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Interdisciplinaria

On-line version ISSN 1668-7027

Abstract

AMADO, Bibiana María del Carmen  and  BORZONE, Ana María. Expository texts comprehension: The relevance of knowledge of children from different socio-cultural environments. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2011, vol.28, n.2, pp. 261-277. ISSN 1668-7027.

Written text comprehension is considered as an interactive process during which a mental representation is constructed by inferences making that require knowledge about texts, general knowledge about the world and specialized knowledge about the domain being discussed. The cognitive models of text processing emphasize the relevance of these types of knowledge for text comprehension (Gernsbacher, 1990; Kintsch, 1988; van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983). With regard to knowledge about the world, Vygotsky (1962) recognized different forms of conceptualization. He assumed that human beings are able to develop every day concept in the interaction with the environment and scientific concept that are reflective and systematic and must be taught. Within the framework of these contributions from Cognitive Psychology and the socio - cultural theory of human development the present work addressed the role that knowledge about the world of a group of children from a rural area plays in school expository texts comprehension. Expository texts were selected because for the processing of this type of text empirical and scientific concepts have to be activated. In previous studies on the activity systems of a rural community in the north of Córdoba (Argentina), the empirical concepts develop by children in the context of family activities, such as the weaving of palm leaves, animals bringing up and herbs gathering, were explored (Amado, 2010; Amado & Borzone, 2003). In this work the study of the way children from that community deal with expository texts processing was undertaken. With that purpose, three sets of three texts each were elaborated. The text material consisted in nine expository texts, three sets of three texts. Each set presented a progression from a known subject to the rural group (Text 1) to a text far from their natural and cultural environment (Text 3). Text 2 was about an unknown subject but the process described was related with the process described in Text 1. After reading each text, children had to answer eight literal and inferential questions. The answers to these questions were quantitative and qualitatively analyzed. The analysis of the performance of the rural group in understanding texts about known and unknown subjects was compared with the comprehension of a group of children from an urban area who had participated at school in a training program with expository texts. Results showed that the performance of children from the urban area was better than the performance of children from the rural community except in the cases of texts which included empirical concepts, that is, the knowledge that the rural group of children have learnt by their participation in the activity systems. Thus, although empirical concepts facilitated comprehension processes, they were not sufficient for all texts understanding and might be even an obstacle to the construction of coherent mental representation of the text if the children have not developed general comprehension abilities. In fact, it was observed that when rural children activated empirical concepts that were not coherent with text concepts, they had some difficulty to inhibit them. On the contrary, the urban group of children had a good performance in the processing of all the text except one which required handling of very specific knowledge. These results have relevant implications to comprehension teaching at school as they showed that, even though empirical knowledge learnt within the activity systems of the community must be considered, it is also very important to develop general comprehension abilities and scientific concepts. They will allow making a strategic use of knowledge to understand not only texts on subject related to children socio-cultural information but also texts about events and phenomena from other environments which are presented from a scientific concepts perspective.

Keywords : Children comprehension; Knowledge about the world; Empirical concepts; Scientific concepts; Activity systems.

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