Understanding the Frequency and Use of Logical Connectives in Science Texts : Implications for Students and Teachers

Understanding the Frequency and Use of Logical Connectives in Science Texts : Implications for Students and Teachers

First Author: Francesca Jones -- Southern Methodist University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Deni Basaraba; Diego Roman
Keywords: Inference, Comprehension
Abstract / Summary: 

The difficulties students face when reading science texts go beyond understanding vocabulary and syntactic structures: comprehension of science texts requires students to infer how these texts function as a unit to communicate scientific meaning. To help students in this process, science texts sometimes employ logical connectives (e.g., because) that serve as landmarks students use to create a mental model of the text. Although it has been argued that features such as these that comprise the science register contribute significantly to the complexity of science texts (Fang, 2008), little empirical research has been conducted to examine how frequently linguistic features like these are used to mark inferences in science texts. In this presentation, we report the results of an empirical study of middle school science textbooks, documenting the frequency of logical connectives in commercially published science curricula. We hand-coded a corpus of 20 chapters from nine science textbooks adopted for use in Grades 6-8 that focused on a variety of topics (e.g., ecology and evolution). The corpus in its entirety consisted of 7,038 unique clauses that were coded by the research team. Results indicated that only 24.5% of the clauses analyzed had logical connectives. In other words, 8 times out of 10 while reading science texts students need to interpret the appropriate discourse relation between clauses independently based on their inferences of the meaning of the text; these findings are disconcerting given previous evidence that indicates students generate less inferences when reading expository text (Trabasso & Magliano, 1996). Consequently, teachers must play an integral role in helping students comprehend how science texts work (Ciechanowski, 2014). Finally, we will provide an example of how graphic organizers, a common device to support reading comprehension, can be employed by teachers to help students understand the types of inferences required in science texts.