Reading Psychology, 26:55–80, 2005
2005 Taylor & Francis Inc.
0270-2711/05 $12.00 + .00
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LISTENING AND READING
COMPREHENSION OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF TEXT AT
INCREASING GRADE LEVELS
IRENE-ANNA N. DIAKIDOY
Department of Psychology, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus
Agrokipia Elementary School and University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus
CHRISTINA KAREFILLIDOU and PANAYIOTA PAPAGEORGIOU
Department of Psychology, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus
This study examined the hypotheses that (a) the relationship between listening
and reading comprehension becomes stronger after decoding mastery; (b) the dif-
ference between listening and reading decreases with increasing grade level; and
(c) similar patterns of relationship and difference are obtained with narrative
and expository texts. The sample included 612 students in Grades 2, 4, 6, and
8. Students read and listened to two narratives and two expository texts and
completed corresponding comprehension tests that were in the form of sentence
veriﬁcation tasks. The ﬁndings conﬁrmed the ﬁrst two hypotheses but not the
third one. In the case of expository text, the relationship between listening and
reading comprehension was weaker than the corresponding one with narrative
text, and performance levels were comparable across all elementary grades. More-
over, reading comprehension levels were higher than listening comprehension levels
in Grade 8, regardless of text type. The implications of these ﬁndings with respect
to the dominant unitary process model and the assessment and instruction of oral
and written language comprehension are discussed.
By the time children enter school, they have acquired to various
degrees the skills that enable them to use and understand oral lan-
guage in a variety of contexts (Snow, 1983; Wells, 1986). Despite
the acknowledged differences between oral and written language
This research was supported by an Elva Knight Research Grant from the International
Reading Association to the ﬁrst author.
We thank George Spanoudes for his help in data analyses, and the students for their
enthusiastic participation and their teachers and principals who made their participation
Address correspondence to Irene-Anna N. Diakidoy, Department of Psychology, Uni-
versity of Cyprus, P.O. Box 20537, Nicosia CY-1678, Cyprus. E-mail: email@example.com
56 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
(Perfetti, 1987; Tannen, 1985), such skills have been commonly
associated with later reading achievement. This assumption un-
derlies much of the emergent literacy research (Eller, Pappas, &
Brown, 1988; Feitelson, Goldstein, Iraqi, & Share, 1993; Senechal,
LeFevre, Thomas, & Daley, 1998) and the assessment of reading, as
indicated by the inclusion of listening comprehension measures in
various standardized tests and reading inventories (Burns & Roe,
1993; Johns, 1994; Kertoy & Goetz, 1995). Listening comprehen-
sion ﬁgures prominently as a component in theoretical models of
reading (e.g., Hoover & Gough, 1990; Joshi & Aaron, 2000) and
has been considered to provide the base for the acquisition of
reading comprehension skills (Sticht & James, 1984). The extent,
however, to which this is true across the reading tasks that differ-
ent text types represent has not received any attention. Therefore,
the present study examined the relationship between listening and
reading comprehension at increasing grade levels, and the extent
to which it is inﬂuenced by the type of text.
Differences between oral and written language concern both
the course of their development as well as the nature of the lin-
guistic stimulus they present. The acquisition of oral language pre-
cedes the acquisition of written language, and it is a natural process
that takes place gradually in highly contextualized situations. On
the other hand, the acquisition of written language depends on
formal, systematic instruction and occurs in more decontextual-
ized situations (Snow, 1983). Although spoken language is more
likely to contain fragments instead of complete sentences, listeners
can take advantage of extra-linguistic clues, such as gestures and
prosodic information, such as stress and intonation (Akinnaso,
1985; Sinatra, 1990). Moreover, listeners and speakers share the
same context, and, therefore, spoken language is characterized
by greater involvement and interaction (Akinnaso, 1985; Biber,
1982). Consideration of such differences has led to the advance-
ment of the dual process view which postulates that, although read-
ing and listening comprehension share some common elements,
they essentially represent different processes (Samuels, 1987; see
also Sinatra, 1990).
