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The effects of summarization instructions on text comprehension of students with learning disabilities.

* Reading is the most frequently mentioned academic subject in which students with learning disabilities experience failure (Lindsey & Kerlin, 1979). Although their problems in reading are generally attributed to poor decoding skills (McCormick & Samuels, 1979; Perfetti & Hogaboam, 1975), many of these students have difficulty in finding main ideas and important supporting details (Graves, 1986; McGee, 1982; Worden & Nakamura, 1983). Several researchers have reported that poor readers have comprehension deficits textual materials consisting only of words that could be decoded accurately (Guthrie, 1973; Smiley, Oakley, Worthen, Campione, & Brown, 1977).


Failure to employ appropriate learning strategies is often a critical component of learning disabilities (Alley & Deshler, 1979). Students with learning disabilities have often been characterized as "inactive learners" who fail to select, implement, and monitor effective learning strategies spontaneously (Torgesen, 1982). As groups, poor readers display less efficient textscanning strategies (DiVesta, Hayward, & Orlando, 1979; Garner & Reis, 1981), less efficient comprehension-monitoring strategies (Bos & Filip, 1984), and less sensitivity to text structure (Smith & Friend, 1986). Moreover, many such students fail to conceptualize reading as a search for meaning and, thus, approach the task passively (Bransford, Stein, & Vye, 1982; Paris & Meyers, 1981).

The generalized deficits in reading comprehension of many students with learning disabilities suggest the importance of systematic instruction in learning strategies. Three strategies have empirical support for use with poor readers: self-questioning (Clark, Deshler, Schumaker, Alley, & Warner, 1984; Wong & Jones, 1982; Wong, Wong, Perry, & Sawatsky, 1986), paraphrasing (Hansen, 1978; Jenkins, Heliotis, Haynes, & Beck, 1986; Schumaker, Denton, & Deshler, 1984), and visual imagery (Clark et al., 1984).


Summarization is a fourth learning strategy that can help students used deletion and superordination to construct and retain a succinct summary of important propositions from text. Kintsch and van Dijk (1978) hypothesized that during the process of comprehension, readers form a macrostructure, or gist, from the microstructure (i.e., the semantic content of sentences in the text). Although some information may be recalled explicitly, it is the text's macrostructure that a reader primarily remembers and uses as a cue to recall other information from the text. Kintsch and van Dijk have specified three macrorules for condensing information: (a) deletion--any proposition that denotes an accidental property of a discourse referent may be deleted; (b) generalization--an immediate superconcept may be substituted for a sequence of micropropositions; and (c) construction--a global proposition that denotes normal conditions, components, or consequences may be substituted for a sequence of propositions that makes them explicit. Application of these macrorules allows the reader to reduce the number of textual propositions and to extract the macrostructure.

Brown and Day (1983) proposed five basic rules of summarization. The first two rules require the deletion of unnecessary material. The third rule, superordination, requires the substitution of a superordinate term for a list of items or actions. The fourth and fifth rules deal with topic sentences for each paragraph: selection or invention of a topic sentence.


Students without disabilities have successfully been taught to summarize expository reading passages (Armbruster, Anderson, & Ostertag, 1987; Bean & Steenwyk, 1984; Hare & Borchardt, 1984; Palincsar, 1982; Rinehart, Stahl, & Erickson, 1986; Taylor, 1982; Taylor & Beach, 1984). Moreover, summarization training was found to improve reading comprehension. The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of instruction in a summarization strategy on the comprehension of expository material by students with learning disabilities. The maintenance of the strategy over time and its transfer to a new situation were also investigated.



The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, the effects of summarization strategy on reading comprehension were assessed by contrasting three groups of students: one group of students with average reading ability and two groups of students with learning disabilities who had been assigned randomly to one of two conditions (those trained in summarization and those not trained). In the second phase, maintenance and generalization of the summarization strategy were assessed for students with learning disabilities who had been trained to use the strategy. Two dependent measures were used: (a) comprehension scores on criterion tests prepared by the authors and (b) comprehension scores from a commercially prepared, norm-referenced reading test (MacGinitie, 1978). Subjects

Four learning disabilities resource teachers in rural central Pennsylvania nominated 63 sixth-through ninth-graders who had been classified as learning disabled and were adequate decoders but poor comprehenders.

