Why is the Sports Section So Challenging to Read?
It’s been said that the Sports Section has the highest readability of any section of the Newspaper!
I can believe it, for two reasons: People and Jargon. People’s names are notoriously difficult to read as they are rarely decodable. Sports terminology might be easy to decode but is often hard to understand. Here’s the thing, however. Most people who choose to read the sports section already have the background knowledge to pronounce Novak Djokovic or to understand what a hat trick is.
One classic study by Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie used a passage about baseball to examine the effects of prior knowledge on reading comprehension. They found that overall reading ability had less impact than background knowledge. The “struggling readers” who knew a lot about baseball could understand and replicate the test passage better than the “good readers” who had little background knowledge about the sport.
Prior knowledge about a topic is the strongest predictor of whether a reader will understand reading related to that topic. However, the surprising thing is the extent to which background knowledge influences other reading behaviours, such as problem-solving when meaning breaks down. In fact, we at HIP call it “The Glue that Makes Learning Stick.”
Taking time to build background knowledge is one way that teachers can support students in comprehending text. That’s why all HIP TEACHER’S GUIDES include a short one-page article on a complementary topic to activate background knowledge and build engagement. And let students read the Sports Section now and then. It might be just what they need!