On the other hand, Sticht and his colleagues have advanced
the position that listening comprehension and reading compre-
hension are highly interrelated (Sticht, Beck, Hauke, Kleinman,
& James, 1974). Their extensive review of the available studies led
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 57
them to conclude that both listening and reading comprehen-
sion depend on the same general comprehension process. There-
fore, after decoding skills have been mastered, performance on
listening and reading comprehension tasks should be compara-
ble. Moreover, listening comprehension level represents a poten-
tial for reading comprehension. Speciﬁcally, they have argued that
listening comprehension skill facilitates the acquisition and pre-
dicts the level of skill that will be achieved in reading (Sticht et al.,
1974; Sticht & James, 1984). Their position essentially represents a
contrasting unitary process view, according to which the same com-
prehension process underlies both listening and reading (Sinatra,
Support for a unitary process view has come from studies that
have shown input modality (listening vs. reading tasks) to have no
effect on the recall of meaningful and syntactically well-structured
word strings (Guthrie & Tyler, 1976) and on the recall and sum-
marization of stories (Kintsch & Kozminsky, 1977; Smiley, Oakley,
Worthen, Campione, & Brown, 1977). Moreover, Sinatra (1990)
found a facilitative effect in comparison times when an identical
auditory stimulus preceded the presentation of two visual stim-
uli. Since that effect was manifested for meaningful sentences,
syntactic word strings, and random word strings but not for ran-
dom nonword strings, Sinatra (1990) concluded that listening and
reading processing converge at the lexical level as well. Additional
support for the unitary process view has also come from studies
that have shown directly listening comprehension to predict read-
ing comprehension skill (Curtis, 1980), and instructional inter-
ventions targeting listening comprehension to generally have pos-
itive effects on reading comprehension performance (Pearson &
Fielding, 1982; Sticht et al., 1974).
Although the relationship between listening and reading com-
prehension is assumed to be unidirectional early on, it is also ex-
pected that differences between listening and reading compre-
hension diminish over time and as a result of print exposure
(Perfetti, 1987; Sticht & James, 1984). On the basis of their re-
view, Sticht et al. (1974) concluded that up to Grade 7, listen-
ing comprehension ability is higher than reading comprehension
ability, whereas in adulthood the direction of the difference is re-
versed. Curtis (1980) found that the relationship between reading
skill and listening comprehension changed as a function of age,
58 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
with correlations at the Grade 2 level being signiﬁcantly differ-
ent from the correlations at the Grade 5 level. More interestingly,
Hendrick and Cunningham (1995) found that wide reading was
associated with greater listening comprehension skill at Grade 4.
Although their study was not speciﬁcally designed to test direction-
ality, their results support the possibility of a reciprocal relationship
(Hendrick & Cunningham, 1995). The present study examined
the relationship and the differences between listening and read-
ing comprehension levels at Grades 2, 4, 6, and 8. On the basis
of previous research and claims, we expected the relationship to
become stronger and the differences to decrease with increasing
The studies that examined the effects of presentation mode
on the recall and summarizing of text (i.e., Kintsch & Kozminsky,
1977; Smiley et al., 1977), as well as those that examined the effects
of listening to text being read on the acquisition of literacy and
learning in general (Eller et al., 1988; Feitelson et al., 1993), have
all used narrative texts. It can be argued, however, that printed nar-
rative text is closer to oral discourse with narrative characteristics,
such as contextual situatedness and temporal/causal sequences
(Biber, 1982; Graesser, Singer, & Trabasso, 1994), and which oc-
curs frequently in everyday conversation, such as when one nar-
rates what happened at work or over a weekend. Moreover, young
children can be typically expected to have had more exposure
to oral narrative text structures in highly interactive contexts that
guide and facilitate comprehension, such as story reading at home
(Neuman, 1996). Finally, the information in narrative text is more
likely to be familiar and its organization more likely to be pre-
dictable (Graesser, Swamer, Baggett, & Sell, 1996). Therefore, it
is not clear whether the strong relationship between listening and
reading comprehension that has been observed so far is also due
to mediating factors, such as the similarity of the communicative
task(s) that oral and printed narration represent, their high fre-
quency of occurrence in both modalities, and/or the familiarity
and concreteness of their content.
