Vol. 2. No. 4 R-11 June 1997
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Discourse Comprehension: Essays in Honor of Walter Kintsch

Charles A. Weaver III, Suzanne Mannes, and Charles Fletcher (Eds.) (1995)
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. xii + 426
ISBN 0-8058-1535-X (paper); ISBN 0-8058-1534-1 (cloth)
US $39.95 (paper); $79.95 (cloth)

Discourse Comprehension is a festschrift in honor of Walter Kintsch, professor of psychology at the University of Colorado. His work has "led to the development of formal process models. . .that describe the cognitive processes involved in reading and the utilization of knowledge" (p. 3). This focus on mental actions like memory has implications for such areas as how reading should be taught, although this book lacks articles directly concerned with application.

The audience for Discourse Comprehension is researchers in cognitive psychology, and its purpose is to bring together the diverse branches of intellectual development that have arisen in response to Kintsch's work. Articles are on topics such as the origin of propositions (prior to the parsing which develops them into sentences), how readers monitor their own comprehension of texts, and how fairy tales are remembered. It is an important text for university libraries and for those concerned with these operations of the mind.

As a festschrift, the collection of articles in this book extends Kintsch's work in different directions; all the articles are concerned with pushing the limits and outlining future areas of research. The variety is impressive, and delineates the solid place of Walter Kintsch in this field. The articles included in the book are listed at the end of this review.

For a language teacher, the research reported on in these articles should have an effect on some of the ways in which educators operate as well as for the general investigation of cognition. However, the conclusions in these articles are not yet useful for direct application. Work will have to be done by researchers concerned with the connection between cognition and pedagogy before the insights of these cognitive psychologists will be useful for the educator.

For example, in the essay by Weaver, Bryant, and Burns, "Comprehension Monitoring: Extensions of the Kintsch and van Dijk Model," the interplay between text difficulty and reader monitoring is explored. The researchers find that "readers can and do monitor their comprehension accurately under some circumstances," with the [-1-] conclusion that "comprehension, then, depends a great deal on the ability to monitor that comprehension" (p. 190). The series of experiments which they describe is interesting in what they suggest about the connection between readability and reader confidence (p. 189). An ESL researcher might want to apply this same kind of experiment to the texts assigned at different levels to determine appropriateness as well as how to increase reader confidence; a teacher may want to be careful of the order for presenting reading passages in an attempt to build confidence and thus potentially affect comprehension.

The article "Inference Generation and the Construction of Situation Models," by Graesser and Zwaan, discusses how people make predictions while reading. They report that readers can infer some information, such as causal antecedents, while working through the text, although they cannot generate other inferences, such as causal consequences, while reading (p. 125-126). This information, combined with the researchers' investigation of the role which lexical items have in making inferences, might inform textbook writers and teachers of how to encourage certain kinds of inference formation through pre- and post-reading activities, compared to what can be expected from readers while they are engaged with the text.

Also of interest to both teachers and textbook writers is Schmalhofer's article "The Acquisition of Knowledge from Text and Example Situations: An Extension to the Construction-Integration Model." Schmalhofer experimented with the relationship between text and example, trying to determine whether the information each provides interferes with the other, or whether they are effectively integrated. He concludes that, despite recent research to the contrary, "Learning materials with text and supplementary examples may therefore be quite effective, particularly for novices" (p. 280). Thus, the importance of combining explanation and example together in a text is upheld.

Concluding that this volume has little ready connection with methodology does not detract from the editors' accomplishment. This is an interesting collection of articles, and the variety of topics covered reflects well on the editors, the contributors, and the man whose work they honor. Walter Kintsch has had a strong influence on his field; his biographer says that "His main contributions are a true synthesis of often conflicting concepts of minds drawn from different fields" (p. 6). This act of bringing together concepts from diverse fields assists future researchers in many related fields to make strides in understanding the human mind. Anyone curious about these cognitive processes will be intrigued by the work in these pages. [-2-]

Articles included in the book:

  1. "Walter Kintsch: A Brief Biography" (Polson)
  2. "Where Do Propositions Come From?" (Perfetti and Britt)
  3. "A General Model of Classification and Memory Applied to Discourse Analysis" (Estes)
  4. "Primacy and Recency in the Chunking Model" (Murdock)
  5. "Understanding Concepts in Activity" (Greeno)
  6. "The Minimalist Hypothesis: Directions for Research" (McKoon and Ratcliff)
  7. "Inference Generation and the Construction of Situation Models" (Graesser and Zwaan)
  8. "Activating Knowledge of Fictional Characters' Emotional States" (Gernsbacher)
  9. "Understanding the Special Mnemonic Characteristics of Fairy Tales" (McDaniel, Blischak, and Einstein)
  10. "Comprehension Monitoring: Extensions of the Kintsch and van Dijk Model" (Weaver, Bryant, and Burns)
  11. "Top-Down Effects in a Bottom-Up Model of Narrative Comprehension and Recall" (Fletcher, Arthur, and Skeate)
  12. "Simulating Recall and Recognition Using Kintsch's Construction-Integration Model" (Tapiero and Denhiere)
  13. "Priming of Inference Concepts in the Construction-Integration Model" (Keenan and Jennings)
  14. "Memory and Its Graeculi: Metamemory and Control in Extended Memory Systems" (Schonpflug and Esser)
  15. "The Acquisition of Knowledge from Text and Example Situations: An Extension to the Construction-Integration Model" (Schmalhofer)
  16. "The Role of Presentational Structures in Understanding and Solving Mathematical Word Problems" (Staub and Reusser)
  17. "Beyond Discourse: Applications of the Construction-Integration Model" (Mannes and Doane)
  18. "CAPping the Construction-Integration Model of Discourse Comprehension" (Goldman and Varma)
  19. "Construction-Integration Theory and Clinical Reasoning" (Arocha and Patel)
  20. "On Macrostructures, Mental Modes, and Other Inventions: A Brief Personal History of the Kintsch-van Dijk Theory" (van Dijk).

Robert Retherford
EF International, Oakland CA


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