Enhancing Main Idea Comprehension for Students with Learning Problems: The Role of a Summarization Strategy and Self-Monitoring Instruction – Statistical Data Included
Asha K. Jitendra
This study investigated the effectiveness of a main idea strategy and self-monitoring instructional procedure for improving comprehension of textual material in students with high-incidence (e.g., learning and behavioral) disabilities. Thirty-three middle school students with disabilities were randomly assigned to experimental and control groups. Students in the experimental condition were trained to identify and generate main idea statements using main idea strategy instruction and a self-monitoring procedure. Results indicated that the instructional procedures led to increased reading comprehension of students in the experimental group on the training measure, which was maintained over time. On near and far transfer measures, the experimental group statistically outperformed students in the control group on posttest and delayed posttest items requiring selection responses. Students in the experimental group maintained strategy usage 6 weeks later on selection type responses on the near transfer measure but, not on the far transfer measure. Implications for practice are discussed.
Students with reading problems tend to be less aware of text structure and have poorer recall of textual ideas than good readers (Hare, Rabinowitz, & Schieble, 1989; Seidenberg, 1989; Sjostrom & Hare, 1984; Spring & Prager, 1992; Stevens, 1988; Taylor & Beach, 1984; Warren & Fitzgerald, 1997). In addition, they have difficulty with comprehension, particularly in identifying main ideas and important details. Williams (1988) noted the importance of identifying main ideas as essential to successful reading comprehension in terms of drawing inferences from text, studying effectively, and reading critically.
A growing body of literature has shown that explicit teacher-mediated instruction can effectively promote main idea comprehension (Gajria & Salvia, 1992; Graves, 1986; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992; Nelson, Smith, & Dodd, 1992; Pearson & Dole, 1987; Williams, Brown, Silverstein, & deCani, 1994). At the same time, teacher-mediated instruction alone is not sufficient to facilitate strategy use (Gajria & Salvia, 1992). In particular, students with learning disabilities who are characterized as inactive learners (Bender, 1987; Torgesen, 1982) fail to spontaneously transfer learned strategies by activating them in tasks or situations different from those in the training setting (Chan, 1991; Chan, Cole, & Morris, 1990; Day & Zajakowski, 1991; Wong, 1994).
Clearly, it is important to emphasize procedures that promote the application of learned skills (Anderson-Inman, 1986). Wong (1994) noted that mediation of student mindfulness during strategy instruction and transfer-promoting instruction increases strategy transfer for students with learning disabilities. The transition from teacher control to student self-regulation of strategy use is critical (Billingsley & Wildman, 1990; Butler, 1997; L. Graham & Wong, 1993; S. Graham, Harris, & Reid, 1992; McDougall, 1998; Palincsar, 1986; Paris & Newman, 1990; Sawyer, Graham, & Harris, 1992). Self-management interventions that involve a gradual decrease of teacher control and increase of student involvement may serve to bridge the gap between effective teacher-mediated instruction and student-managed independent learning (Anderson-Inman, 1986; Cole & Bambara, 1992).
A self-management technique that has been used successfully with diverse students in school-based settings is self-monitoring, which involves the systematic observation and recording of one’s own behavior (Shapiro & Cole, 1994). The effectiveness of self-monitoring for students with learning disabilities has been adequately demonstrated in numerous studies (for reviews, see Reid, 1996; Webber, Scheuermann, McCall, & Coleman, 1993). Studies on main idea instruction in conjunction with self-monitoring training have yielded positive results for students with learning disabilities. First, Graves (1986) compared the differential effects of three conditions–direct instruction only, direct instruction plus self-monitoring, and a control group–on identifying main ideas of passages. Students with learning disabilities in both conditions were taught an explicit strategy for identifying main ideas of passages. In addition, students in the direct instruction plus self-monitoring condition were taught to use a self-questioning procedure to check main idea comprehension. Results indicated that both groups’ performance was better than that of the control group. Further, direct instruction plus self-monitoring was found to be more effective than direct instruction alone.
In a subsequent study, Graves and Levin (1989) investigated the effects of a direct instruction condition, a direct instruction plus monitoring condition, and a direct instruction plus mnemonic condition. Students with learning disabilities in each condition received a single session of training followed immediately by a test of recall and main idea identification. Findings indicated that the monitoring strategy was most effective for identifying main ideas, whereas students in the mnemonic condition performed better than those in the monitoring condition on a test of recall.
The study by Chan (1991) further supports the use of self-monitoring. In this study, students in a standard instruction approach and a generalization induction approach were taught how, why, and when to use a self-questioning procedure for identifying the main ideas of paragraphs. The self-questioning procedure involved a series of 15 questions that students were taught to ask themselves while reading. In addition, students in the generalization induction condition were provided with a five-stage instructional procedure to promote strategy generalization. The five stages were cognitive modeling, overt external guidance, overt self-guidance, faded self-guidance, and covert self-guidance. Mean scores from the pretest to posttest increased for both groups when participants were cued to use the strategy during the posttest. However, only the generalization induction group’s performance increased when strategy use was not cued on the posttest.
In another study, Malone and Mastropieri (1992) taught students in a summarization training condition to use a two-step self-questioning strategy, such as “Who or what is the paragraph about?” and “What is happening to them?” (p. 273). Students in the summarization training plus monitoring condition were taught the same summarization strategy, but were also taught to monitor strategy use. Following 2 days of training, all students completed comprehension tests. During testing, pencils, paper, and self-monitoring cards were made available to all students. Students with learning disabilities who received summarization plus self-monitoring training outperformed those who received summarization training only on a measure of passage-specific recall. The two instructional approaches produced outcomes greater than those seen for a control group. Further, the improved performance was evident for two passages similar to those used in training and for social studies passages not used in training.