Kintsch and Kozminski (1977) and Sinatra (1990) have sug-
gested the possibility that listening and reading processes may
diverge when it comes to processing lengthy and difﬁcult text.
Expository text is more likely to contain unfamiliar information
and to have an underlying abstract and logical structure (Singer,
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 59
Harkness, & Stewart, 1997). Moreover, expository text structures
are diverse (Englert & Hiebert, 1984), and, therefore, readers and
listeners cannot rely on the activation of a single schema the way
they can rely on the activation of a story schema to guide their com-
prehension of narrative text. Although students are increasingly
expected to read and learn from expository text with increasing
grade level, they have little opportunity to encounter and inter-
act with this text type in the early grades (Duke, 2000). Finally,
oral expository discourse, such as lectures and public speeches, is
much more infrequent than oral narrative discourse. It can be ar-
gued, then, that these factors—unfamiliar content and structure
and low frequency of occurrence—increase the relative difﬁculty
of expository text in terms of processing demands and in com-
parison to narrative text. Therefore, in the present study both ex-
pository and narrative texts were presented orally and in printed
In summary, the purpose of this study was to evaluate (a) the
relationship between listening and reading comprehension at in-
creasing grade levels, and (b) the effects of text type on listening
and reading comprehension levels. With respect to this second
goal, it was predicted that both listening and reading comprehen-
sion performance will be higher for narrative than expository text.
However, it was also expected that with increasing grade level the
differences between listening and reading comprehension of nar-
rative and expository text will decrease as a result of increased
exposure to oral and written expository structures. Finally, of inter-
est was also the extent to which the relationship between listening
and reading comprehension evolves in a similar manner across the
different text types, as would be predicted by the unitary-process
The sample included 612 students enrolled in three elementary
schools and two middle schools located in different medium-
sized towns in the island nation of Cyprus. Overall, there were
135 second graders (65 males and 70 females), 151 fourth graders
(79 males and 72 females), 151 sixth graders (70 males and
60 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
81 females), and 177 eighth graders (95 males and 82 females).
All students were ﬂuent speakers of Greek. In order to obtain
an indication of Receptive Language Ability across grade levels,
the method developed by Levin et al. (1997) was adapted and
employed in this study. Speciﬁcally, the names of the students in
each participating classroom were printed on separate index cards.
Then each classroom teacher was asked to evaluate each student’s
written and oral language comprehension ability by sorting the
corresponding card into one of ﬁve categories: very high, high,
average, low, very low (Levin et al., 1997). In cases where teach-
ers classiﬁed the majority of their students into one or two cat-
egories only, they were asked to discuss at length any language
comprehension differences between the students within a cate-
gory and to reclassify accordingly. Teacher ratings ranged from
1to5with higher scores assigned to higher ability categories.
This measure indicated that the students, as a sample, represented
a wide range of Receptive Language Ability levels (M=3.15,
SD =1.23). In addition, their school achievement levels ranged
from low (3.5) to high (10.0) as indicated by previous year’s Grade
Point Averages (M=7.87, SD =1.50). The correlation coefﬁ-
cient between Teacher ratings and Grade Point Average was 0.77
A preliminary list of forty short stories, articles, and excerpts
from books, magazines, and encyclopaedias was compiled. Seven
independent teachers, whose teaching experience ranged from
seven to 22 years, read and rated each text for topic familiarity,
number of potentially unfamiliar words, and overall text difﬁculty
for each grade level. Texts that were judged by all teachers to have
an unfamiliar topic but relatively few unfamiliar words, and to be
moderately difﬁcult but appropriate for a given grade level were
included in the ﬁnal list (see Appendix). From this list, two nar-
ratives (271 to 376 words long) and two expositories (262 to 356
words long) were selected for each grade. The expository texts ei-
ther described and elaborated on the characteristics of animals,
physical locations, archaeological ﬁndings, astronomical phenom-
ena, and groups of people (Appendix, Texts 1, 5, 8, 11, 13, and 16)
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 61
or presented facts and details related to socio-cultural topics and
issues (Appendix, Texts 6 and 14). Therefore, the predominant
expository structures were description and enumeration (Englert
& Hiebert, 1984). The selected texts were parsed into idea units
(van den Broek, 1989) by two independent graduate assistants. In-
terrater agreement ranged from 79% to 93%, and all differences
were resolved in conference. The selected narratives and exposi-
tories were comparable with respect to the number of idea units
per sentence (M=1.63, SD =.30, and M=1.77, SD =.36 re-
spectively, t(14) =−0.88, p=.39). Each selected text was printed
in a separate booklet and tape recorded.
