Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Cognition; Reading comprehension; Reasoning;


In recent years there has been a good deal of interest in Piaget's cognitive developmental theory as it relates to beginning reading and learning to read and a number of research studies have investigated the effect of cognitive stage on reading ability. Little research has been done, however, which investigate the relationships and effect of advanced levels of cognitive development upon the reading ability of adolescents and adults. The final stage of cognitive development is termed formal operational thinking in Piagetian theory and involves the ability to formulate hypotheses, reason logically and function in the abstract realm of possibility as opposed to the here and now.

This study investigated the effect of formal operational thinking upon the ability to read content-related materials from the social studies, science and literature and upon reading materials which require critical thinking ability. Seven tasks which were simulations of Piaget's original formal tasks and a paragraph which attempted to discover a level of cognitive thinking were presented to forty-one tenth grade students at the Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Students were also administered the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal and results from the Iowa Tests of Educational Development - Total Reading were also obtained.

The Pearson correlation between the Piagetian tasks and critical thinking was .46 and between Piagetian tasks and reading ability, .61. A post-hoc multiple correlation comparing the combined formal thinking and critical thinking scores to reading ability resulted in a coefficient of .73. Analysis of variance results for this data indicated that formal thinkers did significantly better on both the critical thinking test and the reading test than did transitional or non-formal thinkers.

The results of this study indicate that the logical thinking ability of high school students may well have an effect upon their ability to comprehend reading materials in the content areas of social studies, literature and science. Secondary reading instruction for the majority of students may need to concentrate more fully upon developing the reasoning potential of students and their ability to analyze complex materials rather than concentrating exclusively upon vocabulary development and comprehension exercises which emphasize memory and recall. Furthermore, content teachers need to be aware of the cognitive ability of their students in order to challenge those who have developed formal thinking abilities and to avoid unduly frustrating those who have not. Many of the students used in this study demonstrated average or above-average reading ability. Therefore, it cannot be determined whether some students who lack specific decoding or language skills may, nevertheless, possess fairly well developed logical reasoning ability. Further research with reading disabled populations of this kind is needed.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Specialist in Education


Department of Educational Psychology, Foundations, and Leadership Studies


Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations

First Advisor

Barry J. Wilson


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Date Original


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