In addition, Jitendra, Cole, Hoppes, and Wilson (1998) used a single-subject design with three middle school students with learning disabilities to assess the effectiveness of a teaching procedure for identifying the main ideas of passages. In this study, direct instruction of main idea strategy training was followed by 2 days of self-monitoring training. Results indicated an increase in scores on narrative passages similar to those used in training. Although scores on expository passages also improved, they were not as marked. However, students’ scores on both narrative and expository passages increased further following self-monitoring training. On maintenance probes administered 6, 10, and 16 weeks after training, results indicated a steady decline in scores and possibly a decrease in strategy use over time. One possible explanation for this decline was that the 2 days of self-monitoring training in isolation was insufficient for students to effectively activate the strategy over time.
In sum, previous studies that employed comprehension strategies were too general to apply specifically to varied types of narrative and expository material (e.g., Chan, 1991; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992). Most previous studies used either researcher-constructed materials (e.g., Chan, 1991) or commercial high-interest, low-vocabulary instructional and assessment passages (e.g., Graves, 1986; Graves & Levin, 1989; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992). With the exception of the study by Malone and Mastropieri, which required production responses, the studies used multiple choice items for main idea identification. In addition, two previous studies assessed generalization (e.g., Jitendra et al., 1998; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992) and maintenance (e.g., Graves, 1986; Graves & Levin, 1989) only 1 week following training. Apparently, a need exists to systematically investigate the effects of strategy instruction combined with self-monitoring on the acquisition, generalization, and maintenance of main idea comprehension skill with students with learning problems.
Therefore, the primary purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of a treatment package that incorporated main idea strategy instruction articulated by Carnine, Silbert, and Kameenui (1997) and a self-monitoring procedure with students with high-incidence (e.g., learning and behavioral) disabilities. Our study replicated and extended earlier studies in several ways. We employed the main idea comprehension strategy, as in the Jitendra et al. (1998) study, because it was thought to be relatively simple yet applicable to narrative and expository material. However, unlike the single-subject design study by Jitendra et al., the present group design study incorporated self-monitoring with main idea instruction and faded self-monitoring, as in the Chan (1991) and Graves (1986) studies. As in the study by Chan, we provided instruction in small groups of six students. In addition, we constructed instructional materials for use in the study (e.g., Chan, 1991) to meet the main idea summarization training procedures articulated by Carnine et al. The assessment materials, however, included training, near, and far transfer measures.
A second purpose of the study was to assess generalization effects of the strategy. Our study replicated the study by Malone and Mastropieri (1992), in which strategy generalization from trained to untrained passages derived from social studies texts was assessed. In our study, near and far transfer test passages were derived from both reading and social studies texts that were not modified and included implicit and explicit main ideas. Third, we examined maintenance of skill acquisition 6 weeks following completion of instruction.
Further, we examined the influence of task response requirements (i.e., selection and generation) on main idea comprehension; this had not been investigated in previous studies. Finally, we examined students’ perceptions regarding main idea strategy instruction (e.g., Malone & Mastropieri, 1992).
A total of 33 middle school (Grades 6, 7, and 8) students with high-incidence disabilities from an urban school district in the northeastern United States participated in the study. Participant selection was based on two criteria. First, students were receiving specialized instruction for a reading deficit at the time of the study. Second, they scored at least 2 years below grade level (i.e., 4, 5, or 6), but not lower than 2.5 and 2.0 grade level scores on the Word Recognition and Reading Comprehension subtests, respectively, of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test (Woodcock, 1987). This criterion was required to ensure that students had adequate decoding skills and a deficit in comprehension that required remediation. From an initial pool of 45 students from four resource rooms, 39 met our criteria and were selected to participate in the study. Students were stratified by grade level and randomly assigned to experimental (n = 20) and control (n = 19) conditions (i.e., those trained in main idea and those not trained, respectively). However, one student in the control group moved out of the school district following participant selection and assignment to groups. In addition, due to attrition or absences during the course of the study, the final sample comprised 33 students (i.e., 18 and 15 in the experimental and control groups, respectively).
Table 1 summarizes demographic information for the 33 participants. The mean word recognition scores of students in the experimental and control groups were 3.91 (SD = .87) and 3.76 (SD = 1.16), respectively (ES = .15). Mean comprehension scores of the experimental and control groups were 3.29 (SD = 0.52) and 3.10 (SD = 0.51), respectively (ES = .37). No significant differences between groups were evident on word recognition scores, t(31) = 0.43 or comprehension scores, t(31) = 1.07. Independent sample t tests on IQ scores for the students for whom IQ scores were available did not indicate significant differences, t(22) = .19 between experimental (M = 87.80; SD = 13.03) and control groups (M = 86.78; SD = 11.81; ES = .08).
TABLE 1. Demographic Information
Variables group group
Male 11 11
Female 7 4
6 6 3
7 6 8
8 6 4
Age in months
Mean 160.06 157.13
SD 11.64 12.11
Caucasian 10 5
African American 2 3
Hispanic 6 7
LD 16 13
SED 2 2
IQ n M (SD) n M (SD)
Verbal 14 88.79 (10.22) 9 87.78 (9.87)
Performance 14 91.64 (15.56) 9 86.89 (15.33)
Full Scale 15 87.8 (13.03) 9 86.78 (11.81)
Age in months
African American 5
IQ n M (SD)
Verbal 23 88.39 (9.87)
Performance 23 89.78 (15.30)
Full Scale 24 87.42 (12.34)
Note. LD = learning disability; SED = serious emotional disturbance.
Test scores for students were obtained from the Wechsler Intelligence
Scale for Children-III, (Wechsler, 1991).
