Comprehending and recalling from text: The role of motivational and cognitive factors
University of Florence, Italy
The relative contribution of motivational and cognitive factors to reading comprehension might depend on how reading comprehension is measured. The participants in this study were 146 students attending grade 7. Students' reading comprehension of a history text was assessed through three measures, literal comprehension, inferential comprehension, and free recall. Students' prior knowledge, reading motivation, topic interest, inference-making skills, and metacognition were also assessed. According to the multivariate general linear model, the set of motivational and cognitive variables explained students' performance in inferential comprehension and free recall, but not in literal comprehension. Moreover, topic interest moderated the association between inference-making skills and free recall. Results underlined the importance of the interplay between motivational and cognitive factors in contributing to students' deep processing of the text, but also emphasised that reading measures might not tap the same array of processes. While literal comprehension happens without the direct involvement of the cognitive-motivational variables measured in this study, believing in one own's ability in reading was associated to deep processing of the text, and free recall required the involvement of both, cognitive and motivational variables.
Intrinsic motivation defines students' reading because they are interested, curious, or just motivated for its own sake (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Lau, 2016). This construct includes the desire to read about a specific topic (i.e., curiosity; Renninger, Hidi & Krapp, 1992), the enjoyment experienced while reading about a specific topic (i.e., involvement; Schallert & Reed, 1997), the subjective importance attributed to the value of reading as a task (i.e., importance; Wigfield & Eccles, 1992), and students' awareness of what they do not like about reading (i.e., reading work avoidance; Nicholls, Cheung, Lauer & Patashnick, 1989). Extrinsic motivation defines students' reading to perform well in the eyes of others. This construct includes the pleasure of being recognised as good reader, receiving good grades, and outperforming others in reading (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Finally, the construct of social aspects of motivation is based on the idea that reading is inherently a social activity (Guthrie, McGough, Bennett & Rice, 1996). This construct includes the process of sharing the meanings gained from reading with people around us, and reading as a process to meet the expectations of others. On the basis of these theoretical assumptions, Wigfield and Guthrie developed the Motivation for Reading Questionnaire (1997) which allows the researcher to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the effect of this construct on reading comprehension and recall performances.
Schaffner and Schiefele (2013) conducted two studies on the influence of motivational and cognitive factors on reading comprehension in two conditions, with as opposed to without text accessibility According to their results, comprehension measured without text access was more demanding for memory and inferential processing, whereas comprehension with text access was more strongly predicted by motivation. Surprisingly, prior knowledge did not contribute to reading comprehension in either of the two conditions, probably because one of their cognitive measures, reasoning ability, outweighed it as a predictor of comprehension. Moreover, metacognition contributed to reading comprehension only in the without-text condition, whereas the authors expected this factor to contribute to comprehension with text access too. It must be noticed that their measure of metacognition included only students' knowledge of reading strategy (excluding metacognitive knowledge, for instance), thus a different and more comprehensive measure of metacognition might yield different results. Intrinsic motivation was a significant predictor in both conditions, as it explained a significant portion of variance in reading comprehension performance with and without access to text. From these studies it can be noticed that tasks that are more cognitively demanding, in this case comprehension without text access, require a stronger interplay between motivational and cognitive factors. In particular, when the text is not accessible, readers can only rely on their ability to access the situational model created at the time of reading (Ozuru et al., 2007).
The research questions for this study were:
Self-efficacy (9 items)
This dimension included the belief that one can be successful at reading, reading challenge, and the satisfaction of assimilating ideas from the text. An example of item was: I learn more from reading than most students in the class (reading efficacy). The alpha coefficient of this scale was .79.
Intrinsic motivation (14 items)
This dimension includes the scales of curiosity (desire to learn about a certain topic), reading involvement (enjoyment of experiencing texts), and importance of reading (how important reading is for the student). An item example was: I make pictures in my mind when I read (reading involvement). The alpha coefficient of this instrument was .80.
Extrinsic motivation (15 items)
This dimension includes the scales of competition in reading, i.e. desiring to outperform others in reading, recognition for reading (gratification for being rewarded in reading), and reading for grades (the desire to receive high grades in reading from the teacher). An example of item was: I like to finish my reading before other students (competition). The alpha coefficient of this instrument was .77.
Social aspects (12 items)
This dimension includes the scales of social reasons for reading (sharing information from texts with family and friends), and compliance (reading because of an external goal or requirement). An example of this item was: I visit the library often with my family (social). The alpha coefficient of this instrument was .76.
After World War I, Germany had to: A. increase their army; B. cede the regions of Alsace and Lorraine to Italy; C. pay a huge amount of money to the winner states; D. cede their production of coal in the Saar region to Austria.
According to you, a good reader: A. reads everything with the same accuracy; B. changes his/her way of reading according to text difficulties; C. always reads aloud.Semantic inferences
Some of the following sentences have some mistakes. Find and underline them: "The student tried to answer to the teacher's question, but he did not succeed because he had studied very much".
