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'l'cxt Corrtcnt Structut'c on 'l'cxt llccall

The Influence of Text Content Structure on Text Recall

Siti Zaliha Mustapha

information that is particular to the individual only). Thc instantiation or "exciting" relevant information from long-term memory for retrieval purposes is hypothesized to be "autotnatic" with expert or proficient readers (Meyer, 1975); the less proficient
readers' inability to do so usually results in a failure to comprehend

parts or all of the text read (Calfee. 1981; Brown. 1981, 19833; Tulving, 1985; Trabasso et. al., 1984; Kintsch and van Dijk, 1978;
and van

Dijk and Kintsch, 1983).

Abstract: In order to veri$ full comprehension of texts read, it might be necessary to make use of Retelling - a procedure where readers are asked to re-tell what they understood oftext read either
through verbal or written recall. This research reports the influence of text content structure on readers' memory as seen in their verbal retelling/recall protocols.

Keywords: Text content structure, retelling, content instantiation,

superordinates, subordinates, elaborations

However, the writer of this paper also feels that the instantiation, retrieval, and use of knowledge structures alone are inadequate in explaining how a lengthy text is comprehended. There must be a method to show how textual components, deemed important by readers, are "arranged" in readers' long-term memory (LTM) for retrieval purposes. It is, therefore, hypothesized that the most logical method of arranging these textual components is for the

Reading does not merely entail the processes of encoding and decoding. More is taking place within the readers as they interact with texts. Even as readers begin to take in chunks of visual clues from the printed pages, other elements such as writers' reason for composing texts, writing style adopted, writers' social background, biases, prejudices, and store of knowledge brought into the texts will also be assessed, not in depth, maybe, but assessed all the same by the readers. At the same time, readers' own reason for reading and the kinds ofreading strategies available and used in encoding and decoding textual clues will also be part of the cognitive and metacognitive knowledge structures that are being "excited" in the brain. In other words, reading entails not only the ability to encode and decode linguistic structures but also the ability to pool together other knowledge structures - content, semantic and episodic--in order to meet the reading task ahead. (According to Tulving (1972), Semantic memory is the world knowledge, including knowledge of language that a person has. It is a storehouse of generic information that is typically similar among individuals that share and belong to the same culture and society. Episodic memory, on the other hand, is a 'personalized' kind of reservoir; full of

readers to "compose" another "TEXT" - i.e. each piece of information taken in must be part of the general structure and meaning of a new TEXT being composed in the readers'minds. In producing this TEXI they will also try to create "coherence" whereby each chunk of information that has been successfully encoded and decoded in working memory (WM) will be stored in LTM using all the (text) "integration" knowledge they have to help them form their own, new, "re-created" TEXT (Mustapha, 199I). The idea of TEXT-creation processes taking place within the readers is plausible because of the following reasons:

(a)a lengthy text could not have been remembered through

reading and comprehension alone. The readers must resort to some kind of strategy to choose and remember all the salient

points (or at least those idea units that readers think are salient) for recall later. (b). These points must have been arranged following a certain schematic map so that they will not be recalled in a
haphazard manner. (c).The schematic map instituted must necessarily be that of

"text", and the kind of text


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(d)schema to be instantiated from LTM will depend on the number of text schemata already available in readers' LTM
(e.g. prose, story etc.) (e)The "goodness" of the new TEXT will also depend on readers' knowledge of writing and the geme to be emulated.

Thus, following the idea of text-writing, the readers (who

become their own autonomous selves; that is, each new "re-created" TEXT must bear its own stamp of originality in the sense that although it may contain many idea units taken from the original source, other personal idea units must have also been incorporated to help enhance those found in the original text. These incorporated idea units will, therefore, reflect readers' own "addition,,,



if it is done mentally), will



"specification", "particularization", and/or even "biases,' (Mustapha, 1988). When this happens, the same text can be rendered differently by different readers because each will bring his
or her own store of knowledge structures to interact with the source text and the product of this interaction will help bring about the creation of the new TEXT.