All students were receiving 40 minutes of reading instruction per day at the time of the study. The second author (doctoral student in special education) taught the experimental group, while four resource room special education teachers (three females, one male) taught the control group. All instructors in the study were Caucasian, had either a master’s degree or master’s eqivalency, and were Pennsylvania state certified to teach students with mental and/physical disabilities. The second author had 16 years experience teaching students with disabilities, and the four resource room teachers’ experience ranged from 9 to 17 years (M = 12 years).
Training Materials. The second author prepared a set of 10 training passages for each instructional component of the main idea comprehension program outlined in the Procedure section. The Appendix presents samples of the training passages used in the study. These passages were designed for use during main idea strategy instruction. Training passages were three to five sentences in length and included a mean readability level of 2.88 (range = 2.76-3.00) as determined by Flesch-Kincaid. In addition, a series of prompt cards were developed so that the final prompt card included cues for all main idea strategy lessons (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Prompt card for cuing main idea.
FINDING THE MAIN IDEA
Does the paragraph tell:
What or who the
Subject is? Action is?
(Single or Group) (Category)
Why – something happened?
Where – something is or happened?
When – something happened?
How – something looks or is done?
Note: Some paragraphs may contain
a sentence or two that don’t tell about the
Testing Materials. To evaluate main idea comprehension, three equivalent test forms were developed as pretest, posttest, and delayed posttest. Each test included 36 main idea comprehension items based on narrative and expository passages. Of the 36 items, 12 were similar to the training items and assessed application of skills learned during training. In addition, 12 items were based on narrative passages derived from basal reading texts (e.g., Houghton Mifflin; Pikulski, 1991) and assessed near transfer of main idea strategy instruction. Finally, 12 items based on expository passages derived from social studies texts (e.g., Silver Burdett; Helmus, Toppin, Pounds, & Arnsdorf, 1988) were used to assess far transfer. The readability levels for the training, near transfer, and far transfer test passages were 2.96, 4.77, and 6.69, respectively.
In addition, each test was designed to include 18 selection (multiple choice) and 18 production (generated main idea) responses, with an equal number of passages containing distracters and no distracters. A distracter was defined as a sentence that does not directly relate to the main idea. Each test also included items based on passages in which main ideas were implicit (i.e., unstated) or explicit. Because the proportion of main idea statements in the commercial programs was found to be mostly implicit, the tests reflected this by including passages with more implicit (27) than explicit (9) main idea statements. To verify this distribution of item types, the second author and a graduate student independently categorized all items on each of the three tests to determine whether they required a selection or a production response, whether the items contained distracters, and whether they included explicit or implicit main idea statements. Agreement across all test items was 100%.
In sum, each 36-item test contained three groups of 12 items (training, near transfer, and far transfer), and each 12-item group included six selection and production responses. Each selection item consisted of the stem and four options. Further, a student satisfaction questionnaire was developed to assess student attitudes regarding the acceptability of the training, the effectiveness of the main idea strategy, and the usefulness of the prompt card.
Instructional sessions lasted from 30 to 40 minutes and were conducted during the students’ scheduled time for reading instruction or during a study skills period. The experimental group was instructed in the school cafeteria, whereas the control group continued to receive general reading instruction in small groups from special education teachers in the resource classroom. It should be noted that we did not observe instruction in the control group. However, teacher reports indicated that students in the control group participated in systematic reading instruction that emphasized decoding and comprehension activities.
All main idea and self-monitoring instruction for the experimental group occurred in small groups (i.e., 6 to 8). The instructor presented a component of a main idea comprehension strategy (e.g., generating main idea sentences by naming the subject of a passage and categorizing the action), modeled application of the strategy, and demonstrated how to use the prompt card to generate or choose main idea sentences. Teacher modeling was followed by guided and independent practice. Practice exercises included passages directly related to the lesson’s strategy components and passages related to previously presented components. During guided and independent practice, students’ performance was monitored and corrective feedback was provided.
The instructional sequence for main idea instruction was based on the summarization strategy steps articulated by Carnine et al. (1997) and described by Jitendra et al. (1998). Main idea instruction in this study was organized into eight lessons. Following is a brief description of the main idea instructional program.
Lesson 1 taught students to generate main idea sentences by naming the subject (single) of a passage and categorizing the action by applying the rule, “Name the person and tell the main thing the person did in all the sentences” (Carnine et al., 1997, p. 248). Lesson 2 required students to generate a group name and classify the main action that occurred in the passage. The main idea generation rule involved naming the group and telling the main thing the group did. Lesson 3 presented passages followed by multiple choice options and had students critically evaluate all the options prior to selecting the main idea sentence that best described the passage. In Lesson 4, passages included distracters (i.e., sentences not directly related to the main idea). Students were taught to identify the distracter sentence and select or generate a main idea sentence that told about most of the sentences in the passage. Instruction in Lessons 5 through 8 focused on selecting or generating the main idea of passages that described where, why, and when something occurred, and how something looked or was done. In summary, most lessons required both selecting and generating the main idea of the passage. For each lesson, students were provided with a prompt card (see Figure 1) that served as a cue to activate the strategy.
Self-monitoring was incorporated throughout the main idea strategy instruction. Students were taught to use a self-monitoring card during independent practice to check their use of the main idea strategy. The four-step self-monitoring procedure had students place a check-mark on the card if they (a) read the paragraph, (b) used the prompt card to recall the strategy step (e.g., “This passage is about one person and what he did”), (c) applied the strategy to identify or construct the main idea of the passage, and (d) selected or wrote the main idea. The following teaching sequence illustrates teacher-directed main idea instruction and self-monitoring.
