreover, the findings indicated that cognitive factors, as well as psychological factors, were key sources of reading comprehension difficulties among Chinese ESL learners. Conclusion: The findings of the present study enrich the extant literature of reading comprehension in Chinese ESL learners and have implications for the identification of reading comprehension difficulties.



Componential model of reading, Reading comprehension, Chinese learners