To ensure that these were students who had difficulties in reading comprehension, they were required to meet for additional criteria. First, in order to test decoding skills, students had to read a 200-word expository passage written at the fourth-grade level with 90% accuracy. Second, students' standardized scores on the reading comprehension subtest of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test had to be at least 2 years below grade level but not lower than Grade 4. (This criterion was set as the minimum acceptable comprehension skill for instructional purposes and was consistent with the minimum standards established for training in learning strategies at the Institute of Research in Learning Disabilities, University of Kansas.) Third, students' performances on reproduction of main ideas, a summarization measure, were required to be below 40%. Fourth, students' performance on two criterion tests of comprehension was required to be below 40%. Each criterion test consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions on an expository passage. Two different expository passages were used to control for subjects' familiarity with the content material.

Participants were 30 students with learning disabilities in Grades 6 through 9 from three different schools in two school districts, who met the criteria previously specified. These students were stratified by reading levels on the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test and then randomly assigned to experimental and control groups. Table I contains descriptive information for the students in these two groups. The groups appeared equivalent on chronological age, grade placement, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised intelligence quotients, and Gates-MacGinitie reading performance.
Means and Standard Deviations for Chronological Age, Grade Placement, Intelligen
ce Quotients, and
 Reading Performance for Students With Learning Disabilities
 Experimental Group Control Group
 (n = 15) (n = 15)
Information Mean (SD) Mean (SD)
CA 14.33 (1.11) 14.70 (1.58)
Grade 7.53 (1.93) 7.20 (1.04)
FSIQ 94.13 (8.95) 95.53 (11.13)
VIQ 88.67 (10.74) 90.27 (11.87)
PIQ 100.73 (10.23) 98.07 (10.95)
NCE 28.00 (4.18) 30.02 (3.90)
ORA (%) 92.53 (1.89) 92.80 (1.83)
Note: CA = Chronological Age; FSIQ = Full Scale IQ;
VIQ = Verbal Scale IQ; PIQ = Performance Scale IQ;
NCE = Normal Curve Equipment Score on Gates-MacGinitie
Comprehension Subtest; ORA = Oral Reading

To provide some normative data on the comprehension tests used in this study, 15 average readers formed a normal comparison group. This group was drawn from Grades 6 through 9 in proportion to the study participants in these grades. These students were not enrolled in any remedial or accelerated reading program. According to their teacher, they were reading at, or slightly above, their grade level. Materials

Instructional Materials. A separate set of 10 short paragraphs was developed to teach students each of the five summarization rules. Each set of paragraphs focused exclusively on a different rule. In addition to the paragraphs used to teach the specific summarization skills, six expository passages were used to train the students to apply the summarization rules in concert. Passages from Timed Readings Series (Spargo, Williston, & Browning, 1980) were modified to ensure that the various summarization rules could be applied. Therefore, lists of items/events were added to allow superordination; topic sentences were manipulated to allow their selection or invention; and to allow deletion, some sentences were paraphrased and added, as were trivial details. The readability of the passages ranged from 4.0 to 4.6, according to the Fry (1977) formula; passages ranged in length from 400 to 470 words.

Testing Materials. Six expository passages similar to those employed for training were prepared for use as pretest, posttest, and delayed posttest. For each passage, 10 multiple-choice comprehension questions were constructed. These questions were of two kinds: five condensation questions (assessing comprehension of main ideas, cause and effect relationships, concepts, and inferences) and five factual questions (to assess explicitly stated facts). Further, alternate forms of the comprehension subtest of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test were administered to all students with learning disabilities before training and to the experimental group after the training. Testing Procedures

