Children's memory for prose : the relationship between depth of processing and the recall of thematically relevant material by good and poor readers



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One hundred sixty seventh-grade students, subsequently classified as good and poor readers, read a prose passage. Independent groups of students at each reading level were required to process the passage according to different size units of information, i.e., single words, sentences, and paragraphs. A control group of students at each reading level read the entire passage in their normal fashion. All students were given an immediate free recall test, and the number of idea units recalled at each of four levels of structural importance to the passage constituted the dependent variable of interest. The results indicated that reading level, processing conditions, and level of idea-unit importance all had significant effects on recall. Good comprehenders recalled a greater proportion of the stories than poor comprehenders. Subjects processing according to individual words recalled the smallest proportion of idea units while subjects processing by sentences recalled the greatest proportion of idea units. Subjects processing according to paragraphsize units recalled the same proportion of idea units as did subjects in the control group, their performance at intermediate levels relative to the first two conditions. For both types of readers, the likelihood of recalling a particular idea unit in the passage was clearly a positive function of the unit's structural importance. The results also Indicated that processing conditions interacted with the type of reader and level of Importance. For good comprehenders inducing to process according to paragraph-size units tended to have a negative effect on recall performance relative to the control group while processing according to sentences had no effect. For poor comprehenders, Inducing to process according to paragraph-size units had no effect on recall relative to the control group while processing by sentences tended to have a facilitating effect. Inducing processing of single words had a decremental effect on recall and levels of importance for both good and poor comprehenders relative to spontaneous processing without Imposed constraints. For both types of readers, processing conditions affected recall of Important idea units more than unimportant idea units. One major conclusion from the study is that poor comprehenders can be Induced to take in larger units of information which results in more meaningful processing and better retention of the prose material.