A Master of Arts Thesis in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) by AbdelFattah Othman Dimassi Entitled, "Cultural Schema and Reading Comprehension: A Means to an End," August 2006. Thesis Advisor is Dr. Rodney Tyson. Available are both Soft and Hard Copies of the Thesis.
Studies on good readers have identified a number of reading comprehension strategies to be highly useful. These strategies range from the simple to the complex. A strategy that has been recommended by cognitive scientists is the application of schema to the reading comprehension task. The theory that recommends such a strategy is called schema theory. Schema theory is based on the assumption that the reader's prior knowledge directly impacts new learning situations. Schema or background knowledge includes life experience, educational experience, knowledge of the rhetorical structure of texts, knowledge of how one's language works, and cultural background and knowledge of the world. While schema theory has existed in various forms since the 1930s, it has recently reemerged and has been redefined as an important concept in reading instruction. Much of the research on schema has shown its importance to reading comprehension. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects on EFL/ESL reading comprehension of culturespecific content schemata. Precisely, the study aimed to test the following hypothesis: Readers with sufficient and proper cultural background knowledge perform better on reading comprehension activities than those who have insufficient and inappropriate background knowledge. To test the above hypothesis, the study compared the reading comprehension of three groups of beginner subjects. The subjects were female dentistry students at Ajman University Fujairah, branch. The first group (Control Group C) consisted of thirty Emirati female students who knew a lot about traditional Emirati weddings. The second group (Experimental Group A) included thirty Iranian female students who did not know anything about traditional Emirati weddings. The third group (Experimental Group B) comprised thirty female students who had been taught the features and vocabulary of traditional Emirati weddings. In the study, the three groups read and recalled a passage about traditional Emirati weddings, and answered reading comprehension multiple choice questions (MCQs) and content familiarity questionnaires. To test the hypothesis mentioned earlier, the research answered the following four specific research questions: 1. Do the Emirati Control Group C students have better comprehension when they read an English text describing a traditional Emirati wedding than the Iranian students in both groups? 2. To what extent does preteaching enhance Iranian pretaught Experimental Group B students' reading comprehension? 3. Does the absence of cultural schema hinder the reading comprehension of the Iranian Experimental Group A students? 4. Are there other variables that affect the reading comprehension of the ninety students in the three groups. To answer the first research question, cultural schema or background knowledge allowed Emirati Control Group C students to outperform Experimental Group A students on all measures. On the other hand, cultural schema allowed Control Group C students to outperform Iranian pretaught Experimental B students on certain measures. They scored higher on the recall gist and on the sum of the units recalled than Experimental Group B students. Also they omitted fewer units in their recalls than Experimental Group B. To answer question two, the findings showed that preteaching allowed Experimental Group B students to outperform Experimental Group A students on all measures. Also, preteaching allowed Experimental Group B students to spend less time reading and recalling the text than Control Group C students. Moreover, Experimental Group B students were able to score higher means on recalling units of value 4, to distort fewer ideas in their recalls, and to score higher means in responding to many reading comprehension questions than Control Group C students. Regarding research question three, the findings showed that absence of cultural schema hindered Experimental Group A students from performing well on the reading comprehension tasks. Finally, the findings showed that apart from cultural schema, language proficiency and metacognition, to name a few, are important factors that enhance reading comprehension.