All comprehension tests were in the form of a sentence veriﬁ-
cation task. For each text, a list of literal and inferential statements
was constructed. Literal statements represented single idea units
extracted verbatim from the text (Pearson & Johnson, 1978). In-
ferential statements represented implicit referential, causal, super-
ordinate goal, generalization, and comparison/contrast relation-
ships between idea units (Graesser et al., 1994). Two independent
raters evaluated each statement in each list as either literal or infer-
ential. Statements for which there was 100% agreement comprised
the preliminary comprehension tests whose length ranged from 17
to 22 statements.
Fifty-four undergraduate students enrolled in a cognitive psy-
chology course listened to each tape-recorded text and completed
the corresponding preliminary comprehension test. Items that
were not answered correctly by two or more students (18% of the
items, on the average, across tests) were excluded. From the re-
maining items, 14 were selected for inclusion in a ﬁnal comprehen-
sion test for each text. Speciﬁcally, each ﬁnal comprehension test
included seven literal and seven inferential statements, each fol-
lowed by a Yes/No option. In each test there was an equal number
of Yes and No correct responses. Each correct response received
a score of 1 and each incorrect response a score of 0. The scores
received by each student for each statement were summed and con-
verted to proportions, yielding six measures: Listening Compre-
hension, Reading Comprehension, Narrative Listening Compre-
hension, Expository Listening Comprehension, Narrative Reading
Comprehension, and Expository Reading Comprehension. The
62 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
order of statement presentation in each test was randomized, and
two comprehension test versions with different orders were created
for each text.
For the purposes of the study, the students remained in their in-
tact classrooms, and data were collected during the ﬁrst half of
the school year. The study was completed in two 40 min. sessions
scheduled from two to seven days apart. In each session, students
read and listened to one narrative and one expository text. As a
result, half of all the students in each grade level read a particular
text while the rest heard that same text. Presentation Mode (oral
vs. written), Text Type (narrative vs. expository), and order of pre-
sentation were counterbalanced between classrooms and sessions.
Students listened to or read each text only once. Subsequently, the
written text booklets were collected, and the students completed
the corresponging comprehension test. They were instructed to
read each statement carefully, to decide whether it was true on the
basis of the text they had just read or listened, and to circle Yes or
No accordingly. Comprehension test version was counterbalanced
Relationship Between Listening and Reading Comprehension
Preliminary analyses indicated that all dependent variables,
Listening Comprehension, Reading Comprehension, Narrative
Listening Comprehension, Narrative Reading Comprehension,
Expository Listening Comprehension, and Expository Reading
Comprehension had normal distributions (skewness <1) and ho-
mogeneous variances across Grade levels (p>.05). Moreover,
one-way Analysis of Variance indicated that School had no signif-
icant effect, and, therefore, this variable was excluded from sub-
sequent analyses. Listening and Reading Comprehension Scores
were signiﬁcantly correlated with each other at all grade levels ( p<
.01). However, this relationship became stronger with increasing
Grade level, and a series of Z-tests indicated that the correlation
coefﬁcient obtained at Grade 2 (r=.44,p=.00) was signiﬁcantly
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 63
TABLE 1 Mean Proportion Correct Responses to Listening and Reading
Comprehension Tests as a Function of Grade Level
Grade Listening Comprehension Reading comprehension
2(n=125) .65 (.14) .60 (.15)
4(n=132) .68 (.13) .69 (.13)
6(n=142) .75 (.14) .74 (.14)
8(n=163) .71 (.14) .75 (.14)
Note. Standard deviations are shown in parentheses.
different from the coefﬁcients obtained at all other Grade levels
(r=.63,p=.00,Z=2.14 to Z=2.25,p<.05).
