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ASummaryofSchemaTheor


德宏师范高等专科学校学报

2006 年第 2 期第 15 卷 No2. 2006 vol 15

A Summary of Schema Theory Application in Reading
Readers analysis and schema activation
王 琰
潞西, 678400)

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( 德宏师范高等专科学校 外语系, 云南

Abstract! This paper attempts to discuss some issues in the application of schema theory in reading instruc tion It focuses on consideration of the difference of readers, knowledge preparation in the using schema theory in reading instruction and provides some examples of activating readers? schema Key words! schemata; schema act ivat ion; process

1

A brief introduction of the schema theory The concept ion of schema was first proposed by

activities As a result, many researchers try to explain the nature of reading with Gestalt psychology Clark and Silbertstein ( 1977) believe that reading skills depends on the efficient interaction between linguistic knowledge and knowledge of the world Rumelhart ( 1977, 1980) elaborates that a text does not itself carry meaning, and the meaning of a text is constructed according to indi vidual? s prior knowledge He believes that a reader with only linguistic knowledge does not point to com plete comprehension According to Rumelart ( 1980) , schema theory is basically a theory about human knowledge, about how the knowledge is organized and stored in units in human brain and about how the knowledge is applied His im portant conclusion on schema which can be regarded as the most significant in reading instruction is that schema contains many variables, which lead to various output or interpretation The applicat ion of schema is associated in different sett ings which include different learners, the learners ? cultural background, their linguist ic competence at the time of instruction and so on We

German psychologist Bartlett in 1932 He defines schema as # an active organization of past reactions, or past experience ? He believes the core of schema theo ry is that these # past reactions or past experience? ef fect functions in comprehension But the bases of the conception can be traced earlier to the establishment of Gestalt psychology, which means shape and form, and emphasized holistic properties ( Richard C Anderson) Gestalt psychology studies the mental organization and emphasizes that this mental organizat ion is dynamic, which means that with some st imuli or certain given in formation, the mental organization will automatically process these information by making up for the informa tion not given, interpreting the given information and making coherent understanding of the information Since Gestalt psychology can account for part of the cognitive structure of human beings, many researchers of reading attempt to apply it to accommodate the mental act ivi ties, which relate to a large extent to how people pro cess informat ion and obtain the meaning in their reading
收稿日期: 2006- 10- 21 作者简介: 王琰 ( 1977

) , 女, 大理人, 德宏师范高等专 科学校外语系助教。

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琰: A Summary of Schema Theory Application in Reading 3) Both good and weak readers share the overlap ping feature of being good at linguistic competence and weak at schema We will first focus our discussion on the reading instruction of the first category of readers in the per spect ive of schema theory Observat ions in the reading reveal that schema theory turns out to be less valid to the readers with low linguistic competence, since schema method more or less has the characters of # top - down mode? which emphasizes processing from high er- level skills But automatic perception and decoding is the crucial foundat ion for initiating the higher- level skills When readers are st ill in their low linguist ic stage, they still cannot surmount the difficulty of de coding in order to base their prediction on or activate their schema David E Eskey ( Patricia L Carrell et al 1988) points out that interactive processing should be the interaction between information obtained by means of bottom - up decoding and information provided by means of top - down analysis This statement strongly supports the belief that reading instruction should be # held in the bottom? without which neither interactive approach nor schema method can be effectively ap plied Experiments prove that more time is consumed when using top skills like guessing, predicting and confirming While the basic recognition of vocabulary and structure provides the primary information entailed for act ivat ing the concerning schema Therefore, it is feasible to believe that schema method is less adaptable to the readers with low linguistic competence, since schema method cannot and should not be responsible for direct instruction of language acquisition This conclu sion especially explains why readers with good schema, yet low linguistic competence still fail to be fluent and skillful readers due to their constraint linguistic compe tence The second issue worthy of discussing is about good readers and poor readers who are both linguist ically proficient but weak at schema What are the factors that classify them into two categories of being good or poor readers? Here, # weak at schema? can be reflected in two ways One is that the readers totally lack the rele

believe it is this variable feature of schema that makes reading instruction a complex work that is worthy of study in the practice of reading instruction 2 Some considerations in the application of the schema theory in reading instruction 2 1 The readers Readers can be divided into different categories according to different norms Here, the classifying of readers involves two major norms: the readers? linguis tic proficiency and their level of schema By # level of schema? we mean: 1) , whether the reader possesses a sufficient knowledge of the world that can be activated for particular needs; 2 ) , whether the reader ? s knowledge of the world is normally organized, which means that whether his knowledge of the world is con sistent to the socially and culturally recognized norms This item is proposed because of the observation that there are many occasions when readers make wild and absurd interpretations of the text that is not meant by the writer; and 3) , whether the reader has a schema for some specific field and how professional his schema in this field is Readers can be approximately classified as below ( An approximate classification is due to the consideration that a very detailed one may complicate the analysis work and lead to the failure of locating the main problems ) reader Linguistic competence good Poor reader weak weak good Good reader good schema weak good weak good weak

