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Kerri Jones

TE 800: Introduction to Research



Reading Comprehension: Do Visuals Help or Hinder Understanding of

Music Vocabulary?


Reading comprehension is a challenge for many students. Adding

visuals can help a student correlate the meaning behind the words. However,

adding visuals may take away from the complete reading of the vocabulary

definition. This quantitative experimental research study addressed the

question: Can students in grade five fully comprehend music vocabulary

without the visuals provided in the multiple-choice questions? The music

students in grade five were tested over specific music vocabulary each

quarter. The test consisted of a set amount of multiple-choice questions with

visuals. Each grade level has a specific number of questions that they

continue to build upon each year as they move grade levels. The vocabulary

also builds each year with the same words, but new words are added as the

students learn new concepts. The students scores are then averaged as

individuals, as a class section, as a whole class and finally as a district-wide

average. Our goal is to be at 80% as an overall district for the 5th grade

students at the end of the school year. While I believe that the visuals help

the students achieve this goal, I also believe that too many students are

relying on the visual only and not fully reading and/or comprehending the

definition of the actual vocabulary word.

Seventy-six students were first divided into groups of males and

females. Students were then randomly divided into the control group and

experimental group. The control group completed the usual exam, while the

experimental group completed the same exam but without the visuals that

accompany the questions. Students who completed the exam containing

visuals scored significantly higher than those completing the exam without

visuals. Percentages dropped during December. Both groups showed

increase in scores from pretest to posttest, with females scoring higher than

male students.

The research question for this quantitative experimental research

study is: Can students in grade five fully comprehend music vocabulary

without the visuals provided in the multiple-choice questions? This research

study is an experimental study using Design 1: the pretest-posttest

randomized control group design (Patten, 2014).

Review of Literature

Reading comprehension has become a major concern in schools today.

At Centennial Elementary School, reading encompasses two 90-minute

blocks during the day. Although students can read the words, do they fully

comprehend the meanings behind the words? In 2000, The National Reading

Panel identified five core components of early reading success for children.

These include: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and

reading comprehension (Rickenbrode & Walsh, 2013).

In music, a visual is added to each vocabulary word. While taking the

music vocabulary test, do students choose the correct answer based off the

meaning of the words or the visual? At Centennial, I believe that the students

look more at the visuals, than reading the definition of the vocabulary word,

thus getting a higher percentage of correct answers.

Every student has different styles of learning. Some are visual learners,

others auditory learners, and others learn from hands on activities (Rohrer &

Pashler, 2012). It is necessary to reach all types of learners during

instruction, but is it necessary to separate the learners during instruction?

According to Rohrer and Pashler (2012), there is no evidence that links this

separation to improved learning outcomes. Teachers should develop the

most effective ways to combine different forms of instruction so that they

reach students of all learner styles during the lesson.

A study conducted by Roark (1998), attempted to validate that visual

learners scored higher on standardized tests than non-visual learners. He

looked at several variables including teaching styles, learning styles, brain

functions and types of learners to include in his data. He found his

hypothesis to be true in that visual learners did have higher scores in that

the reading questions are geared towards visual learners on standardized


Vocabulary is an integral element in the development of reading

comprehension. According to a study by Bezeli and Olle (1995), using visuals

actually motivates students and increases comprehension. The study also

suggests that classroom teachers need to be attuned to the latest in

technology advances and make the best use of available resources for

teaching vocabulary. Other visual resources to use include video, drawing,

computers, visual perceptions and graphic organizers. But it is important to

remember that the students must take ownership of their learning through

these visuals as well (1995). The findings of this study include that visuals

can have a great impact on students lives and can be useful tools to

improve reading comprehension. Phillips (2005), notes in her article Look and

See: Using the Visual Environment as Access to Literacy that it is through

both image and word that children construct meaning and understanding.

Reading comprehension relies on more than knowing the words on the page.

Comprehension is also derived from students deeper knowledge and

associations of the words and text.

How can we get readers to derive meaning from text? According to

Lapin (2003), good readers constantly monitor their own comprehension.

One strategy that she uses and suggests that teachers use is Think Alouds

(2003, p. 4). Through this strategy, teachers can help students visualize the

text and comprehend the story and vocabulary. The first time the text is

read, it is read straight through. The second step is for the teacher to share

thoughts aloud during the reading of the text and invite students to share

their knowledge and thoughts as well. This helps students visualize the text

without the actual picture. Lapin (2003) also notes that proficient readers

create images in their mind as they read. However, poor readers are not able

to connect to text in this way. Guiding students in Think Alouds helps

transform the text into a scene (Lapin, 2003, p. 5). This strategy will help

student connect with the text without having the visual on the page.