The question that could be asked at this juncture is "which will readers use to create the o'new" text?" In order to answer that question, understanding Kintsch and van Dijk,s (1978) macrostructure theory of comprehension may be of some benefit. What the theory tries to explain is that a text is first of all processed at a low level of micro-structure propositions (i.e. words, phrases
aspects of text and sentences); the level which expresses the immediate content of the passage. The macro processes, using semantic and episodic knowledge, condense the micro-structure propositions to a relatively few macro-propositions (sometimes referred to as superordinates or main ideas) which express the gist or important content of the passage. These macro-propositions are then stored in LTM. The manner in which these macro-propositions are stored is personal and will depend on the knowledge structures available to the readers and how they are used during reading. At the same time, within the original text itself the macropropositions have, attached to them, other microstructure

propositions which are grouped in the lbrm of subordinalcs (supporting ideas), and elaborations (supporting details). Whcn readers are required to recall the passage content, thc superordinates are retrieved and then other knowledge is uscd to reconstruct some of the subordinates which may or may not be vcry ditTerent from those presented in the original text. The "new TEXT" recalled may have the same gist as the original but this gis( may be highly paraphrased, condensed, and may also contain elaborations which reflect readers' use of their own storc ol' semantic and episodic knowledge. Another aspect that must be considered in text re-creation is thc "socio-communicative" component involved in reading (and also in a retelling task). The concept of communication is basic in both reading and writing. Texts are written as a result of the authors, wish to communicate something to others, and readers read becausc of their interest to gain from what authors have to say. In both thcsc activities writers and readers interact in order to make thcir meanings clear. When a text is being read, a number of questiorrs will be asked of the writers; their ideas and views will be critically assessed - some accepted, others rejected - and the writers (unablc to answer back) can only hope that the manner in which their views are presented and supported will be adequate to clearly express what they have to say. In the end, however, readers will come away from this textual-communicative interaction either totally agreeing, partly agreeing, or not agreeing with what authors have to say. It is these views together with other macro- and micro-propositions gleaned from source texts that will help form the basis of thc readers' own new, re-created TEXT; the main reason again is to communicate their ideas based on what they have understood ancl what their reaction toward the original text is.

Now, if readers' re-created TEXT is hypothesised to be the result o1' interaction between the original text with readers' own biases, particularisations, additions, and other knowledge structures, then


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perhaps given an appropriate tool, we might be able to see the nature of this new o'text": what aspects of the original text are chosen and what kind of personal knowledge structures - semantic and episodic - are used in this re-creation? The tool chosen for this task is verbal retelling; a method where readers are asked to verbally retell what they have understood and remembered of a text read. Through retellings, readers' encoding strategies and the information readers report after reading can then be studied (Just & Carpenter, 1980; Voss & Tylea 1935).

The retelling task was given to a group of 6 L2 readers from Universiti Putra Malaysia (uPM). These participants were in their final year in a B. Ed. degree program in TESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language). They came from different parts of Malaysia and represented the three main ethnic groups in the country; Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Participants were between 26-32 years of age and had at least five years of teaching experience (either at the primary or secondary school level) prior to coming to UPM for their degree course. All of them completed their primary and secondary education and their teacher certification in the English medium. This means that all of them would have had at least 13 years of formal instruction in the medium of English in all subjects both at the school and college level. They were recommended to this research project by lecturers who had taught them and who attested to their high level of spoken and written English language capability.

quite diffrcult but not too difficult as to cause failure to read or o'new" in the sense that participants understand. The article was also had not seen nor read it before. Participants were asked to come individually to the recording room in one of the language laboratories in uPM. Before entering the lab, each of them was asked to take a reading passage into the recording room to read. They were told to read the article silently for comprehension and that at the end of this reading exercise they would be asked to retell what the article was about. They were also encouraged to make notes, to underline ideas and to do anlthing that would help them in the retelling task later. The time given for this reading task was fifteen minutes after which the researcher would enter the recording lab and retelling (without the aid of the
article) would then take Place.


In this task, participants were told that their retelling could include not only their understanding of the material read but also their views, and their reaction to it. Retellings were tape-recorded and later transcribed verbatim. The transcriptions were then analysed for personal and textual components included: superordinates'
subordinates, elaborations.

Prior to analyzing participants' retelling protocols, the researcher of and two other colleagues, who were native speakers and readers English, read the article chosen and blind-coded it for superordinates, subordinates, and elaborative details (Refer Appendix A for Text Structure Composition)' Codings were then compared to look for similarities and/or differences in the text content or idea units that were recognised as superordinates, subordinates, and elaborations. where differences in opinions were to detected; the text would be read again and analysed together resolve these differences; at the end of which categories of main idea units - superordinates - would have been agreed upon' 7

The article chosen for the study is one written by Kenneth S. Goodman, "'Who Can be a Whole Language Teacher?,' (in kachers Networking: The LI/hole Language Newsletteri Vol.I. 1987). The article is 1,797 words in length. Although some of the basic ideas which are related to reading and discussed in it were familiar to participants, the article itself was rated by LIPM TESL lecturers as

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superordinates were identified 'A', 'B', ,C,,,D,, oE', ,F' and ,G,. However, oG' is a reiteration of some of the points in F(i) and F(iv),

leaving the true number of superordinates to six. (Figure I _ developed by the researcher for simplifuing the mapping of idea units - shows a simplified "text-tree structure" of the categories of these idea units). Analysis of participants' retelling protocols was based on this Figure. A comparison was then made between idea
units present in participants' retelling protocols (Figure units given in the text-tree structure (Figure I).