This diagram illustrates the following features of readers: 1) Poor readers have stronger tendency of being weak in linguistic competence 2) A basic condition of being good readers is their good linguistic competence 60



琰: A Summary of Schema Theory Application in Reading schemata and content schemata Here, in this part we attempt to discuss the formal schemata, since this is something we can do to prepare the readers some knowledge about the text organization According to Carell , formal schemata means the background knowl edge of the formal rhetorical organizational structure of different types of texts ( fable, expository text , story, scientific text , poetry, news etc ) As we know, each type of the texts has its particular organization and style features A knowledge of these will engage the readers in appropriate formal schema before reading or facilitate reading by constraining the reader in a part ic ular suitable strategy instead of reading with unprepared mind or resorting to other less eff icient processing for reading a particular type of text The formal knowledge can be instructed before the reading program be gins The features of each of the types can be displayed with sample texts or explained directly by the teach er Another way found effective for the readers to get acquainted with the features of the types is to display the sample texts of each of the types at the same time Instead ofexplaining, the teacher can ask the readers to make comparisons to find out the differences between one type and another and make judgement themselves 2) Understanding some truth about writing T he instruction of this topic seems to have some thing in common with the reading strategy instruction It does In the application of schema theory in reading , the reader? s abilities of inference and making associa t ion are of crucial in successful comprehension Readers should be made aware through analysis of sample texts of the fact that the writer does not express everything he means, that the words or sentences may be deliberately employed not to convey their literal meaning , and that the writer may not provide sufficient clues and information In such situation, the convention al pre - class act ivities like background introduction, prediction based on topic and illustrations and pre class discussion may produce limited effect in obtaining coherent understanding of the intersentential mean 61

vant schema, the other is that the schema may not be activated Patricia L Carell et al claims after studies that ESL reading comprehension may be affected not because the ESL readers lack the appropriate schema, but be cause they fail to activate the appropriate schema ( Pa tricia L Carell et al 1988 ) According to this judge ment, we can conclude that the good readers are those who seek to use flexible reading strategies and skills in their reading activit ies to make association and activate their storage of schema using available informa tion These strategies may include flexible swit ch from bottom- up to top- down or vice versa in time of need and make use of any available clues The shift of pro cessing mode helps to eliminate the diff iculties in as signing meaning to the given text, which will initiate the act ivation of schema Carell also notices that less skilled readers and poor readers tend to over rely on one - direction processes, for instance on the knowledge based or top- down processing ( Patricia L Carrell et al 1988) Reading instruct ion for this type of poor readers should consist reading strategy instruction and training in order to fully effectuate their linguistic com petence in the activation of schema In conclusion, i dentifying the difficulties of the readers and the content level and type in regard to the readers is a primary step of purposeful instruct ion 2 2 Some preparations before reading in relation to schema theory If schema can be broadly defined as one? s gener al knowledge of the world organized in units, we will f ind that much of the schema of readers cannot be taught in the reading instruction, but can be acquired through understanding the various texts used as our reading ma terials that contain these knowledge We have to bear in mind that the principal goal of reading instruction is to help the reader on how to read instead of teaching the literal contents of the text So what left us to do in using schema theory in our instruction is to equip the reader some skills and knowledge in using schema theory in their reading 1) Understanding the formal schemata Carell ( 1983) draws a distinct ion between formal



琰: A Summary of Schema Theory Application in Reading priate schema, but because they fail to activate the ap propriate schema What a teacher of reading should con centrate on is to design suitable classroom activities to help readers locate an appropriate schema among the numerous schema units in their storage 3 1 Conceptually driven schema Conceptually driven schema means act ivat ion of reader? s schema by high level information such as concerning situat ion Previewing is a pre- reading act iv ity that provides the reader with some important and rel evant information It proves to be important for the less proficient readers According to Patricia L Carrell, ( Paticia L Carell et al 1988) , Preview may include 1 providing outline, 2 key concepts of cultural loads, 3 providing some background, 4 presenting specialized vocabulary and structure These activities help to act ivate readers ? schema through providing a general setting and confin ing the slot, which will instant iate and activate the components of the setting To take # shopping? as an ex ample. If the setting of # shopping? is presented, peo ple will produce such associations as # buyers?, # sell ers?, # casher?, # goods?, # money? and the shopping activities like # bargain?, # paying?, and even every detailed scenes of shopping In this example, when the readers are presented a # shopping? setting, they would search in their schema storage and locate the unit con cerning # shopping?, and activate the schema in the lower level, namely, the associated words and con cepts, which enter the processing as input materi als So, by application of the four activit ies of preview ing mentioned above, the readers? schema are concep tually driven, or act ivated in a way of top- to- down 3 2 Data driven schema Another type of common activities used to activate schema is applying the lower level components to acti vate the higher - level schema, or Data driven schema In these activit ies, readers are required to focus their attent ion on the text source like the key words, pictures, diagrams and so on The informat ion derived from these sources will funct ion as act ivat ing certain higher - level schema those components may belong