I only had with me 8-10 people who were guiding me and carrying what I needed for a few days. Why was Piaggia travelling with other 8-10 people? A. because he did not trust just one person; B. because they were at the same time guides and bearers and he had a lot of stuff to carry; C. because he was afraid of an assault; D. because he felt affection towards them.Reading comprehension of history text
Students answered five questions on information explicitly stated in the text. The alpha coefficient of this instrument was .73. An example item was:
Peace agreements established that from the dissolved Habsburg Empire new nations should have risen: Republic of Austria [...], Republic of Czechoslovakia [...], Reign of Yugoslavia [...], Republic of Poland [...], republic of Hungary. Which nations were created from the dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire? A. Austria and Germany; B. Spain and Portugal; C. Serbia and Croatia; D. Austria and Hungary.Inferential comprehension
England and France aimed [...] at preventing Germany from recovering from the loss and re-becoming the major continental power. [... to be connected with...] At the end, in Versailles, the Peace Agreement was signed, and it imposed heavy conditions on the German State (June, 1919): [...] reduction of the army to 100,000 men. Why was the German army reduced to just 100,000 men? A. because all the other soldiers died during the war. B. because German soldiers had to take service with other nations' armies. C. to prevent it to become a power again. D. because soldiers had to work in the factories and in the fields abandoned during the war.Free recall
The second research question was explored through a series of moderation analyses, with cognitive variables as independent variables, free recall as dependent variable, and motivational variables as moderators of the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. The moderation analyses were conducted through PROCESS, an SPSS Macro created by Hayes (2012). The moderation effects were derived from linear regression models, and tested through the bootstrapping strategy (Preacher & Hayes, 2008).
|MRQ - Self-efficacy||9||33||21.24||4.72|
|MRQ - Intrinsic||19||50||34.63||6.64|
|MRQ - Extrinsic||15||52||32.72||7.18|
|MRQ - Social||12||43||27.10||6.02|
|Note: * Variables normalised through monotonic increasing
transformations (Fox, 2008). |
PK = Prior Knowledge; MRQ = Motivation for Reading Questionnaire; HIS = History.
|MRQ - Self-efficacy||.89||4.36||3,135||.01||.11|
|MRQ - Intrinsic||.97||.99||3,135||.40||.03|
|MRQ - Extrinsic||.97||1.08||3,135||.36||.03|
|MRQ - Social||1.00||.12||3,135||.95||.00|
According to the univariate analyses, the GLM was not statistically significant in explaining variance in literal comprehension of text, F(8, 135) = 0.98, p > .05, η2 = .07. The GLM was statistically significant in explaining variance in inferential comprehension of text, F(8, 135) = 2.10, p < .05, η2 = .14, and free recall, F(8, 135) = 5.86, p < .001, η2 = .31.
More specifically, inferential comprehension of text was explained by self-efficacy only. Free recall was explained by prior knowledge, inference-making skills, metacognition, and topic interest (see Table 3 and Figure 1).
|Inferential comprehension||Free recall|
Figure 1: Graphical representation of relationships between cognitive and
motivational variables, and levels of reading comprehension.
Figure 2: Graphical representation of the moderating effect of topic interest on the influence of
inferences on free recall of an expository text (data points represents unstandardised estimates
of effects of inferences on free recall as influenced by interest in the topic).
The failure of motivational and cognitive variables to explain literal comprehension performance is not surprising. Past studies have demonstrated that poor comprehenders do not differ from good comprehenders in answering literal questions, suggesting that literal comprehension might not be a reliable indicator of reading comprehension (Cain & Oakhill, 1999). Although any higher level of comprehension depends on literal comprehension, literal questions are generally easier to answer than other types of questions, and they do not require deep processing of the text, but rather bottom-up processes, such as word level skills, might be sufficient, and might not demand any level of comprehension, other than identifying key words associated with the question (Eason et al., 2012). Less demanding tasks reduce the necessity for higher-order skills, such as prior knowledge (Ozuru et al., 2007; Voss & Silfies, 1996), working memory and inferential processing (Schaffner & Schiefele, 2013).
Inferential comprehension and free recall were both predicted by the motivational and cognitive processes assessed in this study, although the relative contribution of the predictors changed as a function of the question type. Inferential comprehension was explained by reading motivation, in particular by self-efficacy. In line with Ozuru et al.'s (2007) and Schaffner and Schiefele's (2013) findings, students who were more willing to read the text and spend more time on it, were also able to construct a situational model of the text itself, as typically assessed by inferential questions (Kintsch, 1994). Students who feel that they are efficacious in reading will also achieve their goals, and this success motivates them to engage even more in reading activities, which increases their reading performance (Walker, 2003). Surprisingly, cognitive variables did not contribute to explaining variance in inferential comprehension, differently from suggestions by previous studies (Eason et al., 2012). Probably, readers are able to implement higher-order processing if they still have access to the text. Higher-order processing is not always necessary. In everyday reading activities students might need to be taught how to "skim read", to know "what is there", and how to go back for re-reading, in case one might feel a need for further text elaboration. Conversely, they can only rely on the efforts made while they were reading, a variable strictly associated to motivation (Schaffner, Schiefele, & Ulferts, 2013). Or, finally, this result might be because the task was within the cognitive capacities of all the students (students with learning and language difficulties having been excluded).
