Content and Formal Schemata in Esl Reading

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Content and Formal Schemata in ESL Reading
PATRICIA L. CARRELL Southern Illinois University
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) Content and Formal Schemata in ESL Reading
Author(s): Patricia L. Carrell
Source: TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Sep., 1987), pp. 461-481 Published by: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) Stable URL:
Accessed: 22/10/2008 11:25
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TESOL QUARTERLY, Vol. 21, No. 3, September 1987 Content and Formal Schemata in ESL Reading PATRICIA L. CARRELL Southern Illinois University This article reports the results of an experiment investigating the simultaneous effects on ESL reading comprehension of both culture-specific content schemata and formal schemata, as well as any potential interaction between them. In the study, high- intermediate ESL students read, recalled, and answered questions about each of two texts. For each of two groups of readers (students of Muslim and Catholic/Spanish backgrounds), one text had culturally familiar content, the other culturally unfamiliar content. Within each group, one half of the subjects read the texts in a familiar, well-organized rhetorical format, the other half read the texts in an unfamiliar, altered rhetorical format. Results showed the conditions expected to yield good reading compre- hension (familiar content, familiar rhetorical form) did so. Similarly, the conditions expected to yield poor reading comprehension (unfamiliar content, unfamiliar rhetorical form) did so. More interestingly, the results for the "mixed" conditions (familiar content, unfamiliar rhetorical form; unfamiliar content, familiar rhetorical form) indicated that content schemata affected reading comprehension to a greater extent than formal schemata. Specific results are presented and discussed, as are limitations of the study and teaching implications. One type of schema, or background knowledge, a reader brings to a text is a content schema, which is knowledge relative to the content domain of the text. Another type is a formal schema, or knowledge relative to the formal, rhetorical organizational structures of different types of texts. In empirical tests of these two different types of schemata, it is fairly easy to separate out and to test for the effects of one type, while holding the effects of the other type constant. For example, in testing for the effects of content schemata, one keeps the formal rhetorical structure of a text constant, manipulates the content, and has comparable groups of subjects process each different content. Any differences on the dependent measures (answers to literal or 461...
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