The language of instruction: Compensating for challenge in lectures


Recent studies have used Coh-Metrix, an automated text analyzer, to assess differences in language characteristics across different genres and academic disciplines (Graesser, McNamara, & Kulikowich, 2011; McNamara, Graesser, McCarthy, & Cai, 2014). Coh-Metrix analyzes text on many constructs at different levels, including Word Concreteness (vs. abstractness), Narrativity (vs. informational), Deep Cohesion, Referential Cohesion, and Syntactic Simplicity. In previous research, texts in the natural sciences had lower Narrativity and Word Concreteness than texts in the language arts, but were higher in Syntactic Simplicity and Referential Cohesion. This pattern suggests a form of compensation in which difficulty on one dimension (e.g., Word Concreteness) is compensated for by increasing text ease on another dimension (e.g., Syntactic Simplicity). In the present study, we provide a further test of this compensation idea by analyzing oral language use across humanities and natural science lectures. We demonstrate that decreases in Word Concreteness across lectures are associated with increases in Narrativity, Deep Cohesion, and Syntactic Simplicity. In addition, within lectures, decreases in Word Concreteness are associated with increases in Syntactic Simplicity. Compensatory mechanisms are discussed in this article at different levels of language and discourse.

Publication Title

Journal of Educational Psychology