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Literacy in education

Literacy In Education



Traditionally, listening had always been considered a skill that was mastered before learning to read. When children consistently listened to the same pronounciation of letters, words, and sentences, they were expected to identify them later and make meaning. For example, when children listen to a story more than once, they are assumed to understand the meaning of it. Therefore, listening was thought to be a skill that naturally developed when spoken or read to. Reading was believed to develop afterwards. Since listening skills were considered to be mastered at a very early age, all the attention was given to the development of reading. The relationship was that of a sequential one, listening followed by reading, with more effort put into the development of the latter.

Nowadays, questions about the relationship between listening and reading comprehension has led to different conclusions. One view is that both skills should be given equal attention. Neville discovered that poor listening means poor reading and good listening means good reading. Thus, more attention has been given to the development of listening skills.

Chall’s (1983) also recognised that listening is a major factor in reading development. In her stages of development: 0 to 3A, listening comprehension is more effective than reading comprehension and reading skills can only be attained through the development of listening.

Therefore, listening cannot be fully mastered early on, before reading. The development of listening skills continues much later in life, contrary to the past accepted wisdom of its early development.


Reading comprehension is divided into oral and silent reading. Silent reading is preferred over oral reading as a person’s reading skills develop. In general, silent reading is better for investigating meaning and oral reading for studying word-identification skills and fluency.

Children whose oral reading is superior to their silent reading abilities are usually comparatively good in word recognition. Their oral reading difficulties are likely to be deficiencies in fluency, phrasing and expression or in comprehension rather than in pronouncing the words.

To compare the nature of listening and reading (both oral and silent) comprehension, I will examine a ten year-old Year 5 student’s performance in listening, oral reading, and silent reading comprehension.

I have also chosen to compare the student’s performance on two different text types: 1) narrative - myths. 2) expository - exploration.

Predictions of this study:

As students progress in school, they encounter textbooks that are expository rather than narrative. Such texts are concerned with teaching basic concepts and factual information in such content areas as science, social studies, and health. The emphasis on providing basic concepts and factual information to the reader represents a shift from story structures that are inherent in our culture to expository text that utilises a variety of organisational patterns. Furthermore, because of the progressively increasing focus on content-area material, some students moving into higher grades may experience difficulty in successfully comprehending this material. Therefore, I expect the participant, Michelle, to perform better in the narrative texts.

According to Chall’s stages of reading development, Michelle is in Stage 3A (9-11y.o.), where her listening comprehension will still be more effective than reading comprehension and she will prefer silent reading to oral reading (listening*silent*oral).

Michelle’s level of competence and intelligence at school is above average. Due to her outstanding performance, always highly involved in classroom activities, such as reading and listening, and producing the highest marks in her class, I predict that she will fall between (either) a high-achieving reader and/or an average-achieving reader. According to Miller and Smith’s (1990) experiment on students in grades 3 to 5, if Michelle is a high-achieving reader then her oral reading comprehension will equal her silent reading comprehension and both her oral reading comprehension and silent reading comprehension will be superior to her listening comprehension (oral=silent*listening). If Michelle is an average-achieving reader then her listening comprehension will equal her silent reading comprehension and both her listening comprehension and silent reading comprehension will be superior to her oral reading comprehension (listening=silent*oral).



Michelle is a ten-year-old girl in Grade 5, attending a Catholic School. She comes from a middle class ethnic family, where the parents’ second language is English. However, she was born in Australia and has lived here all her life. She is very popular at school, always getting the top marks in almost every subject. Michelle is extremely articulate and sociable. I have known her for a couple of years.


As I am comparing Michelle’s performance on different text types, I have chosen three narrative passages on ‘myth’ and three expository passages on ‘exploration’. All six passages are taken from a book of readings on different text types called Read and Retell. They are aimed for Grade 5 & 6 students. Therefore, they are of equal difficulty. Each passage is complete in itself, that is, not any of the passages relies on another for further information and meaning. I have prepared ten questions for each passage to assess the participant’s comprehension in the listening, oral and silent reading tasks. The questions are of the same difficulty level, which test for factual information, literal explanations, cause-effect relations, and inference. Since I am testing the participant’s comprehension of these passages, none of the questions are passage independent.


In order to make Michelle feel as comfortable as possible, I explained to her in detail what I was doing and why I was doing it. I told her that this was no formal way of testing and that she could stop anytime she felt like it. I also encouraged her to do her best and to ask me any questions before we started. She reacted with enthusiasm and excitement and was eager to start the ‘exercise’.

As I mentioned earlier, since narratives are usually easier than expository texts, I began with the former. On the first day, I read out one narrative passage to Michelle and then she was asked to read one passage orally and another silently. All passages were read only once, allowing equal performance and fairness. Questions to each passage were given orally immediately after it was read. Answers to all questions were given orally. Ten questions were answered for each passage. The whole exercise was recorded on tape.