Free recall appeared to be the most demanding task (Ozuru et al., 2007). Motivational and cognitive variables were all involved when students had to recall information included in the text previously read. Among motivational variables, topic interest and not reading motivation contributed to free recall performances. This finding is consistent with Schiefele's studies (1996, 1999), who specifically worked on the influence of topic interest on learning from text. An interested reader might read to actually learn something from the text, creating the conditions for him/her to deeply engage with the text. Consistently, prior knowledge, metacognition and inferences contributed to free recall. As hypothesised in previous studies (Ozuru et al., 2007; Schaffner & Schiefele, 2013), a free recall task should emphasise those cognitive processes that help students to construct a situational model, as this is the only representation they can count on. Conversely, when answering questions with text access, students can update their text representation while processing the questions. Previous studies widely agree that situation models can be constructed if the students are able to create links within the text, and to fill the gaps in the text by connecting information from text to relevant background knowledge (Oakhill, 1983). The results of this study confirmed Schaffner and Schiefele's finding (2013) that metacognitive competence predicted students' reading comprehension performances in the most demanding condition and extended it by including a measure of self-regulation, in addition to metacognitive knowledge. Students with high metacognitive competence are typically aware of the purpose of reading (in this study, reading for study), are able to read the text strategically, and are able to monitor their comprehension process (Kolić-Vehovec & Bajšanski, 2006; Mokhtari & Reichard, 2002). Moreover, students with high metacognitive competence are also able to use the reading comprehension question as a feedback upon their actual comprehension of the written information, giving them possibilities for correcting misunderstanding and revising their situational model.
Motivational variables partially contributed to moderate the association between cognitive factors and reading comprehension. However, the moderating influence of topic interest did not contribute to moderate the application of cognitive skills to reading comprehension, differing from findings in previous studies (e.g., Boscolo & Mason, 2003). Low and medium levels of interest influenced the association between inferences and free recall, whereas high levels of interest did not. To interpret this unexpected result, other processes should be taken into account. For instance, previous studies have demonstrated that motivational variables increase the amount of time that readers dedicate to the reading activity, which in turn improves their reading comprehension performances (Schaffner et al., 2013; Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997). Thus, I could hypothesise that students with low levels of interest in the topic discussed in the text need to rely more on the efficacy of the cognitive basis of reading comprehension to construct a situational model of the reading and be able to recall information. Instead, students with high levels of interest in the topic would probably spend more time on the reading activity (because they consider the topic important and/or because they receive a positive feedback while reading), reducing the importance of the cognitive basis in the construction of the situational model of the text. However, the research design of this study does not allow us to draw a conclusion, and future studies should include a measure of reading amount to confirm this hypothesis.
Results from this study are affected by a few limitations. Firstly, prior knowledge was assessed with a set of multiple-choice questions on the topic of the text, but other important dimensions of prior knowledge were not included. For instance, future studies could explore the influence of students' depth of knowledge in the topic discussed in the reading (see Tarchi, 2010; 2015). Also, while prior knowledge might be associated with better results, prior knowledge might obviate the need for (or even interfere with), rather than contribute to, reading skills. Secondly, future studies should focus on the reading behaviour occurring during the reading comprehension phase. As previously said, reading behaviour variables might explain why certain variables influenced immediate reading comprehension and not free recall, or vice versa. For instance, more interested students might decide whether the text is trustworthy or relevant before reading it, or motivated students might spend more time in reading the text or switch more often between questions and text in order to answer (see Schaffner et al., 2013).
On an educational level, each motivational and cognitive process included in this study played an important role for comprehending and/or recalling a text, and teachers should empower the interplay between these processes, in addition to strengthening the levels of each of them. But it could also be possible to identify alternative paths to achieve high levels of free recall. For instance, a very interested student might not need excellent levels in inferences to deeply understand a text. Or students might be encouraged to put more effort in reading especially when texts are of less interest and familiarity to them. It is then important to include measures of interest and motivation along with the more traditional cognitive assessments of reading comprehension to help students learn from written expository texts. This study also suggests caution in clinical assessment, as the detection of a reading comprehension deficit might depend on the type of measure implemented.
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|Author: Dr Christian Tarchi is a researcher in the Education and Psychology Department at the University of Florence, Italy. His current research interests are focused on reading comprehension of single and multiple texts, critical thinking, emergent literacy, and reading and spelling acquisition.|
Please cite as: Tarchi, C. (2017). Comprehending and recalling from text: The role of motivational and cognitive factors. Issues in Educational Research, 27(3), 600-619. http://www.iier.org.au/iier27/tarchi.html