In her study, Picture This: Processes Prompted by Graphics in

Informational Text, Norman (2010) found that visuals assist children in

decorating the page, helping the reader become organized and interpreting

the text, and provides additional information not stated directly in the text.

These four ideas help assist in reading comprehension. However, if these are

taken out of the text, will students still be able to use context clues to help

with their overall comprehension? Norman (2010) also noted that few studies

attempt to investigate how participants use the graphics as they read. Since

visuals extend the text, it is very important to understand students abilities

to comprehend the text with and without the visuals (2010).



Participants for this experimental study include 76 5th grade students

from Centennial Elementary in Columbus, Nebraska. These students are age

10-11. Using stratified random sampling; the students were first divided into

groups of males and females. Once this was completed, the control group

and experimental group were drawn at random from the male and female

groups using popsicle sticks (Patten, 2014). The control group was

comprised of 38 students: 18 female and 20 male students. The

experimental group had 17 female and 21 male students. These students are

from one of 5 elementary schools in a rural town of 26,000. The population of

Centennial is approximately 425 students PK-5th grade. Centennial has a

52.4% of free and reduced lunch population. The school also has a 34%

Hispanic population with 17% English Language Learners (ELL) students.


The control group took the same test with the visuals each time

throughout the year. The test is taken on an IPad in the music classroom,

during music time, which is a 25 minute period. The test is student run

through an application (app) called Socrative. Students have the ability to

control the pace, and are allowed to go back to questions before finishing the

test. The questions are multiple choice and include 4 answers.

The experimental group also took the test on the IPad, using the

Socrative app, at their own pace in the music classroom during music time.

These participants also had the ability to go back to previous questions.

However, the visuals were taken off of the test forcing the students to use

only the written definition.


This was a yearlong research study. Pretests were given in August, and

a vocabulary test was given each quarter to see how the participants

knowledge increased or dipped. Throughout the year, students gain


knowledge with in class instruction by the teacher. This included lectures,

singing, worksheets and activities. The quarter tests were given in the 6th or

7th week of each quarter, and the 4th quarter was the posttest. Each test

score was then charted individually, as well as for the two groups to see the

difference. For the purpose of this study the results are analyzed according to

whole group scores.

Data Analysis

Data was analyzed in two different ways: as a whole group and gender.

The results have the percentages for the pretest, and vocabulary test for

each quarter. The 4th quarter test is the posttest. Table 1 includes whole

group percentages for both the control and experimental group.

Table 1:

Control Group Experimental Mean

Group Difference
Pretest-August 71% 54% 17%

Quarter 1-October 76% 57% 19%

Quarter 2- 74% 55% 19%

Quarter 3-March 81% 61% 20%

Quarter 4-May 83% 66% 17%

Mean (Total) 77% 58.6% 18.4%

The differences between the two groups, shows the following results:

Mean: 18.4%

Median: 19

Mode: Bimodal: 17, 19

It is also important to note the vertical growth between both groups as well.

Both the control group and experimental groups showed 12% increase in

scores over the school year from August to May.

The data was then broken down by gender to look for any trends. Table

2 includes results of female students for each group and Table 3 shows the

results of the male students.

Table 2:

Females Control Group Experimental Mean

(17) Group (18) Difference

Pretest-August 73% 56% 17%
Quarter 1-October 77% 57% 20%
Quarter 2- 73% 56% 17%

Quarter 3-March 81% 59% 22%
Quarter 4-May 84% 67% 17%

Mean (Total) 77.6% 59% 18.6%

The differences between the two groups of females is:

Mean: 18.6%

Median: 17

Mode: 17

Vertical Growth: 11% both groups

Table 3:

Males Control Group Experimental Mean

(21) Group (20) Difference

Pretest-August 70% 52% 18%
Quarter 1-October 75% (1 absent) 57% 18%
Quarter 2- 75% 54% 21%

Quarter 3-March 81% 61% 20%
Quarter 4-May 82% (I absent) 65% 17%

Mean (Total) 77% 58% 19%

The difference between both groups of males is:

Mean: 18.8%

Median: 18

Mode: 18

Vertical Growth: control group 12%, experimental group 13%


After administering each test throughout the year, it is very evident

that the students that had access to the visuals scored significantly higher

than the students that did not have visuals. The results showed a significant

difference between each group as shown in Table 1. The range of scores

from pretest to posttest is 17%-20%, with the 3rd quarter vocabulary test

having the largest difference of 20%. The mean of the difference in scores is

18.4%, while the median is 19 and the mode is 17 and 19 as both scores

occurred twice (Patten, 2014).

