This research examines the application of schema theory to research in reading. The approach to this examination involves the comparison and analysis of ideas on this topic presented by authorities in reading research in journal articles.
A schema is a cognitive framework that is comprised of a number of organized ideas. Schemata are theorized to be abstract knowledge structures, or models, that may be used in the solving of problems by individuals. Schema theory assumes that such knowledge structures are stored in an individual's memory. Schema theory posits, thus, that an individual solves a problem through the application of knowledge models that are stored in that individual's memory.
The application of schema theory in reading research has emphasized both "(a) the constructive nature of comprehension, and (b) the crucial role of the reader's prior knowledge in that construction" (Sadoski, Paivio, and Goetz, 1991, p. 465). Schema theory, since the mid-1970s, has constituted an alternative explanation of the reading process to the data-driven models of reading (Sadoski, et al.). The application of schema theory in reading research, however, has sparked some controversy. Opposing ideas on the application of schema theory in reading research are examined in the remainder of this paper.
Symons and Pressley (1993, pp. 251-261) conducted an experiment to assess the effects of prior knowledge on reading success. The application of prior knowledge, as indicated above, is the essence of schema theory. The Symons and Pressley experiment was based on an observation that locating information is a common purpose of reading. The experiment required undergraduate psychology students to locate information related to their course of instruction. Symons and Pressley (1993, p. 253) assumed that "in September students would have little prior knowledge of either fall- or spring-term course content; in January students would be famil...