. . A/Ai . B/Bi/Bii/Biiilclcin . EilEii/EiiilBivlEv . A/FlFi/FiiiFiii/Fiv

TEXT Participant No. (mis)/A/ElEiv/Ev


. . EIF lBi/ElilEiiilBiv . Eiv/Ev . (mis)/Ev .Fi


Participant No. (mis)



and idea

The study shows that there are some similarities in main-idea selection. Style of "chunking" is reflected in the number of idea units placed together within an "oral" paragraph. oral paragraphing is deduced through long pauses and changes in tone of vole in tapes reviewed. Figure II shows that four out of six participants included superordinates 'A' (sometimes subsumed under .main idea statement' [mis]), the remaining two using mainly superordinates 'E' and 'F'. Participant No.5, however, included all superordinates - 'A', to 'G' - in her retelling.
"Who Can Be a Whole Language Teacher?"
(by Kenneth Goodman)

. . . .

TEXT Participant No. 2 A/Fiv F iv I CilElBi/Eii/Eiii Eiv/Ev Fiv/Fi/Fii/Fiii

Participant No.


D/Di/Dii/Diii EilEiiilBivlEv A/G/Fiv/Fi/Fii
Participant No. 6

. . Eii/Eiii . B/Bii/Fi/Fiii . Eiv/Ev

TEXT Participant No.3 (mis)/E

. (mis)/A/Ai . CID . ElilBiiilBi . C/Eiii/Fiffiv . Eiv/Ev

The New Recreated TEXTs:

KeY: (mis) - main idea statement





FG (i) (ii) (iii) (iv)


A ComParison between Content Structure of Original Text and Content Structure of The New
Recreated Texts

(i) (ii)

(i) (ii) (iii)

__l_ (ii)
(D (iiD

ab abcde abcde abcdefB

Figure I: Text-Tree Structure for the Goodman Article (Frorn S. Z. Mustapha, o.Text-Tree Structure," l99l:ll5)



(iiD (iv)

'"'i'r'i ..1.1"


The manner in which these suporordinates are arranged and how they are connected differ among participants. It would seem that each of them was to a certain extent, reading 'aloud' her own mental TEXT which she had composed by first taking superordinates frorn the source text and using general knowledge to reconstruct them in the manner they prefer most. (Sometimes, this turned out to be quite different from those originally presented.) In this case then the new TEXT would have been reconstructed through the process of each reader's own addition,

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particularization, and/or biases.

The end result of


reconstruction is the emergence of a TEXT which bears the mark


the individual author; each TEXT displaying the author's oral "writing" style and ability. At the same time, certain elements in the text being read must also be helping readers to remember the superordinates (or main idea units). According to Kintsch and van Dijk (197g), text
referential and semantic coherence cannot be performed on the text as a whole because of readers'limited working memory capacity. A reader, therefore, tends to "chunk" a certain number of propositions

Report." Content of the Report, hypothetically, must be absent from this group of readers' schematic repertoire). This is an interesting observation because according to Brown and Day (1983), older and more mature students (readers) tend to select topic sentences (superordinates) from the text to be included in their text summary task. However, in this study, although 'B' and 'C' (and only one used superordinate 'D' in her retelling) have been
selected as text superordinates by some readers (refer Figure II), others have left them out as they probably do not understand the ideas involved in both. (Superordinate 'D' constitutes 3 humorous hypotheses on why Whole language is successful in New Zealand. (Refer Appendix A). When viewed as humor, readers must have decided to ignore this superordinate and to use only those which they perceived as more important to be included in their retelling protocols). Even those who have included these superordinates have not shown any real

depending on "propositional overlaps" and the surface characteristics of the text given. What Kintsch and van Dijk mean by propositional overlap is the presence of subordinates with many elaborations that help make the meaning of given superordinates clearer. It is the elaborations which come under subordinates that make meaning concrete and thus give rise to better comprehension of text. (Refer to Appendix A for Text Structure components). The concept of propositional overlap is important because from what can be observed from this group of participants, it is superordinates 'E' and 'F' (which have subordinates with many
elaborating details) that seem to consistently surface in readers' new

