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van den Broek, Paul, and Kathleen E. Kremer. "The Mind in Action: What It Means to Comprehend During Reading."

van den Broek, Paul, and Kathleen E. Kremer. "The Mind in Action: What It Means to Comprehend During Reading." Reading for Meaning: Fostering Comprehension in the Middle Grades. Eds. Barbara M. Taylor, Michael F. Graves, and Paul van den Broek. New York: Teachers College Press, 2000.


I came to this chapter through a citation in Elfenbein, and will probably end up chasing down some of its cites as well.

The chapter focuses on readers' ability to construct "coherent mental representations" of a text, representations that can be put to use later.

When reading is successful, the result is a coherent and usable mental representation of the text. This representation resembles a network, with nodes that depict the individual text elements (e.g., events, facts, settings) and connections that depict the meaningful relations between the elements (2).

Coherence depends primarily on two forms of relations among the nodes: referential and causal/logical (2).

Upon completing reading, people recall events with many connections to other events more frequently (5).

The picture of successful text comprehensions that emerges is one in which readers' focus of attention continually changes with each new sentence. During each cycle, readers attend to new text elements while letting others fade into the background (8).

Rest of the chapter focuses on the various elements that comprise the activity of reading, including the skills that readers internalize as they mature.


The mental representation as network is the big find for me--the blockquote from page 2 was one of the things that led me deeper in Elfenbein in the first place--but there are a few other things to note.

One is that coherence works from the center out. The further away from a text we get, the more likely we are to forget the details, so that ideas, events, or terms that are more central in our representations are likely to last longer. To put it another way, the tagcloud of a text decays, with the smallest words dropping out first. We can lose the vast majority of details from a mental representation without sacrificing coherence.

It's also worth noting that these ideas scale pretty easily--what's true here of texts can be extended to any network that we employ as a coherent mental representation, whether that network is textual, social, disciplinary, etc.


I need to get a copy of this for my own work; it sounds as if it would be useful for talking about the way people understand a text (and thus can or cannot write about it in fresh language). Could be helpful to the 732 research on students' source-based writing.

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