The order of presentation of four passages was balanced across students and across pretest-posttest conditions so that a passage would be used as a pretest for some students and posttest for other students. Pretest and posttest data were collected on two passages per condition from all students; only one passage was tested per day. Thus, pretesting required 2 days, as did posttesting. Each student was given a tape recorder ad a packet containing the expository passage, pencils, red pen, and scratch paper. On the pretest, students were told what summarization is and were instructed to read the passage, to underline the important sentence in pencil, and to cross out the unimportant sentences with the red pen. On the posttest, the students were asked only to form a summary. On both pretest and posttest, students were told to use their marked passage or rough notes to construct and tape-record their summaries. In addition, students were required to answer the 10 multiple-choice questions per passage. Finally, comprehension scores from the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test were available for students with learning disabilities from their earlier screening.

Using the same procedures as used for the posttest, students in the experimental group were again tested to assess maintenance of the summarization strategy. At this time, the students in the experimental group were also tested for generalization. To assess generalization of the strategy, the resource room teachers were requested to administer an alternate form of the comprehension subtest of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test to students in the experimental group. The order of administration of the delayed posttest and test for generalization was randomized across students. The delayed posttest was conducted between 25 to 36 days (median = 29) after training. Instructional Procedures

To attribute changes in comprehension to instruction in summarization, we found it necessary to ensure that the students learned the strategy. Consequently, a mastery-learning paradigm (Bloom, 1976) was used to guarantee that each student in the experimental group had acquired the five summarization rules developed by Brown and Day (1983): (a) superordination, (b) deletion of redundant information, (c) selection, (d) invention, and (e) deletion of unimportant information. These students received training and guided practice in summarizing the contents of expository passages orally because the poor written-language skills of many of these students (Cicci, 1983; MacArthur & Graham, 1987) could interfere with summarization.

Thirty-five to 40-minute training sessions were conducted with small groups of 3 to 4 students each in the learning disabilities resource room. the total amount of time required for training (not including pretesting and posttesting time) ranged from 6.5 to 11 hours. To decrease the threat to the integrity of the independent variable, scripted formats were used.

Training was based on the principles of explicit or direct instruction (Pearson, 1984; Rosenshine, 1986; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1984): explicit explanation of the rules, modeling the strategy, guided practice in controlled materials, monitoring with corrective feedback, and independent practice. In the first session, the senior author provided the students with a rationale for learning the summarization strategy, presented examples of situations in which it could be used, and informed them about anticipated results. Then she described and modeled the first rule (superordination). Students were provided with a set of 10 paragraphs developed exclusively for that rule, and they practiced the rule until they reached criterion performance.

Students were trained similarly in subsequent sessions to criterion on each rule of summarization. In each session, the rules learned in the previous sessions were reviewed prior to teaching a new rule. For each rule, a different performance criterion was established for mastery. For superordination and selection of topic sentences, the criterion was set at 100% accuracy on two consecutive paragraphs because these tasks were relatively simple. For deletion of redundancies, invention of topic sentences, and deletion of unimportant information, the criterion was set at 80% accuracy on two consecutive training pararagphs. After each rule was mastered in isolation, students received instruction in the combined use of the five rules. Initially during these instructional sessions, subjects were not required to form a summary. In the last six sessions, students were asked to construct oral summaries of the expository passages using all five rules. They received feedback on their summarization performance for each session. Students practiced forming summaries until an evaluation of their summaries indicated that they had reached mastery on all five rules.

The instruction was also designed to increase the student's role gradually over the course of the training. In the beginning, the researcher had the responsibility for direct instruction. However, as the students learned the summarization rules, they were given increasingly greater responsibility. By the end of the training, students had assumed responsibility not only for practicing the rules but also for checking that each rule had been applied.