Listen, today you will learn to identify the main idea of a passage by
naming the subject and categorizing the action. Identifying main ideas can
help you understand things you read, whether you are reading for school or
reading about something you are interested in. A main idea tells what the
passage is mainly about. Now let’s use the four steps on this card to help
us identify the main idea. The first step says to read the paragraph
[teacher reads passage aloud ]. “Ann went to the park. She swung on the
swings. She slid down the slide. She climbed on the bars.” I read the
paragraph, so I will put a check by “read the paragraph” [teacher checks].
The second step tells me to use the prompt card to help me find the main
idea of this passage. The prompt reminds me to name the subject (i.e., who
the passage is mainly about) and categorize the action (i.e., the main
thing the subject did in all the sentences). I used the prompt card to
remind me of the rule or strategy, so I will put a check by “used the
prompt card” [teacher checks]. The third step tells me to use the strategy
to generate the main idea. The rule tells me to name the subject and
categorize the action. In this passage, the subject is Ann. Because all the
sentences tell that Ann played in the park, the action category is played.
Now I will put a check by “used the strategy” [teacher checks]. Next, I
will write the main idea (i.e., Ann played in the park) and put a check by
the fourth step, “wrote the main idea” [teacher checks].
Main idea and self-monitoring instruction were conducted for 15 days. Instruction for each lesson was completed in two sessions with the exception of Lesson 3, which required only one session. The first session provided both visual (prompt card) and verbal (oral) cues for self-monitoring during modeling and guided practice portions of the lesson and visual cues only during independent practice. To fade self-monitoring instruction, cues were provided during modeling and guided practice exercises only during the second session.
Testing and Scoring Procedures
Procedures for administering the pretest, posttest, and delayed posttest were identical across both groups. The second author conducted all testing. Pencils and prompt cards were available to all students who chose to use them. Students were instructed to read each passage carefully, determine the main idea of that paragraph, and either select the best answer or write a main idea sentence. The main idea was defined for all participants as a one-sentence summary of the passage. Participants were given assistance in word recognition as needed. The pretest was administered on the day immediately prior to main idea instruction. The posttest was administered on the day immediately following the completion of instruction, and the delayed posttest was administered 6 weeks following completion of instruction. Internal consistency reliability (KR-20) computed on the performance of all students who took the tests was .77, .72, and .81 for the pretest, posttest, and delayed posttest, respectively.
The second author developed answer keys for all tests, and a graduate student independently completed the tests to validate the answers. The percentage of agreement, calculated by dividing the number of agreements by the number of agreements and disagreements and multiplying by 100, was 100. Because the study focused on main idea skills, answers were scored only on the basis of identification or generation of an appropriate main idea sentence. Each response received a score of 1 (correct) or 0 (incorrect).
In addition, all students who received strategy training completed the student satisfaction questionnaire following the intervention. Items on the questionnaire were scored according to a 5-point scale (5 = high level of agreement; and 1 = high level of disagreement).
Instructional lessons were scripted, and a checklist of critical instructional steps was devised to establish fidelity of treatment implementation. The checklist included salient instructional features such as modeling the target strategy, applying the strategy step to examples, providing guided and independent practice, and monitoring and presenting corrective feedback. Fidelity data were collected by a graduate student in special education as she observed the second author teaching for 28.9% of the training sessions. Because the checklist was straightforward, a 15-minute instructional session on completing the checklist using the responses “yes,” “no,” or “not applicable” was provided to conduct and score the observations. Treatment fidelity, which was computed as the percentage of steps correctly completed by the instructor, was found to be 99.7% (range = 92.9%-100%).
The second author and a graduate student, blind to the treatment conditions, independently scored 33% of the tests using the answer keys. Interscorer reliability was calculated by dividing the total number of agreements by the number of agreements and disagreements and multiplying by 100. Agreement was found to be 98.1% (range = 98.02%-98.51%).
Results were analyzed initially for the combined overall score using a 2 (group: experimental, control) x 3 (time of testing: pretest, posttest, delayed posttest) analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures on time of testing. Significant main effects were found for group F(1, 31)=16.57, p [is less than] .001, and time of testing, F(2, 62) = 7.49, p [is less than] .01. Scores for the experimental group (M = 13.76; SD = 5.95) surpassed those for the control group (M = 8.0; SD = 3.98), and pretest scores (M = 9.33; SD = 4.42) were lower than posttest (M = 12.06; SD = 7.18) and delayed posttest scores (M = 12.03; SD = 5.43). A significant interaction effect was found for group by time of testing, F(2, 62) = 20.31, p [is less than] .001. The experimental group’s scores increased significantly p [is less than] .05 from the pretest (M = 10.06; SD = 5.23) to posttest (M = 16.94; SD = 5.15) to delayed posttest (M = 14.28; SD = 5.56). Delayed posttest scores were significantly different from posttest scores (p [is less than] .05), indicating that strategy effects were not maintained. In contrast, scores for the control group decreased from pretest (M = 8.47; SD = 3.23) to posttest (M = 6.20; SD = 4.25) and increased on the delayed posttest (M = 9.33; SD = 3.96). These differences among tests for the control group were significant (p [is less than] .05) only between posttest and delayed posttest. Given the significant effects for the combined overall score, we conducted separate ANOVAs to compare response type and test type.
The two groups’ pretest performance on main idea comprehension scores was analyzed using a 2 (group: experimental, control) x 2 (response type: selection, production) x 3 (test type: training, near transfer, far transfer) ANOVA to determine initial group equivalency. Results indicated no significant differences between groups, F(1, 31) = 1.05. Significant effects were found for response type, F(1, 31) = 49.35, p [is less than] .001, and test type, F(2, 62) = 20.82, p [is less than] .001. Selection responses (M= 2.19; SD = 1.50) were higher than production responses (M = 0.92; SD = 1.02). A follow-up analysis (Scheffe) on the main effects for test type demonstrated statistically significant differences between training and transfer measures, with training scores (M = 2.17; SD = 1.70) significantly higher than near (M = 1.27; SD = 1.25) and far (M = 1.23; SD = 1.08) transfer scores. However, the difference between near and far transfer scores was not significant. Interactions effects for group x response type, F(1, 31) = .89, and group x response type x test type, F(1, 62) = 1.43, were not significant. (It should be noted that we obtained similar results when we analyzed the data using scores of the 38 students who met the selection criteria and completed the pretest.)