re-created TEXTs. The implication

writing-to-learn situation

is of great importance

in a reading-to-learn




elaborations help provide the necessary elements to make NEW knowledge comprehensible, then the choice of texts to be given to students to read (on their own) must be carefully done, else comprehension, and retention of information, may not occur easily. Retention, or lack of it, can be observed in readers' retellings for superordinates 'B', and 'C' especially 'B') both of which carry minimal or no elaboration. Since 'Bi', .Bii', and ,Biii, contain some information which must be new and/or unfamiliar to this group of readers (e.g. "change in concept in reading and writing", "change in (the USA) cuniculum to suit change", and ..changing needs of audience and professionals - the elaboration given again talks about "theory"), they have left this subordinate out of their new TEXT. (The same is true of 'C' that talks of the .,Anderson

understanding of them either; inclusion seems to be part of a reading and remembering strategy. What can be gleaned from this could be the fact that since this group of Malaysian readers' content memory is poor concerning this particular information, bridging of "old" and "new" information (Haviland & Clark, 1974) or the process of "schema enrichment" (Spiro. 1977) has failed to occur. Perhaps, Brown & Day's reference to "older and mature" subjects only encompass those who are also already rich in both semantic and episodic memory and do not apply to those who are still in the process of feeding new input into these memory structures - input which will be enriched through subsequent readings). Thus, we go back to the communicative aspect involved in




it is only through understanding


information given in texts that readers can successfully inform their listeners - verbally or in writing - what they have read and learned. When the text read contains many new concepts, especially those not available in their content, semantic or episodic memory it would seem that it is "elaborative details" within the text that are able to help them understand these new concepts better. When the text fails to supply these, only those which can be connected to

background knowledge and those which are fairly understood


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D. Real reasons why WL is

Text Structure Components for Ken Goodman's "Who can be a whole language teacher?,' (1]gT words)
successful in New


Long history of child-centered education

a. Dewey's philosophy



"leaming by doing" b. Administrators and tcachcrs

grew nurtured in this philosophy
a. Publishes books specially

A. Whole language (WL)
gaining popularity
B- Need for revision



There's only cne school system in the country (iii) Govemment is involved in school system
To cater to change in concept reading and writing To stress for change in

written by local authors b. Provides strong teaching guidelines for teachers to put theory into practice
a. reading should be childcentered




curriculum to cater to this changing perspective To cater to changing needs of audience and professionals

(iv) Govemment provides basic

assumptions about reading

a. the need for theoretical

to put their beliefinto action.


b. it should be meaningful c. it should be rewarding d. learning to read is by reading e. best approach is a combination of approaches

f. best cure for reading failure is good first teaching g. foundation for literacy is laid in child's early years

C. The Anderson Report and doubts conceming


Result in WL teaching when

compared to other methods used

ability of American
teachers (compared to New Zealand teachers) to be successful with

was inconsistent.

(ii) Difference in teachers more

important than in methods used

(v) Govemment provides advice to


a. meaningful texts


D. Humorous hypotheses on success of WL in New Zealand New Zealand kids wellequipped to leam through any method of teaching (ii) All New Zealand teachers are excellent teachers



enhance positive strategies and attitude to the child b. allow child to take risks in

(iiD WL success has something to do with New Zealand,

students' cultural and genetic makeup.

reading c. allow child to self-improve. Miscues are not mistakes. It's a natural part ofthe reading process d. develops the child's ability to use "cues" to self-conect e. use skill in helping child to be an independent reader

ofWL has been long and consistent in NZ b. teachers not burdened by

a. use

Expands on


tests c. govemment has trust and

gives teachers encouragement d. everyone's working together to help kids grow into


it is not risky to be a WL



English Language Journal

F. Who are the WL teachers in the US?

a. outstanding in their

b. become one through own

decision in spite ofschool

and district policies

c. know the risks involved and work harder than other

teachers d. read a lot to understand

better what WL means and what it entails

e. are able to defend what they

believe in f. willing to get together in support groups to share knowledge

a. managed to attract the attention of colleagues and


How have these teachers

affected others in the US?

administrators alike b. invited to do staff development c. invited to present at conferences d. looked upon as people genuinely concerned about what's best for kids
a. as being dynamic, and not afraid to take risks

(iii) How do they perceive


b. as being responsible, but also expect power

(iv) What prompted them to be WL


a. when dissatisfied with the usual reading practices in

the class b. when tired of always being

told what to do c. when tired ofteaching for gain scores on tests

G WL is contagious in the
US. In what way and

Spreading fast
Reiterates some ofthe points in F(i) and F(V)