ing So in this issue, the readers should be guided, a gain with sample texts to be alert to discover the under lying meaning of texts instead of wrestling only with the literal expressions Readers have to be made known that they are responsible for filling out the messages not ex plicitly stated, interpret ing the text seemingly absurd and inconsistent with the context All these have to be made out by making inference with both their linguistic knowledge and locating the schema unit for the particu lar parts or the text Besides, they should be instructed to constantly check or monitor their understanding By # understanding?, we mean a comprehension of not only local individual details, but also a coherent understand ing of the whole text This can be achieved in reading class by, for example, asking the successful readers to present or report how a comprehension is solved, how the thinking process happens or what knowledge he re sorts to 3 Some techniques in using schema theory in read ing instruction Patricia L Carrel and Joan C Eisterhold ( Patricia L Carrell et al 1988) present a few classroom act ivi ties These activit ies include 1 Rigg? s Language Expe rience Approach for the beginning readers, which fol lows the task sequence: readers propose their ideas in their own words_ Teacher scribes what they say __ _ Readers read the scripture of what they have just said 2 Krashen ? s Narrow Reading, which means reading that is confined to a single topic or to the text of a single author 3 Sustained Silent Reading ( SSR) This is a reading program based on student - selected texts, its merit being letting the readers decide the text according to their interest and linguistic level These ex amples show that reading instruct ion can be conducted in task- based activities in the classroom and as a pro gram to be completed in a period of time This paper at tempts to describe some theories and principles for task - based activit ies in reading instruct ion As mentioned in the first chapter, Carrell ( 1983) claims after his study of ESL reading that comprehension inefficiency is not because the readers lack the appro 62



琰: A Summary of Schema Theory Application in Reading ory in the instruction 2 Schema theory is more adaptable to readers with higher linguistic proficiency When lower - level pro cessing is still a problem, no literal meaning will be produced as resource to associate with relevant schema 3 As far as schema theory in reading instruction is concerned, schema activation is a major consideration of the instructor when designing tasks and activi t ies 4 Conceptually driven schema and data driven schema can function as theory to explain how appropri ate schema is spotted, so they can serve as principles in the designing of tasks and activities in schema activa t ion This paper only scratches parts of the problems of reading instruction Problems in this f ield cannot be completely covered and solved until research in other aspects of the issue can be conducted to complement it, such as reading strategy, readers? cognit ion style and level, cultural background and linguist ic competence improvement and so on and so forth

to And when the higher - level schema is activated, it will cause activation of lower level components For in stance, when the name # Michael Jordan?is presented as a key word, it will activate quite several higher- level schema different from one to another # NBA? schema may be activated in some people, # the brilliant history of Chicago Bulls? schema may touch the others If the brand name # Nike?is added to # Michael Jordan?, then the higher schema of # advertisement?will be brought to readers? mind This # advertisement?schema will in turn activate either the high- level schema of the fashion of popular stars in advertisement or the lower - level schema, for example, about # Nike?products Pictures or diagrams provide parts of the informa tion, too They can be resorted to activate the appropri ate schema 4 Conclusion 1 Reading instruction should t ake comprehensive

factors of the readers into consideration, especially their linguistic proficiency in applicat ion of schema the

Reference:
[ 1] Christine Nuttall Teaching Reading Skills in A Foreign Language [ M] Language Education Press [ 2] Jack C Richard From Reader to Reading Teaching [ M ] 1997 [ 3] Jeremy Harmer How to Teach English [ M] Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998

[ 4] Patricia L Carell, Joanne Devine and David E Eskey Interactive approaches to Secondary Language Reading [ M] Cambridge: Cambrodge University Press, 1988Sandra Silberstein, ( 2002) , Teaching Resources In Reading shanghai Foreign Language Education Press [ 5] Hedge, T Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom [ M] guage Education Press, 2002 Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Lan

[ 6] 陈忠华等 知识与语篇理解 [ M] 北京: 外语教学与研究出版社, 2004 [ 7] 张必隐 阅读心理学 [ M] 北京: 北京师范大学出版社, 1992

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