Multivariate Analysis of Variance with Grade as the between-
subject factor, and Presentation Mode (oral vs. written) as the
within-subject factor, indicated there was a signiﬁcant main effect
of Grade, Hotelling’s T2=.22, F(6, 1114) =19.92, p=.00, but
not of Presentation Mode, Hotelling’s T2=.00, F(1, 559) =0.06,
p=.81. There was, however, a signiﬁcant Grade ×Presentation
Mode interaction, Hotelling’s T2=.07, F(3, 559) =13.60, p=.00.
It can be seen from Table 1 that Listening Comprehension is higher
in Grade 2, comparable in Grades 4 and 6, and lower in Grade 8
than Reading Comprehension. These differences are signiﬁcant
at both Grade levels, paired t(124) =3.92, p=.00 at Grade 2 and
paired t(163) =−4.33, p=.00 at Grade 8.
It can also be seen from Table 1 that, whereas Reading
Comprehension increases with increasing Grade level, Listening
Comprehension shows a decrease at Grade 8. However, multiple
comparisons (Scheffe method) indicated that the Listening Com-
prehension performance of eighth-graders was not signiﬁcantly
different from that of sixth-graders (p=.25, d=0.23). The dif-
ferences between second-graders and fourth-graders were also not
signiﬁcant (p=.28, d=0.22). In contrast, the Listening Compre-
hension scores obtained by second-graders were signiﬁcantly lower
than the scores obtained by both sixth-graders and eighth-graders
(p=.00, d=0.62). Finally, the Listening Comprehension perfor-
mance of fourth-graders was signiﬁcantly lower than that of sixth-
graders (p=.00, d=0.50). With respect to Reading Comprehen-
sion, the performance of second-graders was signiﬁcantly lower
from the performance of all other groups ( p=.00, d=0.95),
and the performance of fourth-graders was also signiﬁcantly lower
64 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
from the performance of eighth-graders ( p=.00, d=0.43). In
contrast, the performance of sixth- and eighth-graders was com-
parable (p=.88, d=0.09), and the difference between the per-
formance of fourth- and sixth-graders approached signiﬁcance
Effects of Text Type
In order to examine the effects of Text Type and its interactions,
Multivariate Analysis of Variance was performed with Grade as the
between-subject factor, and Presentation Mode (oral vs. written)
and Text Type (narrative vs. expository) as the two within-subject
factors. In addition to the expected signiﬁcant main effect of Grade
and its interaction with Presentation Mode ( p<.01), there was also
a signiﬁcant effect of Text Type, Hotelling’s T2=.40, F(1, 559) =
225.23, p=.00, and a signiﬁcant Grade ×Text Type interaction,
Hotelling’s T2=.11, F(3, 559) =19.48, p=.00.
It can be seen from Table 2 that, whereas Expository Compre-
hension increases steadily with increasing Grade level, Narrative
Comprehension decreases at Grade 8, with this decrease being
more pronounced when narrative text is presented orally. Over-
all, however, Expository Comprehension is signiﬁcantly lower than
Narrative Comprehension (p<.05) except in Grade 2 and when
both texts are presented in written form, paired t(125) =0.48,
Multiple comparisons indicated that the Narrative Listening
scores of sixth-graders were higher than those of all the other
groups (p<.01, d=0.59). On the other hand, the Narrative
TABLE 2 Mean Proportion Correct Responses to Listening and Reading
Comprehension Tests as a Function of Grade Level and Text Type
Grade Narrative Expository Narrative Expository
2(n=125) .69 (.17) .61 (.17) .60 (.19) .59 (.16)
4(n=132) .74 (.18) .62 (.15) .75 (.18) .64 (.16)
6(n=142) .82 (.17) .67 (.18) .80 (.17) .68 (.17)
8(n=163) .73 (.17) .70 (.15) .78 (.16) .73 (.16)
Overall .78 (.18) .65 (.17) .74 (.19) .67 (.17)
Note. Standard deviations are shown in parentheses.
