Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Working Memory and Mental Imagery

  • Mental imagery training enhances comprehension and is easy to teach
  • Pronouns provide cohesion and coherence for text comprehension

I have just returned from recreation leave and read an interesting article entitled 'Effect of imagery training on children's comprehension of pronouns' by Francey and Cain, two researchers from Lancaster University, United Kingdom.  The researchers were investigating children with good and poor listening comprehension, and their ability to identify the antecedents of personal pronouns in individual sentences and also to select the most appropriate pronoun in a story close activity.

Normally, as they read,  good comprehenders will construct an integrated situation model of the perceived sentence and story meanings as a cohesive and coherent mental representation. What usually underpins this process is the resolution of pronouns with their antecedents in the same sentence or previous sentences. Pronouns such as 'he', 'she', 'they' or 'it' are strategic in integrating information within and between sentences. This, however, may require the reader to use extra mental resources to make inferences particularly in situations where 'he' refers to one of two protagonists in the previous sentence. Poor comprehenders often have considerable difficulty with this process and consequently have difficulty with text integration and comprehension of the text discourse.

Good readers tend to generate mental imagery as they read, which benefits their text recall and extends their capacity to hold information while processing text during reading. Poor readers, on the other hand, seldom generate mental imagery while reading. However, in my own research I have found that imagery training is relatively easy and enjoyable for struggling readers. It is assumed that by generating mental imagery during reading the reader is enabled to carry over complex ideas embedded within an image while, for example, decoding, connecting text propositions, making inferences across text and linking ideas to the reader's background  experiences. Thus, mental imagery enhances working memory efficiency by utilising the visual mode of working memory to enhance the ability of the poor comprehender to retain detailed information.

The research findings confirm the notion that poor comprehenders have difficulties with language comprehension apart from decoding. Most poor comprehenders have good decoding but have poor language comprehension and this can be evidenced in the fact that they have significantly more difficulty with pronoun resolution. The research demonstrates that minimal mental imagery training can improve the reading comprehension performance of students with poor comprehension. Another finding is that there is strong evidence to support the notion that pronouns play a crucial role in comprehension and the construction of a cohesive and coherent understanding of text ideas. The findings of this study also give some support for Paivio's (1991) Dual Coading theory of cognition.

Francey, G., Cain, K. (2015). Effect of imagery training on children’s comprehension of pronouns. Journal of Educational Research108 (1) p. 1 – 9.

Paivio, A. (1986). Mental representations: A dual-coding approach. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

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