It is also important to note that any student that was absent from class

did not make up the test. If students were absent the day the testing took

place, the test was not taken when they came back to school. There were

only two instances when students were absent, both males and both from

the control group. This could account for bias of the test scores, however,

only having two students absent will not account for much change

percentage- wise as they are both average students.

The percentage point difference between the female groups ranged

from 17-22 points, and the percentage point difference ranged from 17-21

for the male groups as shown in Tables 2 and 3. The control group and

experimental group had vertical growths in comprehension scores of 12%.

While the females in both groups showed 11% vertical growth, the males in

both groups showed 12% and 13% respectively.

A noticeable dip in percentages occurred in December. During the

middle of October, students are preparing for a concert in November. The

second quarter test was taken shortly after a concert and Thanksgiving

break, resulting in a lower score on the vocabulary test. Even though there is

a difference between the two groups during the year, notice that there was

vertical growth for each group from the pretest to the posttest.


The research question for this experimental research study was: Can

students in grade five fully comprehend music vocabulary without the visuals

provided in the multiple-choice questions? After comparing the control group

results with the experimental group results, I do believe that visuals hinder

their reading comprehension of music vocabulary in the 5th grade and that

the difference between the two groups is significant. The results show that

the students that have the visuals scored higher on the vocabulary test as

they had both learning strategies (visuals and comprehension) to use when

answering the multiple-choice questions. However, the experimental group

scored lower as predicted.

After analyzing the data between females and males, one noticeable

trend is that the females of both groups scored the same percentage or

higher than the males this school year. Further study is suggested to

determine why this is the case, and should include comparison of overall

grades, study habits, differences in learning styles between boys and girls,

and gender-specific issues that may be occurring at the time of the study.

Other factors that could impact scores in general, include attitudes at test

time, not taking their time during the test, not feeling well that day, other

things on their mind or random selecting of answers. In addition, technology,

may present challenges as sometimes the IPads will stop the app, or

students fingers will hit the wrong button taking them out of the program.

Students then have to log back in and typically start the test over, creating a

sense of frustration, which may affect how they respond to remaining

questions and skew the results.

Vertical growth between each group is another trend in the data. The

experimental group and the control group showed vertical growth from

August to May in their music vocabulary regardless of having the visuals

included or taken away. Males showed higher percentages of growth than the

female students. Again, further study on gender-specific issues and learning

styles may need to be researched to find a specific reason for this increase in

overall male students vertical growth compared with the female students

vertical growth.

There are several limitations that affected this study. One threat to

validity might be that students are close enough to share the answers.

Students are spread about the music room in their own space as they take

the test. I try to combat this by use of space and myself monitoring the room

as the students take the test. A confounding source of this experiment could

be the John Henry effect. Although the control group was not told prior to

testing that the visuals would be on their test and not the experimental

groups test, students might have overheard conversations between students

and the teacher explaining why the pictures were absent from their test.

Also, it is hard to eliminate conversations between students outside of class.


The conclusions of this study find that the use of visuals on exams

hinders reading comprehension of music vocabulary in fifth grade students.

Throughout this yearlong study, the data shows a significant difference

between the students that were given visuals on the vocabulary test versus

the students that did not have the visuals. The findings of this study support

the elimination of visuals in order to help improve comprehension. A

noticeable dip in scores occurred in the second quarter following a concert

and Thanksgiving break. This data would support a change in when the

second quarter test should be given. These findings may also provide

additional insight into the difference in boys and girls with reading

comprehension and use of visuals.


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(pp. 371-377,

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Norman, R. R. (2010). Picture this: Processes prompted by graphics in

informational text.

Literacy Teaching and Learning, 14(1 & 2), 1-39.

Patten, M. L. (2014). Understanding research methods: An overview of

essentials (9th ed.). Glendale, CA: Pryczak.

Phillips, L. (2005, July). Look and see: Using the visual environment as access
to literacy.

Retrieved April 2016.

Rickenbrode, R., & Walsh, K. (summer 2013). Lighting the way: The reading
panel report

ought to guide teacher preparation. American Educator, 30-35.

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mean raw

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