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 65
Reading scores of the second-graders were lower than those of all
other groups (p<.01, d=1.08). With respect to Expository Lis-
tening Comprehension, the scores of the sixth- and eighth-graders
were higher than those of the second-graders (p=.01, d=0.47)
and the fourth-graders (p=.04, d=0.40). The Expository Read-
ing Comprehension scores of the second-graders were lower than
those of the sixth- and eighth-graders (p<.01, d=0.68), and
the scores of the fourth-graders were lower than the scores of the
eighth-graders only (p=.00, d=0.59). Otherwise, performances
were quite comparable.
Although the Presentation Mode ×Text Type interaction only
approached signiﬁcance, Hotelling’s T2=.01, F(1, 559) =3.57,
p=.06, a series of paired t-tests were employed to allow a compar-
ison of difference patterns between Listening and Reading Com-
prehension across Text Types and within each Grade separately.
These analyses indicated that, overall, Narrative Listening Com-
prehension is higher than Expository Listening Comprehension,
paired t(566) =10.98, p=.00, and Narrative Reading Comprehen-
sion is higher than Expository Reading Comprehension, paired
t(564) =8.76, p=.00, (see also Table 2). Moreover, Narrative
Listening Comprehension is higher in Grade 2, paired t(126) =
4.41, p=.00, comparable in Grades 4 and 6 (p>.10), and lower
in Grade 8, paired t(163) =−3.81, p=.00, than Narrative Read-
ing Comprehension. In comparison, Expository Listening Com-
prehension is lower than Expository Reading Comprehension in
Grade 8, paired t(163) =−2.04, p=.04, and comparable at all
other Grade levels (p>.10).
Table 3 shows the correlation coefﬁcients between Oral
and Written Narrative Comprehension and between Oral and
TABLE 3 Correlation Coefﬁcients Between Listening and
Reading Comprehension as a Function of Grade Level and
Grade Narrative text Expository text
66 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
Written Expository Comprehension. In the case of Narrative Text,
the relationship between Listening and Reading Comprehension
becomes stronger in Grade 4 and Grade 8. In fact, the correlation
coefﬁcient obtained at Grade 2 is signiﬁcantly different from the
correlation coefﬁcients obtained at Grade 4 (Z=2.76, p<.05)
and at Grade 8 (Z=2.91, p<.05) only but not from the coefﬁcient
obtained at Grade 6 (Z=1.79, p>.05). In contrast, in the case
of Expository Text, the correlation coefﬁcient obtained at Grade
4isvery low and signiﬁcantly different only from the correlation
coefﬁcient obtained at Grade 2 (Z=2.58, p<.05).
A series of Regression analyses indicated that Narrative Listen-
ing Comprehension is the strongest predictor of Expository Read-
ing Comprehension in the higher Grades and the only signiﬁcant
predictor in Grade 4 (see Table 4). In Grade 2, Narrative Reading
Comprehension accounts for the highest proportion of variance in
Expository Reading scores. In contrast, Expository Listening Com-
prehension is the weakest predictor and signiﬁcant only in Grades
2 and 6 (Table 4). Moreover, it can be seen from Table 5, that Nar-
rative Listening and Reading Comprehension are, similarly, the
strongest or the only signiﬁcant predictors of Expository Listening
TABLE 4 Regression Analyses for Variables Predicting Expository
Reading Comprehension Within Grade Levels
Variable βR2change Fchange p
Grade 2 (n=125)
Narrative Listening .25 .06 8.24 .00
Narrative Reading .36 .12 18.37 .00
Expository Listening .24 .04 6.85 .01
Grade 4 (n=132)
Narrative Listening .43 .18 29.24 .00
Narrative Reading .11 .01 1.56 .21
Expository Listening .05 .00 .27 .60
Grade 6 (n=142)
Narrative Listening .53 .29 56.25 .00
Narrative Reading .19 .03 6.56 .01
Expository Listening .19 .03 6.10 .01
Grade 8 (n=163)
Narrative Listening .45 .21 42.26 .00
Narrative Reading .22 .04 8.16 .00
Expository Listening .12 .01 2.42 .12
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 67
TABLE 5 Regression Analyses for Variables Predicting Expository
Listening Comprehension Within Grade Levels
Variable βR2change Fchange p
