Reading development at the text level: a large scale investigation of surprisal and text coherence effects in grades 1 to 5

Reading development at the text level: a large scale investigation of surprisal and text coherence effects in grades 1 to 5

First Author: Ronan Reilly -- Maynooth University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Ralph Radach; Christian Vorstius; Christopher Lonigan
Keywords: Eye movements, Text Characteristics, Reading development
Abstract / Summary: 

This paper describes an approach to modelling the influence of supra-lexical text effects on the eye movements of developing readers. Using a set of surprisal metrics (Levy, 2008) derived from an n-gram analysis of a large text corpus, as well as latent semantics analysis (LSA) measures, the study explores the influences of sentential and textual context on readers’ eye movements. Surprisal is a measure of lexical expectation at teh sentence level and LSA can be used to measure inter-sentential coherence.

Method

Participants were asked to read short stories taken from the Florida Instruction for Assessment in Reading (FAIR) toolkit (Florida Department of Education, 2009a, 2009b). The stories were grade appropriate and reflected a range of lexile scores.

Eye movement data from 519 children (n=87, n=106, n=119, n=101, and n=106, respectively, from grades 1 through 5) participating in Florida State University’s “Reading for Understanding” longitudinal study (Vorstius, Radach & Lonigan, 2014) were used in this analysis.

Results

Results indicated that the various surprisal and lexical coherence measures have a significant impact on the moment-to-moment processing of words during reading at the elementary school level. The most striking finding is a rather dramatic transition in sensitivity to the LSA-encoded coherence measures from grades 2 through to 4, expressed in the form of rather different relationships between the LSA measures and surprisal at grades 1-2 compared to 4-5.

Conclusions

The results point to a qualitative difference in reading between early and late elementary school grades. Overall, grade 3 seems to represent a pivotal point in reading development where readers start to become sensitive to higher-order features of the text.