Oral Discourse and Reading Comprehension Abilities of African American School-Age Children
Koonce, Nicole M.
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The reading underachievement of African American (AA) school-age children has received considerable attention in educational circles. Unfortunately, there are relatively few studies designed to uncover the source or sources of these reading achievement differences, especially in children beyond early elementary grades. Some studies suggest that oral language skills such as those required to produce oral narrative and expository discourse are positively linked to reading comprehension outcomes in older children. Very little research exists on the connections between reading comprehension and narrative discourse in African American children and no studies explore oral expository discourse in this population. The purpose of this research study was to examine the relationship between language features of oral discourse, both narrative and expository, and reading comprehension abilities of African American children. Forty-three African American third- and fourth-grade children with average or low reading comprehension ability participated in the study. Each participant produced one oral expository explanation of a favorite game or sport and one oral fictional narrative, elicited via a wordless picture book in an individual session. The oral discourse samples were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for productivity (total number of T-units), syntactic (mean length of T-unit and clausal density), and discourse (discourse quality) features of language. The two groups performed similarly on the productivity measure for both the narrative and expository tasks. Reading comprehension group differences emerged on the narrative task. Children in the average comprehender group outperformed those in the low comprehender group on mean length of T-unit (MLTU), clausal density (CD), and discourse quality (DQ). On the expository explanation task, grade by gender interactions were detected with third grade boys producing more total number of T-units (TNT) in their explanations than the fourth grade boys. However, fourth grade boys outperformed third grade boys and fourth grade girls on the amount of clausal density they produced in their explanations. Results validated a continuing relationship between oral discourse, particularly narrative, and reading comprehension in older, school-age children. Relative strengths and needs in the oral discourse of African American children with differing reading comprehension profiles are discussed. Implications for the use of oral language assessment to understand and treat reading comprehension difficulties in African American children as well as suggestions for future research are presented.
African American children