Results of the training, near transfer, and far transfer measures were analyzed using separate 2 (group) x 2 (response type) x 3 (time of testing) ANOVAs with repeated measures on time of testing. Table 2 presents the pretest, posttest, and delayed posttest scores on the multiple choice (selection) and generated (production) comprehension items for training, near transfer, and far transfer measures by treatment group. Given that the sample mixed students with learning disabilities and behavior disorders, we also analyzed the data without the scores of the four students with behavior disorders. Results were similar to those reported for the final sample of 33 students.
TABLE 2. Means and Standard Deviations of Tests by Response Types
Across Training, Near Transfer, and Far Transfer Measures for
Experimental and Control Groups
Measure M (%) SD M (%) SD
Multiple choice 3.61 60.0 1.54 2.53 42.2 1.60
Generated 1.33 22.2 1.19 1.07 17.8 1.10
Total 4.94 41.2 1.78 3.60 30.0 1.54
Multiple choice 4.89 81.5 0.96 1.53 25.5 1.51
Generated 3.17 52.8 1.65 1.33 22.2 1.23
Total 8.06 67.2 1.59 2.87 23.8 1.36
Multiple choice 4.33 72.2 1.41 2.60 43.3 1.24
Generated 2.67 44.5 1.50 1.27 21.2 1.10
Total 7.00 58.3 1.67 3.87 32.3 1.34
Multiple choice 12.83 71.3 2.98 6.67 37.1 3.35
Generated 7.17 39.8 3.62 3.67 20.4 2.66
Total 20.00 55.6 5.93 10.33 28.7 4.79
Multiple choice 1.72 28.7 1.49 1.87 31.2 1.19
Generated 0.83 13.8 1.04 0.67 11.2 0.72
Total 2.56 21.3 1.34 2.53 21.1 1.14
Multiple choice 3.94 65.7 1.26 1.40 23.3 1.12
Generated 0.72 12.0 1.02 0.00 0.00 0.00
Total 4.67 38.9 1.99 1.40 11.7 1.06
Multiple choice 3.00 50.0 1.50 2.13 35.5 1.41
Generated 0.89 14.8 1.08 0.87 14.5 0.83
Total 3.89 32.4 1.67 3.00 25.0 1.31
Multiple choice 8.72 48.4 3.46 5.40 30.0 2.69
Generated 2.39 13.3 2.20 1.47 8.2 1.25
Total 11.11 30.9 5.10 6.87 19.1 2.77
Multiple choice 1.83 30.5 1.15 1.47 24.5 .83
Generated 0.72 12.0 0.90 0.87 14.5 1.06
Total 2.55 21.3 1.16 2.33 19.5 0.99
Multiple choice 3.56 59.3 1.15 1.73 28.8 1.34
Generated 0.67 11.2 0.84 0.20 3.3 0.56
Total 4.22 35.2 1.77 1.93 16.1 1.27
Multiple choice 2.33 38.8 1.09 1.53 25.5 0.99
Generated 1.06 17.7 1.16 0.93 15.5 0.96
Total 3.39 28.2 1.28 2.47 20.6 1.01
Multiple choice 8.11 45.1 2.70 4.73 26.3 1.58
Generated 2.61 14.5 2.15 2.00 11.1 1.69
Total 10.72 29.8 4.01 7.47 20.8 4.63
Multiple choice 7.17 39.8 3.26 5.87 32.6 2.47
Generated 2.89 16.1 2.56 2.60 14.4 2.32
Total 10.06 27.9 5.23 8.47 23.5 3.23
Multiple choice 12.39 68.8 2.85 4.67 25.9 3.31
Generated 4.56 25.3 2.66 1.53 8.5 1.46
Total 16.94 5.2 5.15 6.20 17.2 4.25
Multiple choice 9.67 53.7 3.52 6.27 34.8 2.58
Generated 4.61 25.6 3.15 3.07 17.1 2.43
Total 14.28 39.7 5.56 9.33 25.9 3.96
Measure M (%) SD ES(a)
Multiple choice 3.12 52.0 1.64 0.69
Generated 1.21 20.2 1.14 0.23
Total 4.33 36.1 2.12 0.40
Multiple choice 3.36 56.0 2.09 2.71
Generated 2.33 38.8 1.73 1.28
Total 5.70 47.5 3.49 1.76
Multiple choice 3.55 59.2 1.58 1.30
Generated 2.03 33.8 1.49 1.08
Total 5.58 46.5 2.68 1.04
Multiple choice 10.22 56.8 4.33 1.95
Generated 5.58 31.0 3.63 1.11
Total 15.61 43.4 7.25 1.80
Multiple choice 1.79 29.8 1.34 -0.11
Generated 0.76 12.7 0.90 0.18
Total 2.55 21.3 1.87 0.01
Multiple choice 2.78 46.3 1.75 2.13
Generated 0.39 6.5 0.83 1.41
Total 2.21 18.4 1.88 1.07
Multiple choice 2.61 43.5 1.50 0.60
Generated 0.88 14.7 0.96 0.02
Total 3.40 28.8 1.75 0.30
Multiple choice 7.21 40.1 3.52 1.08
Generated 1.97 10.9 1.86 0.53
Total 9.18 25.5 4.67 1.08
Multiple choice 1.67 27.8 1.02 0.36
Generated 0.79 13.2 0.96 -0.15
Total 2.46 20.5 1.44 0.10
Multiple choice 2.73 45.5 1.53 1.46
Generated 0.46 7.7 0.75 0.90
Total 3.18 26.5 1.85 0.75
Multiple choice 1.97 32.8 1.10 0.77
Generated 1.00 16.7 1.06 0.12
Total 2.97 24.8 1.69 0.40
Multiple choice 6.58 36.6 2.81 1.58
Generated 2.33 12.9 1.95 0.32
Total 9.24 25.7 4.54 0.75
Multiple choice 6.48 36.6 2.95 0.45
Generated 2.75 15.3 2.42 0.12
Total 9.33 25.9 4.42 0.35
Multiple choice 8.88 49.3 4.49 2.51
Generated 3.18 17.7 2.65 1.47
Total 12.06 7.18 7.18 2.29
Multiple choice 8.12 45.1 3.53 1.11
Generated 3.91 21.7 2.91 0.55
Total 12.03 33.4 5.43 1.04
Note. NT = near transfer; FT = far transfer. Mean scores could
range from 0 to 6, while total mean scores could range from 0 to
(a) Effect sizes were omputed using the mean difference between
the experimentl and control group means divided by the pooled