On the second day, the exact procedure was followed with the expository texts. The listening comprehension task was followed with the oral and silent reading tasks.

Michelle was very helpful and I thanked her for it.


Since each of the six passages has ten questions, the following scores are out of ten. Each score (number of correct answers) is grouped into levels of comprehension (low, average, high). The reason for this is to avoid irrational conclusions, such as "Michelle scored 2/10 in silent and 3/10 in oral. Therefore, her oral is better than silent comprehension". Another reason is to compensate for any external factor that may have affected her comprehension, such as slight differences between passages or slight differences between questions.

The distribution of scores is shown in Table 1.


Number of correct answers out of 10: Level of comprehension:

0-3 Level 1 - Low

4-7 Level 2 - Average

8-10 Level 3 - High

The following is how Michelle scored in the six passages: for the narrative texts (myth), she scored 9/10 in listening comprehension, 10/10 in oral reading comprehension, and 8/10 in silent reading comprehension. For the expository texts (exploration), she scored 8/10 in listening comprehension, 9/10 in oral reading comprehension, and 7/10 in silent reading comprehension. Table 2 classifies these scores into levels of comprehension.


Text type / modality of comprehension Number of correct answers out of 10: Level of comprehension:

Narrative (myth) / Listening 9/10 Level 3

Narrative (myth) / Oral 10/10 Level 3

Narrative (myth) / Silent 8/10 Level 3

Expository (exploration) / Listening 8/10 Level 3

Expository (exploration) / Oral 9/10 Level 3

Expository (exploration) / Silent 7/10 Level 2

Her performance in the listening comprehension, oral reading comprehension and silent reading comprehension for the narrative texts didn’t alter. For the expository texts, her listening comprehension was equal to her oral reading comprehension and both were slightly better than her silent reading comprehension. A clearer view of these results is shown in Figure 1, where her listening comprehension for both texts is high (level 3), her oral reading comprehension for both texts is high (level 3), and her silent reading comprehension for the narrative text is high (level 3), but it changes slightly with the expository text, where her silent reading comprehension is average (level 2).

Her performance didn’t alter with the change of text types, except in the silent reading comprehension, where she performed slightly lower in the expository text. Figure 2 shows a slight decline in her performance.


Consistent with Cheek, Flippo, and Lindsey’s view, Michelle’s silent reading comprehension is better in the narrative text than in the expository text. Students may experience more difficulty in successfully comprehending this material, because of the progressively increasing focus on content-area material.

To understand the nature of Michelle’s comprehension, three factors need to be considered: her level of comprehension (high/average), the modalities used to generate information (listening, oral reading, and silent reading), and the different text types used (narrative and expository).

I will first discuss Michelle’s level of comprehension in the three modalities of the narrative texts. Then I will continue discussing the same with the expository texts.

Narrative Texts:

Result: Michelle’s listening comprehension equals her oral reading comprehension and both equal her silent reading comprehension. [listening=oral=silent].

This finding is inconsistent with both of my predictions derived from Chall’s stages and Miller and Smith’s experiment.

According to Chall’s Stage 3A (9-11y.o.), Michelle’s listening comprehension is supposed to be more effective than her reading comprehension. Her equal performance in all three modalities proves different.

However, since the characteristics of each of Chall’s stages serve primarily as models and not as prescriptions or as standards, Michelle’s performance could be better explained in Stage 3B (12-14y.o.), where reading and listening are about equal. Her results prove to be closer to this stage.

Furthermore, according to Miller and Smith’s experiment on students in grades 3 to 5, Michelle’s performance doesn’t fit any category exactly. From her results, she appears to be a very high-achieving reader, yet her listening comprehension does equal her reading comprehension (both oral and silent) contrary to Miller & Smith’s outcomes.

Expository Texts:

Michelle’s listening comprehension equals her oral reading comprehension and both are slightly higher than her silent reading comprehension. [listening=oral*silent].

In the silent reading passage, Michelle scored 7/10, which is one point from being placed in Level 3 (high). I believe that the reason for this was the type of passage (expository: about space). As Harris explains "the most important silent reading characteristic to evaluate is the ‘level of difficulty’ at which the child can comprehend".

Her performance in the expository texts is also inconsistent with both of my predictions derived from Chall’s stages and Miller and Smith’s experiment.

As in the narrative texts, she proves to be closer to Chall’s Stage 3B than Stage 3A.

And according to Miller and Smith’s experiment, Michelle’s performance in the expository texts fits one category. From her outcome, she doesn’t appear to be in the high-achieving reader or average-achieving reader category; her outcome meets that of the low-achieving reader category, where:

Oral reading comprehension is equal to listening comprehension and both are superior to silent reading comprehension.