Effect of Training on Comprehension

Pretest and posttest raw scores on the multiple-choice comprehension tests and Normal Curve Equivalents from the Gates-MacGinitie comprehension subtests are displayed in Table 2. Performances of the three groups on multiple-choice condensation and factual questions were analyzed using a 3 (Groups) x 2 (kinds of questions) x 2 (Test time) analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures. The summary of this ANOVA is presented in Table 3. Because the three-way interaction was significant, F (2, 42) = 15.13, p <.001, Pretest to posttest x Group interactions were examined separately for each dependent comprehension measure. Interactions for condensation and factual questions appear in Figures 1 and 2. [Tabular Data 2 and 3 Omitted]

Follow-up tests (Tukey's Wholly Significant Differences, WSD) indicated that for both condensation and factual questions, the performances of the control and the normal comparison groups remained essentially the same (p <.05) from pretest to immediate posttest conditions. There were no differences (p <.05) between the control and experimental groups' performances on condensation and factual questions on the pretest, whereas both groups of students with learning disabilities had significantly lower means than the normal comparison group. However, on the immediate posttest, the experimental group's performance was significantly greater than that of the control and normal comparison group's on condensation questions. The experimental group's performance was also significantly greater than of the control group but equal to the normal comparison group's performance on factual questions. Maintenance of Comprehension Skills

The experimental group's comprehension performance 4 weeks after termination of training was compared with their performance on the immediate posttest (Table 2). On condensation questions, the small difference observed (delayed posttest -- immediate posttest = 0.60) was not significant, t (28) = 1.46, p > .68. Similarly, for factual questions, the small difference observed (0.14) was not significant, t (28) = 0.41, p > .68. Thus it can be inferred that the students maintained their use of summarization skills, and this resulted in maintenance of high performance on both kinds of comprehension questions. Generalization of Summarization Skills

An alternate form of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test was administered to the experimental group to check for generalization of summarization skills to reading passages different from the controlled materials used during the training. If generalization occurred, then subjects' comprehension performance on Form 2 of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test would be significantly greater than their performance on Form 1 administered during the pretest phase. A t-test for dependent samples indicated that the observed difference (9.73) on the alternate forms of the Gates-MacGinitie was significant, t (28) = 5.22, p <.001. From these results, generalization of summarization skills to the new reading material can be inferred.


These results indicate that students with learning disabilities can be trained to use summarization rules, that the acquired skills are maintained, and that spontaneous use of these rules is generalized. These findings are consistent with previous research conducted with student without disabilities. Several researchers have reported that summarization training improved free recall (Taylor & Beach, 1984; Wong et al., 1986) and cued recall (Armbruster, Anderson, & Ostertag, 1987; Bean & Steenwyk, 1984; Palincsar, 1982; Rinehart et al., 1986; Taylor, 1982; Taylor & Beach, 1984). Further, researchers found that inducing students to write a sentence summarizing the meaning of each paragraph in a text also facilitated recall compared to a control reading condition (Bretzing & Kulhavy, 1979; Linden & Wittrock, 1981).

Though ample research supports summarization as a comprehension-fostering strategy, relatively few researchers have studied the differential effects of summarization training on different types of questions. In the present study, summarization training was effective for both condensation and factual questions. The performance of the students with learning disabilities was comparable to that of average readers on factual questions, but exceeded the performance of average readers on condensation questions.

These findings closely parallel those of Palincsar (1982), who found that explicit instruction in summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting enhanced comprehension scores for text-explicit, text-implicit, and script-implicit questions. Moreover, she found the greatest gain occurred for text-implicit questions. Because her text-implicit questions are comparable with our condensation questions, summarization's greater impact on text-implicit questions is also replicated.

As a final note, the resource room teachers reported that students were using the instructed summarization rules spontaneously in different content areas. Given these student gains, the extensive amount of time required to train students with learning disabilities in a learning strategy appears justified.


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E., & Nakamura, G. V. (1983). Story comprehension and recall in learning disabled vs. normal college students. Journal Educational Psychology, 74, 633-641. MEENAKSHIGAJRIA (CEC NY Federation) is an Assistant Professor of Special Education in the Division of Teacher Education at St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, New York. JOHN SALVIA (CEC #405) is a Professor of Special Education and the Head of the Department of Educational and School Psychology and Special Education at Pennsylvania State University, University Park.
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Author:Gajria, Meenakshi; Salvia, John
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:May 1, 1992
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