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Joke City and beyond: supporting comprehension improvement through language, gesture and jokes. Nicola Yuill Psychology/Cognitive Science University of Sussex Plan of talk. Causes of poor comprehension Metalinguistic awareness

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joke city and beyond supporting comprehension improvement through language gesture and jokes

Joke City and beyond: supporting comprehension improvement through language, gesture and jokes

Nicola Yuill

Psychology/Cognitive Science

University of Sussex

plan of talk
Plan of talk
  • Causes of poor comprehension
  • Metalinguistic awareness
  • Aims of intervention
  • Joke City study
  • Language and comprehension gain
  • Gesture and comprehension gain
  • Conclusions and questions
poor comprehension
Poor comprehension

15% of 580 7-9yr olds had comprehension ages 6-24 mo below reading age


Vocab: choose 1 of 4 words to match a picture

Neale Accuracy: read words in stories

Neale Comprehension answer questions about the stories

poor reading comprehension causes
Poor reading comprehension: causes
  • Poor working memory:

simultaneous storage and processing e.g. mental arithmetic

  • Poor inferential skill:

John took 5 books. How many books?

John pedalled over the bridge. How did John travel?

  • Poor ‘language awareness’:

distinguishing form and meaning, knowing how you know

(Yuill & Oakhill, 1992)

language awareness
Language awareness

Treating text as interpreted:

Poor comprehenders:

  • define reading in terms of decoding

(best reader = read hardest words)

  • have difficulty with deductive inference: How do you know that x....?
  • have poor understanding of jokes that play on meaning (but not that play on sound)
not just a memory problem knowing how to use knowledge
Not just a memory problem… Knowing how to use knowledge
  • Cain & Oakhill (1999)

Stories: ‘They set off for home, pedalling as fast as they could.’

Questions: How did they travel home?

Poor comprehenders 53% correct

Prompts: If incorrect:

  • look at story again -> 68%
  • E directs child to relevant part of text ->85%
  • Clue: What sort of things can we pedal? ->100%
ambiguity resolution problems
Ambiguity resolution problems

48 children, 7-9yrs, varying in comprehension skill:

‘Look at that bat’ (choose 2 of 4 pictures)

‘The man said the duck was ready to eat.’ What could it mean? What else could it mean?

(TLC, Wiig, 1998)

Comprehension skill predicts ambiguity score,

r(46) = .46, p<.001 (w/o acc and age)

understanding communication
Understanding communication

Ambiguous message game (Robinsons, 1978)

X tells Y: ‘Pick the man with the flag’

Did X tell Y properly? What should X have said?

Comprehension skill predicts message judgement score

r(33) = .49, p<.001 (w/o accuracy and age)

Children with comprehension age under 8;5

scored 6/8 or less

jokes bahlas yuill george 2000
Jokes (BAHLAS:Yuill & George, 2000)

50 jokes playing on meanings: choose correct punchline

Why did the leopard never escape from the zoo?

Because it was always spotted/Because it ran too slowly

Tested on 300 children yrs 3-6

Good reliability (.83) and good prediction of comprehension independently of accuracy (r over .6)

(No relation of comprehension and jokes playing on sound:

What room can’t you go into? A mushroom)

BAHLAS Riddles scores

language awareness and comprehension
Language awareness and comprehension
  • Poor sensitivity to meaning
  • Poor understanding of communication
  • Poor understanding of meaning ambiguity
  • Poor understanding of jokes
aims of intervention questions
Aims of intervention: Questions
  • Practice: benefits to children, esp. given the neglect of comprehension
  • Process: theoretical understanding of comprehension processes.

Children lack x, train x, does comprehension improve?

  • Relation of intervention to normal comprehension processes: what should the control conditions be? Why don’t some children develop x naturally? Is x a piece of knowledge or an attitude to reading?
comprehension training
Comprehension training
  • Some training is very reflective, teaching explicit and metacognitive knowledge and strategies (e.g. Paris)
  • Some work assumes implicit (not directly trainable?) processes (e.g. Gernsbacher, inhibition)
  • MLA seems amenable to training to improve comprehension
  • By encouraging children to have an interrogative attitude to text –how?

Make it problematic…

mla training can work
MLA training can work:
  • 1 session of training children to search for ‘clue’ words in deliberately ambiguous texts brings significant comprehension increase on similar texts.