However, classifying Michelle as a low-achieving reader is impossible. The lowest result she attained in both text types is 7/10 and the highest is 10/10. A low-achieving reader could not earn these results. Also, her quality of answers shows a high level of comprehension. Her reading is very fluent; she never got stuck on a word. And throughout the whole experiment, she was glowing with confidence and enthusiasm.

So, what do these two inconsistencies (in both the narrative and expository texts) say about Miller & Smith’s findings? Not all students in grades 3 to 5 who perform in the manner in which Miller & Smith outline can be categorized into a high-, average-, or low-achieving reader. The eighty-three students that they tested were given three similar narrative passages. The outcomes were a result of calculating mean performances. The results were affected by the majority of students who performed similarly or equally. If one of them scored as Michelle did, which is highly competent in all three modalities, that student would have had the slightest effect on the mean performances of the other 82 students. Therefore, there has to be exceptions to Miller and Smith’s findings.

Chall’s supports this point in her stages of reading and listening development. She says that not all children of a given age should be at the same level, nor does it mean that they should be instructed at the same level.

Comparing the listening and reading comprehension (both oral and silent) of a student like Michelle, where her performance was very high in all three modalities, made me realise that she is an exception to many students. From this, we may conclude that experiments done by researchers, such as Miller and Smith (1990) and Swalm (1976), may be relative to the majority of students, but we have to keep in mind that some students can develop or progress in their listening and reading at different measures.

Myth: ‘Why the Kangaroo Hops’ (Listening Comprehension) 10 Questions: 9 correct & 1 incorrect.

Q.1. What was different about the kangaroo long ago?

A.1. It used to walk instead of hop. It used four legs instead of two.

Q.2. During the day, the kangaroo would lie in the shade of what?

A.2. In shade of ... I forgot. (Correct answer: The mulga trees)

Q.3. One day while the kangaroo was sleeping under the mulga trees, what happened?

A.3. A bushfire broke out.

Q.4. Which part of the kangaroo’s body was burnt?

A.4. His front paws.

Q.5. What was the kangaroo trapped in?

A.5. He was trapped in a fierce circle of fire.

Q.6. How did the kangaroo feel?

A.6. He was afraid.

Q.7. What did the kangaroo decide to do when he realised that he couldn’t run?

A.7. He decided to hop.

Q.8. What parts of his body did he need to use in order to hop?

A.8. His back legs and his tail.

Q.9. When the kangaroo tried to walk again, what did he realise?

A.9. That he can’t walk and that he has to hop and he has done so ever since.

Q.10. Do you believe this is the reason why kangaroos hop? Why?

A.10. No, because there are many kangaroos out there and not all of them got caught in the fire.

Myth: ‘How Koalas Got Their Ears’ (Oral Reading Comprehension) 10 Questions: 10 correct.

Q.1. What was the koala’s name?

A.1. Jeroba.

Q.2. Why was Jeroba depressed?

A.2. Because all the animals had ears and he didn’t.

Q.3. Who did Jeroba meet while walking along the cliff edge?

A.3. Cloey. He was a possum.

Q.4. Why did Cloey and Jeroba stop?

A.4. Because they heard a sound from the bottom of the cliff.

Q.5. What did Jeroba do after he heard the sound?

A.5. He leaned over the cliff to see what it was.

Q.6. Explain what happened to Jeroba while leaning over the cliff.

A.6. A bird flew above his head. He started making funny faces to it and then slipped off the cliff, but Cloey caught him.

Q.7. Where did Cloey grab Jeroba?

A.7. He grabbed him in two spots on his head.

Q.8. Did anything different happen to Jeroba?

A.8. Yes. He had ears now.

Q.9. Why did Jeroba get large flappy ears?

A.9. Because Cloey grabbed him for a long time and stretched his head.

Q.10. Do you believe this is how koalas got their ears? Why?

A.10. No, because if you stretch your skin really hard, it will go back to its spot. You can’t stretch out ears.

Myth: ‘How the Tiger Got Its Stripes’ (Silent Reading Comprehension) 10 Questions: 8 correct & 2 incorrect.

Q.1. What country were the tigers living in?

A.1. India.

Q.2. Who decided to go for a walk?

A.2. Um.. I forgot his name. (Correct answer: baby tiger)

Q.3. What did baby tiger see?

A.3. A man painting his jeep black.

Q.4. What did the man do when he finished painting his jeep?

A.4. He hung his paint brush to dry in the sun.

Q.5. What did baby tiger see afterwards?

A.5. He saw a mouse.

Q.6. What did baby tiger decide to do?

A.6. He decided to go and catch it.

Q.7. Who was quicker, baby tiger or the mouse?

A.7. The mouse.

Q.8. While trying to catch the mouse, what was happening to baby tiger?

A.8. He was trying to catch the mouse and the brush was dripping paint on him. He got black stripes all over him.

