Date of this Version
Published in Issues in the Measurement of Metacognition, ed. Gregory Schraw & James C. Impara (Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements, 2000).
I am going to begin with claims that may seem heretical at the Buros Institute, the host for this symposium: Much can be understood about cognition and its metacognitive regulation through qualitative analysis. Qualitative analyses of complex cognitive and metacognitive processes makes a great deal of sense before even attempting quantitative analyses of those processes. In particular, I am going to explain here the advances made by my associates and me in understanding skilled reading using the method of constant comparison, a qualitative approach for developing what Strauss and Corbin (1990) refer to as grounded theories. If that does not offend Buros regulars, perhaps the types of data used as input to the theory construction process will. I believe, as do others (see Ericsson & Simon, 1993), that the most telling analyses of complex, conscious, self-regulated cognitive processes have been produced using verbal protocol procedures-that is, when people have thought aloud as they performed complex tasks. My associates and I have been using verbal protocols of reading to develop grounded theories of consciously regulated reading.
Given that preconceptions do influence research, it is important to layout one's assumptions and understandings about a to be researched problem at the outset of the study and to audiences who must evaluate the work. Thus, I begin this chapter by laying out briefly my theoretical sensitivities before I conducted the research reported here, an essential step in qualitative analyses. They included a history of success with both verbal protocol analyses and grounded theory approaches, a long-term interest in reading comprehension, some successes in studying it using traditional quantitative, experimental approaches, but also some important frustrations doing so.
After laying out my preconceptions, I will cover a specific verbal protocol study conducted by my colleagues and me in which constant comparison was used to develop a grounded theory of how social sciences professors read research articles in their areas of expertise. This will be followed by a discussion of how Pressley and Afflerbach (1995) used constant comparison to generate a more general grounded theory of the conscious processes in reading. They used all of the data generated in verbal protocol studies published to date, with the result a grounded theory that is a qualitative meta-analysis of the verbal protocols of reading reported to date. I will conclude the chapter with a brief discussion of the implications of the work reviewed here for future individual research projects on conscious processing during reading, the development of standardized measures of reading comprehension skill, and the construction of more complete grounded theories of complex cognition and behavior.