(Yuill & Joscelyne 1988)

  • 7 30-minute group sessions, riddle training vs ‘funny stories’. Significant comprehension increase for riddle group on standardised test. (Yuill, 1998)
  • 3 25-minute sessions with Joke City software: explaining jokes, requiring children to articulate ambiguity and alternate interpretations of text, sig. better on Neale compr. than control no treatment.

(Yuill & Bradwell, 1998)

comprehension skills improve after discussing ambiguity in joking riddles
Comprehension skills improve after discussing ambiguity in joking riddles
  • 12 pairs of 7- to 9-year-old children (same sex, one good + one poor)
  • 3 sessions Joke City software
  • 24 control children (no treatment)
  • Transcribed videos of sessions 1 and 3 of 3 x 25-minute sessions for 12 pairs
  • Standardised comprehension test pre- and post-training (2 parallel forms of Neale)

pre- to post-training changes (months) in accuracy and comprehension scores

Individual differences!

looking at process joke city in more detail
Looking at process: Joke City in more detail
  • Do children whose comprehension improves talk about different things from children who don’t improve?
  • Does what children talk about change across the training sessions?
  • Do any changes across sessions relate to how much children improve in comprehension? (so is metalinguistic awareness an engine for change?)
  • Does this restaurant serve fish?
  • Yes, what would you like to eat, Mr Fish?
coding scheme yuill george 2006
Coding scheme (Yuill & George 2006)
  • Metacognitive: self, other or joint knowledge or ignorance, thinking aloud

Aah, I get it! I don’t understand. Do you know? We did it right.

  • Metalinguistic: defining cued or uncued meaning, or both, metalinguistic play and exploration

Does this restaurant serve fish?’ –‘Yes, what do you want to eat, Mr Fish?’

‘serve’: cued meaning = object which is served, uncued meaning = agent to whom food is served. Cued AND uncued at once:

I get it! Cos they serve fish on a plate and they serve fish to the fish.

  • Control: task management, responses to control:

Your turn to read

  • Reading from screen

Does this restaurant serve fish?

Reliability over 90%

high improvers made more metalinguistic comments than medium or low improvers in session 3
High improvers made more metalinguistic comments than medium or low improvers in Session 3

Interaction of group x session, p<.05.

Mean no. of utterances combining cued and uncued meanings in s3: Hi: 1.25, med: 1.0, lo: 0.13 (lo)

Comprehension change and metalinguistic comments

r (21) = .49, p<.02

Low improvers made more metacognitive comments

Number of utterances in each talk category

Sig. interaction group x talk category, p<.001,

mcog higher for low than med or hi

examples of cued uncued comments
Examples of cued/uncued comments
  • spotted ‘cos leopards they have spots and it’s cos they get spotted’ (= seen)
  • serve fish ‘he’s a fish and he likes to eat fish’
  • bed socks ‘you wear them to bed and the bed’s wearing them’
  • pinch ‘you can pinch someone on the leg or you can pinch sweets without paying’
  • roll ‘you can roll a sausage roll’

Hard to articulate…. Other ways to express?

what about gestures
What about gestures?
  • Gestures seem to indicate concepts on the brink of a child’s understanding (Goldin-Meadow, Pine)
  • Mismatches: children who express one idea in speech and another in gesture are more likely to improve on balance beam task than gesture-speech matchers (Pine et al., 2004)
  • Gestures show the listener what the actor understands
  • Perhaps gestures help a child’s own understanding
  • Language ambiguity seems to be a prime example where gestures might be used before speech
method of coding gestures for joke city
Method of coding gestures for Joke City
  • Collected all clips containing gestures (N=100)
  • Gestures coded as referring to cued (obvious) or uncued (non-obvious) meaning of the joke:
  • How do you make a sausage roll? Push it down a hill?’ roll = ‘pastry’ = cued, ‘rotate’ = uncued
  • Usually clear: adults can recognise which meaning, without sound
  • Number of cued and uncued gestures (counting repeated gestures once only)
associations of gestures and comprehension measures
Associations of gestures and comprehension measures
  • Tot. no. gestures and pre-test reading comprehension r(20) = .61 cued, .58 uncued

(r accuracy both <.2, n.s., vocab r .2-.4, n.s., semantic fluency n.s.)

  • Gestures and ambiguous word test, r(20) = .51 (cued), .61 (uncued)
  • Gestures and metalinguistic utterances

No relation of gestures to other talk categories, or to improvement