Training Measure. The ANOVA yielded significant main effects for group, F(1, 31) = 25.78, p [is less than] .001; response type, F(1, 62) = 56.03, p [is less than] .001; and time of testing, F(1, 62) = 6.65, p [is less than] .01. Scores for the experimental group (M = 3.33; SD = 1.79) surpassed those for the control group (M = 1.72; SD = 1.41); selection response scores (M = 3.34; SD = 1.77) were higher than production response scores (M = 1.86; SD = 1.53), and pretest scores (M = 2.17; SD = 1.70) were lower than posttest (M = 2.85; SD = 1.97) and delayed posttest (M = 2.79; SD = 1.71) scores. A significant interaction effect was found for group x time of testing, F(2, 62) = 13.36, p [is less than] .001. An analysis of simple effects indicated that the experimental group’s performance increased significantly from pretest (41.2%) to posttest (67.2%, p [is less than] .05), and the increased performance on the posttest was maintained on the delayed posttest (58.3%, p [is greater than] .05). In contrast, the control group’s performance was comparable from pretest (30%) to posttest (23.8%), and then to the delayed posttest (32.2%).
Results indicated a significant interaction for group x response type, F(1, 62) = 5.31, p [is less than] .05. Follow-up tests indicated that the selection response mean for the experimental group was significantly higher than each of the other means (all ps [is less than] .05). In addition, the selection response mean for the control group was significantly higher than its production response mean (p [is less than] .05), but was not significantly different from the production response mean for the experimental group. A significant interaction was found for response type x time of testing, F(2, 62) = 3.40, p [is less than] .05, with a greater increase in scores from pre- to posttest and delayed posttest for production responses only. The three-way interaction was not significant, F(2, 62) =1.45.
Near Transfer Measure. Results indicated significant main effects for group, F(1, 31) = 8.04, p [is less than] .01, response type, F(1, 62) = 102.10, p [is less than] .001; and time of testing, F(2, 62) = 3.89, p [is less than] .05. Scores for the experimental group (M = 1.85; SD = 1.73) surpassed those for the control group (M = 1.16; SD = 1.21); selection response scores (M = 2.39; SD = 1.58) were higher than production response scores (M = .68; SD = .91); and pretest scores (M = 1.27; SD = 1.25) were lower than posttest (M = 1.59; SD = 1.81) and delayed posttest (M = 1.74; SD = 1.52) scores. In addition, significant interaction effects for group x response type, F(1, 62) = 5.57, p [is less than] .05; group x time of testing, F(2, 62) = 13.51, p [is less than] .001; response type x time of testing, F(2, 62) = 7.59, p [is less than] .001; and group x response type x time of testing, F(2, 62) = 5.39, p [is less than] .01, were found. Because the three-way interaction was significant, pretest to posttest to delayed posttest x group interactions were examined separately for selection and production comprehension measures. Interactions for selection and production responses are displayed in Figure 2.
Follow-up single-degree-of-freedom tests revealed that the significant interaction was between the experimental and control group contrast, response type, and pretest versus posttest contrast, F(1, 31) = 11.731, p [is less than] .01. For selection and production questions, the experimental group’s performance on the posttest was significantly greater than that of the control group. However, both groups’ performance on production questions decreased from pretest to posttest. The instructional group’s scores on selection questions increased significantly from pretest (M = 1.72; SD = 1.49) to posttest (M = 3.94; SD= 1.26, p [is less than] .05) and decreased on the delayed posttest (M = 3.00; SD = 1.50), but the delayed posttest scores were not significantly different from posttest scores, indicating maintenance of strategy effects. In contrast, scores for the control group decreased from pretest (M = 1.87; SD = 1.19) to posttest (M = 1.40; SD = 1.12) and increased on the delayed posttest (M = 2.13; SD = 1.41) to a level equivalent to pretest scores. These differences among tests for the control group were not significant.
Far Transfer Measure. The ANOVA yielded significant main effects for group, F(1, 31) = 7.80, p [is less than] .01, and response type, F(1, 62) = 124.69, p [is less than] .001. Scores for the experimental group (M = 1.69; SD = 1.46) surpassed those for the control group (M = 1.12; SD = 1.09), and selection response scores (M = 2.12; SD = 1.30) were higher than production response scores (M = .75; SD =.95). The main effect for time of testing was not significant, F(2, 62) = 2.53. A significant interaction effect was found for group x time of testing, F(2, 62) = 6.37, p [is less than] .01. An analysis of simple effects indicated that the experimental group’s performance increased significantly from pre- (M = 2.55; SD = 1.16) to posttest (M = 4.22; SD = 1.77, p [is less than] .05), but these effects were not maintained on the delayed posttest (M = 3.39; SD = 1.28, p [is less than] .05). In contrast, the control group’s performance was comparable from pre- (M = 2.33; SD = .99) to posttest (M = 1.93; SD = 1.27) and to delayed posttest (M = 2.47; SD = 1.01).
