Online inference making and comprehension monitoring in children during reading: Evidence from eye movements.
Joseph H., Wonnacott E., Nation K.
Inference generation and comprehension monitoring are essential elements of successful reading comprehension. While both improve with age and reading development, little is known about when and how children make inferences and monitor their comprehension during the reading process itself. Over two experiments, we monitored the eye movements of two groups of children (age 8-13 years) as they read short passages and answered questions that tapped local (Experiment 1) and global (Experiment 2) inferences. To tap comprehension monitoring, the passages contained target words which were consistent or inconsistent with the context. Comprehension question location was also manipulated with the question appearing before or after the passage. Children made local inferences during reading, but the evidence was less clear for global inferences. Children were sensitive to inconsistencies that relied on the generation of an inference, consistent with successful comprehension monitoring, although this was seen only very late in the eye movement record. Although question location had a large effect on reading times, it had no effect on global comprehension in one experiment and reading the question first had a detrimental effect in the other. We conclude that children appear to prioritise efficiency over completeness when reading, generating inferences spontaneously only when they are necessary for establishing a coherent representation of the text.