Q.9. How did the drips of paint become wide stripes?

A.9. They dried in the Indian sun. (Correct answer: They ran down his sides and dried.)

Q.10. Do you believe this is how the tiger got its stripes? Why?

A.10. No, because they will wash away when he goes into the water. Paint doesn’t last.

Expository Text (Exploration): ‘Discovery of the Unknown East’. (Listening Comprehension) 10 Questions: 8 correct & 2 incorrect.

Q.1. What country was Marco Polo born?

A.1. In Venice, in Italy.

Q.2. What was it like to travel in those days?

A.2. It was very hard. They didn’t have planes like we do.

Q.3. How did people travel overland?

A.3. They traveled by horse or by foot.

Q.4. How were the ships built?

A.4. They were very strong.

Q.5. How old was Marco Polo when he traveled to China with his father and uncle?

A.5. Fifteen.

Q.6. During their journey, what did they get to see?

A.6. They saw fountains, gardens and mosques.

Q.7. How long did it take them to reach China?

A.7. Three years.

Q.8. What did the Chinese Emperor make Marco? Why?

A.8. He made him governor of a city because he liked him.

Q.9. When did the three decide to go back to Italy?

A.9. When Marco got sick. (Correct answer: When the emperor became ill.)

Q.10. Why was their journey very important for many years later?

A.10. Because ... because ... (Correct answer: Because the journey was written down and was used by future explorers.)

Expository Text (Exploration): ‘Discovery of the Americas’. (Oral Reading Comprehension) 10 Questions: 9 correct & 1 incorrect.

Q.1. What year was Christopher Columbus born?

A.1. 1451.

Q.2. How old was he when he died?

A.2. 55.

Q.3. What did he discover?

A.3. The American continent.

Q.4. Who helped him pay for his journey?

A.4. The Queen of Spain.

Q.5. Was Columbus different to other travellers? Why?

A.5. Yes, because he liked to be adventurous.

Q.6. How long did it take Columbus to discover land in America?

A.6. Three years. (Correct answer: Ten weeks)

Q.7. How many journeys did Columbus make to America?

A.7. Four.

Q.8. What sort of a person was Columbus?

A.8. He was a very brave man. He was courageous and adventurous.

Q.9. Did the people respect him throughout his life for the incredible discoveries he made?

A.9. No, they respected him in the beginning, but later they all forgot about him and forgot about his discoveries.

Q.10. What were his conditions when he died?

A.10. He died a lonely man.

Expository Text (Exploration): ‘Space: the New Frontier’. (Silent Reading Comprehension) 10 Questions: 7 correct & 3 incorrect.

Q.1. What year did the astronauts first land on the moon?

A.1. Umm.... (Correct answer: 1969)

Q.2. What was the name of the famous spaceship the astronauts travelled to the moon in?

A.2. Umm ..... I don’t know. (Correct answer: Apollo 11)

Q.3. How many astronauts went on this journey?

A.3. Three.

Q.4. What was the name of the astronaut who first walked on the moon?

A.4. Neil Armstrong.

Q.5. What did the astronauts do for two and a half hours?

A.5. They sat in the spaceship on the moon. (Correct answer: They collected samples of rock and dust.)

Q.6. What flag did they plant on the moon and why?

A.6. They planted an American flag to say that the Americans were the first ones to walk on the moon.

Q.7. New explorers went to the moon in order to: a) become rich and conquer new lands. B) further their knowledge of the universe.

A.7. B.

Q.8. What is the difference between early explorers, such as Marco Polo, and the new explorers, such as those who landed on the moon?

A.8. Early explorers wanted new land to live and make their own. They didn’t know about many countries we have. New explorers want to discover new things. They don’t want to own it.

Q.9. What is the new frontier for exploration?

A.9. Space.

Q.10. Why do you think space is where new explorers want to go?

A.10. Because they need more information. They don’t know much.


In Listening (pp. 3-20). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brown, H and Cambourne, B. (1987). Read and Retell: A Strategy for the

Whole Language/Natural Learning Classroom. Victoria: Nelson.

Chall, J. (1983), Stages of Reading Development.

Cheek, E., Flippo, R. and Lindsey, J. (1989). Reading for Success in

Elementary Schools. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Harris, A. J. (1975). How to Increse Reading Ability. New York: David

McKay Company, Inc.

Miller, S.D. and Smith, D.E.P. (1990). ‘Relations among Oral Reading,

Silent Reading and Listening Comprehension of Students at Differing Competency Levels’, Reading Research and Instruction, 29, (2) 73-84.

Neville, M. (1985). ‘English Language in Scottish Schools’, Scottish

Education Department report.

Nuwash, C.F. (1999). ‘Reading and Listening as a Second Language’,

National Reading Conference Yearbook, 48, 249-257.

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