Results indicated a significant interaction for group x response type, F(1, 62) = 12.58, p [is less than] .01. Follow-up tests indicated that the selection response mean for the experimental group was significantly higher than each of the other means (all ps [is less than] .05). In addition, the selection response mean for the control group was significantly higher than the production response mean for either experimental or control group (p [is less than] .05). A significant interaction was found for response type x time of testing, F(2, 62) = 8.97, p [is less than] .001, indicating that the posttest selection response mean was significantly higher than the pretest selection response mean and generated response means for each of the three tests (p [is less than] .05). The posttest selection response mean was not significantly different from the delayed posttest selection response mean. In addition, the delayed posttest generated response mean was significantly higher than the posttest generated response mean. The three-way interaction was not significant.
Student Satisfaction Data
Across questions, students responded positively to main idea instruction, with a mean score of 3.70 (SD = 1.58; range = 2.89-4.77). Items that required students to indicate whether instruction was easy to understand and whether learning about the different types of paragraphs was helpful received mean scores of 4.00 and above. The only item with a mean score below 3.00 questioned students about whether they would like to keep their prompt cards (M = 2.89; SD = 1.65). Across students, mean scores ranged from 2.25 to 5.00.
This study investigated the effects of an integrated reading comprehension and self-monitoring program on the main idea comprehension performance of students with high-incidence disabilities. Results indicated that students in the experimental group statistically outscored students in the control group on posttest training items requiring selection (ES = 2.71) and production (ES = 1.28) responses and maintained their improved performance on the delayed posttest. These findings support previous research on main idea comprehension strategy instruction for students with disabilities (Chan, 1991; Graves, 1986; Graves & Levin, 1989; Jitendra et al., 1998; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992). In addition, these findings suggest that the use of comprehension strategy and self-monitoring procedures extends to selection and production responses; this has not been investigated separately in past research. Moreover, because results were maintained 6 weeks following completion of instruction, findings extend those of previous researchers (Graves, 1986; Graves & Levin, 1989), who observed maintenance effects 1 week after training.
On near and far transfer measures, the experimental group statistically outperformed students in the control group on posttest and delayed posttest items requiring selection (ES = 2.13 and 1.46, respectively) responses. However, the performance of students in both groups on posttest items requiring generated responses decreased from the pretest performance. It appears that mediation of student self-monitoring during strategy instruction facilitated strategy transfer on selection items only for students with disabilities in this study (e.g. see also Billingsley & Wildman, 1990; Graves, 1986; Palincsar, 1986; Pearson & Dole, 1987; Wong, 1994). This finding is consistent with previous research that “remedial or special education students are more likely to answer selection response items” (Nolet & Tindal, 1993, p. 46). As Carlisle (1999) noted, unlike selection tasks, which require comprehension but not written language production, production tasks may “additionally require the selection and coordination of ideas and impressions, formulation, and ordering of remembered information” (p. 12). In addition, students in the experimental group maintained the increased posttest performance 6 weeks later on selection type responses on the near transfer measure but not on the far transfer measure.
The advantage of the experimental group on the posttest requiring selection responses for near and far transfer passages supports previous researchers’ findings (Malone & Mastropieri, 1992) of similar effects with production responses. However, inconsistent findings for the experimental group on near and far transfer measures when compared to findings on the training measure may be explained by type of textual material. The near transfer and far transfer passages were more difficult than those in the Malone and Mastropieri study; readability levels for passages (4.77 and 6.69, respectively) in our study were higher than students’ overall mean reading level (3.20).
In the Malone and Mastropieri (1992) study, near transfer passages were the same as the training passages, with the exception of the format (i.e., no inserted line to write the summary statement). In contrast, near transfer passages in our study differed from the controlled training passages in that they were derived from basal reading materials and included more implicit than explicit main idea statements. Similarly, the difficulty of far transfer passages in our study when compared to those in the Malone and Mastropieri study can be attributed to the inclusion of more implicit than explicit main ideas in addition to the much higher readability level; these differences reflect expository material used in typical classrooms. Future research should systematically examine the influence of the variety and difficulty level of textual material on students’ comprehension performance. In addition, several factors seemed to undermine the effectiveness of main idea instruction in this study. For example, instruction occurred in the school cafeteria, which was simultaneously used for numerous purposes that made it difficult for students to focus on instruction. Moreover, student absences due to illness, suspensions, and field trips affected their performance on the posttests. Thus, results for the experimental group may not reflect the full potential power of the treatment.
Results also provide support for students’ positive attitudes toward strategy and self-monitoring instructional procedures used in the study. Although students did not indicate the desire to retain the prompt card following the study, the use of the permanent prompt during self-monitoring seemed to help students in two ways. First, it provided them with access to cues for recalling the strategy, thus reducing memory demands often placed on students with learning disabilities (McIntyre, Test, Cooke, & Beattie, 1991). Second, the prompt enabled students to focus on strategy application rather than on strategy recall.
