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LehrBar Spezial - Austausch unter Lehrenden

Using narrative structure to improve comprehension of science articles.

Impuls: Monica Gonzalez-Marquez (Lecturer and Research Associate at the Department of English, American and Romance Studies (IFAAR) at RWTH Aachen University, Germany. Her research focuses on developing empirically tested methods to improve science reading skills using cognitive narrative)

Termin: 21.11.2017 von 14:00-16:00 Uhr in Raum X-E1-107

Why is reading scientific articles so difficult? Most learners experience a deep-rooted anxiety when told they must read scientific texts of any type. When asked, they describe the process as overwhelming, frightening, and intimidating (Negrete & Lartigue, 2004). Yet, when asked to read a novel, no such feelings emerge. This is very likely because readers know what to expect: a progression of events leading to a conclusion of some type.
This is clear for two reasons. First, everyone has spent their entire lives submerged in stories. We begin hearing them on our mother?s lap, and eventually progress to guided readings of Madame Bovary at university. Second, as many have long intuited, we love stories because our brains are wired for them (e.g. Turner, 1996; Chow, et al, 2014). Note the passionate outrage when a television show in cancelled without an ending! There is increasing scientific evidence (Ibid.) that story is deeply entwined in our psyches, and that in fact, it may be the primary structuring mechanism used by the brain.     
The experience most readers have with classic narrative is in stark contrast to reading science. Most never receive much training, other than being told repeatedly that what they are reading is not a story. We argue that this assessment is incorrect. If narrative underlies general information structuring, then it should also underlie scientific literature. As such, we propose that once students learn to read science as narrative, their comprehension will increase significantly. To test this prediction, we developed a pedagogical method that used narrative structure to guide readers in constructing the story told in a research article. We also developed a brief questionnaire on general reading comprehension. We tested the efficacy of the method in a three-condition study using three separate university classes. The first received no training, the norm for most students. The second received training on the parts of a research article, i.e. introduction, methods, etc. The third received the narrative training. All groups read actual scientific articles and completed the comprehension questionnaire. The collective responses were treated as a small corpus, and coded for type of language used, type of response, etc., among other features.
Our results showed that general comprehension was significantly greater in the narrative condition, as compared to the other two conditions. We will discuss these findings with a view toward further research and classroom applications.

References: Chow, H. M., Mar, R. A., Xu, Y., Liu, S., Wagage, S., & Braun, A. R. (2014). Embodied comprehension of stories: Interactions between language regions and modality-specific neural systems. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26, pp. 279-295. Negrete, A. and Lartigue C. (2011). The science of telling stories: Evaluating science communication via narratives (RIRC method). Journal of Media and Communication Studies Vol. 2(4), pp. 98-110 Turner, M. (1998) The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford University Press