However, the results of this study are limited by several factors. First, the small sample size limits generalizability of findings. Second, the attrition of students in the control group (21%) was greater than that in the treatment group (10%); therefore, posttest mean scores must be cautiously interpreted. Third, a major limitation of the study is that because we did not correct the selection scores for guessing, it may be that the observed differences between selection and production formats were due to the simple advantage of 25% chance of guessing on the selection items. Fourth, the sampling of different item types led to tests that required reading and responding to 36 items; this was aversive to many students due to their limited reading skills. It should also be noted that we did not determine the difficulty levels of each test with average readers who were not included in this study. A fifth limiting factor was that the generation of an appropriate main idea response may require not only main idea comprehension but also production of language. This study attempted, in part, to control for this factor by scoring responses on the basis of an appropriate main idea sentence rather than spelling and syntax. Sixth, the study did not compare the efficacy and efficiency of the intervention with other main idea comprehension procedures or the strategy effectiveness in general education classroom settings. Finally, the inconsistent performance on the transfer passages indicates the need to systematically examine the influence of varied material (narrative and expository) and difficulty of textual material on students’ comprehension.
At the same time, findings suggest several implications for practice. One implication is that teachers may be more likely to include in their instruction a relatively simple and generalizable strategy that could be applied to varied materials such as those used in this study (Schumm & Vaughn, 1991, 1992). Second, the increased performance of students in comprehending main ideas using unmodified textbook passages demonstrates the importance and feasibility of using the main idea strategy in classroom settings. Third, because instruction in this study was provided in small-groups, results support the effectiveness of using the strategy within small-group instruction (e.g., Chan, 1991).
In summary, explicit instruction on main idea comprehension and self-monitoring may be important to enhance the performance of students with high-incidence disabilities in reading and content areas. Future research should compare the posttreatment performance of students with learning disabilities in relation to that of their nondisabled peers to assess the impact of the treatment on students with learning disabilities.
An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal, Canada, April 23, 1999.
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Main Idea Instructional Program Passages
Lesson 1: Main idea multiple-subject class action
Mrs. Perez went into the grocery store. She chose apples and oranges. She put bread and milk into the shopping cart. She added meat and vegetables. She paid for the food.
The main idea of this paragraph is: —
Lesson 2: Main idea multiple-subject class action
Bill put the clothes into the washer. Martha added the detergent and turned on the washing machine. Wes put the clothes into the dryer and folded them when they were done.
The main idea of this paragraph is: —
Lesson 3: Multiple choice items
After school, I go to the restaurant where my mother works. I fill the salt and pepper shakers. I also put napkins on the tables. I gather up the dirty dishes and take them to the kitchen. If she is not too busy, Josephine, who owns the restaurant, lets me help with the cooking.
The main idea of this paragraph is:
a. Josephine is teaching me how to cook.
b. I help out at the restaurant where my mother works.
c. After school, I go to the restaurant where my mother works.
d. Working in a restaurant is a lot of fun.
Lesson 4: Passages with sentence distracters
Linda got out flour and sugar. She took eggs from the refrigerator. The eggs were from her grandmother’s chickens. Then, she got out the mixer and the cookie sheets.
The main idea of this paragraph is: —
It was a cold day in November. Tom took the football from the center. He ran down the field. He pushed a tackle out of the way and kept running. Finally, he crossed the goal line.
The main idea of this paragraph is:
a. It was a cold day in November.
b. Tom likes to play football.
c. When you can play football.
d. Tom ran for a touchdown.
Lesson 5: Passages that tell where something is or occurs
In my town, the best place to get pizza is a little restaurant called Mario’s Pizza. It is right in the middle of town, next to the movie theater. The pizza at Mario’s is always hot and very good. It is better than any pizza in town.
The main idea of this paragraph is: —
David lives two blocks from his school. He lives in a large apartment building on the corner across from the park. His apartment is on the fourth floor in front of the building.
The main idea of this paragraph is:
a. David lives in an apartment.
b. How to get to the park.
c. Where David lives.
d. David lives two blocks from his school.
Lesson 6: Passages that tell why something is or occurs
Bill is mad. He got an F on his test. He lost his favorite toy. His team lost the big game. Bill’s best friend moved to another school.
The main idea of this paragraph is: —
Yesterday when it was time to go to school, I couldn’t find my school bag. I looked everywhere for it. Then my friend called to tell me that I had left my school bag at her house yesterday. It was sitting on the floor right by their back door..
The main idea of this paragraph is:
a. What I left at my friend’s house.
b. Why I was late for school.
c. Why I couldn’t find my school bag.
d. Why it’s good to have friends.
Lesson 7: Passages that tell when something occurs
I go to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon. I leave church at about 12:00 p.m., which helps me et to the grocery store by about 12:15 p.m. I like to get my shopping done early so that I have plenty of time left to have fun.
The main idea of this paragraph is: —
My little brother and sister get out of school at 3:30 p.m. My older brother goes to high school. He gets out at 2:30 p.m. My middle brother and I get out of middle school at 3:00 p.m..
The main idea of this paragraph is:
a. The kids in my family go to different schools.
b. When some kids get out of school.
c. When the kids in my family get out of school.
d. When I like to get out of school.
Lesson 8: Passages that tell how something is done or how something looks
We just had a new carpet: put in our living room, because the old carpet was stained. The carpet we got is light blue. It is not flat, but has little waves that look beautiful when the sun shines on it.
The main idea of this paragraph is: —
If you want to make a really great sandwich, follow these instructions. First, take two slices of white bread. Spread peanut butter on one of the slices. I like the crunchy style best. Next add as many dill pickles as you can get onto the bread. Finally, put the other slice of bread on top.
The main idea of this paragraph is:
a. Why I make peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.
b. How to make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.
c. Where to make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.
d. When to make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.
Asha K. Jitendra, Mary Kay Hoppes, and Yan Ping Xin, Lehigh University
Address: Asha K. Jitendra, College of Education, 315A Iacocca Hall, 111 Research Dr., Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015-4794
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