Grade 2 (n=125)
Narrative Listening .44 .19 28.98 .00
Narrative Reading .30 .08 14.14 .00
Expository Reading .22 .04 6.85 .01
Grade 4 (n=132)
Narrative Listening .18 .03 4.41 .04
Narrative Reading .46 .16 25.24 .00
Expository Reading .05 .00 .28 .60
Grade 6 (n=142)
Narrative Listening .28 .08 11.88 .00
Narrative Reading .34 .10 16.24 .00
Expository Reading .23 .03 6.10 .01
Grade 8 (n=163)
Narrative Listening .42 .17 34.04 .00
Narrative Reading .36 .10 22.11 .00
Expository Reading .12 .01 2.42 .12
A parallel series of Regressions for Narrative Comprehension
indicated that Narrative Listening is the strongest predictor of Nar-
rative Reading Comprehension in Grades 4, 6, and 8, accounting
for 15–24% of its variance. In contrast, Expository Reading Com-
prehension accounts for the highest percentage of variance (12%)
in Narrative Reading scores in Grade 2. Similarly, whereas Narra-
tive Reading Comprehension is the strongest predictor of Narra-
tive Listening in the higher Grades, accounting for 15–25% of the
variance, Expository Listening accounts for the highest percentage
of variance (14%) in Narrative Listening in Grade 2.
Listening versus Reading
In agreement with previous ﬁndings (Curtis, 1980; Sticht et al.,
1974), the present study indicates that the overall relationship be-
tween listening and reading comprehension becomes signiﬁcantly
stronger after the second grade, when word decoding skills can be
assumed to have been mastered to a satisfactory degree. In addi-
tion, input modality is found to have no independent inﬂuence
68 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
on comprehension level. This ﬁnding is also consistent with previ-
ous ﬁndings showing no difference between listening and reading
conditions in the recall of sentences (Guthrie & Tyler, 1976) or
in the recall and summarization of stories (Kintsch & Kozminsky,
1977; Smiley et al., 1977). There was, however, a signiﬁcant main
effect of grade level and this factor interacted with input modality.
As expected, both listening and reading comprehension increase
with increasing grade level. But listening comprehension shows a
signiﬁcant improvement between Grades 4 and 6, whereas a cor-
responding signiﬁcant improvement in reading comprehension
appears between Grades 2 and 4.
The timing of the increase in reading comprehension appears
to coincide with mastery of the initial decoding skills. On the other
hand, the timing of the increase in listening comprehension ap-
pears to relate to particular school practices. Speciﬁcally, the com-
prehension of oral language—including instructions, discussions,
and stories—is an explicit curriculum objective in the Cypriot ele-
mentary school (Cypriot Ministry of Education and Culture, 1996).
This objective is achieved by having students recall, summarize,
and identify the main ideas or conclusions of what was discussed
by the group or read by the teacher. Moreover, the oral discourse to
which students are exposed and the associated instructional activ-
ities become notably more complex and extended in the ﬁfth and
sixth grades. At these grade levels, students are also required to co-
ordinate and draw conclusions from discussions on social and liter-
ary issues as well as to interpret and critique orally-presented liter-
ary stories and poems (Cypriot Ministry of Education and Culture,
The present ﬁndings also indicate that listening comprehen-
sion performance exceeds reading comprehension in the early
elementary-school grades. This difference disappears in the higher
elementary grades, and its direction is reversed in middle school,
where reading comprehension is found to be higher than listening
comprehension. These changes in the difference between listen-
ing and reading are found to occur earlier than previously sug-
gested (i.e., Sticht et al., 1974). These changes in conjunction with
the timing of the improvements observed in each modality suggest
that listening comprehension is also sensitive to instruction which,
if provided, results in listening and reading comprehension devel-
oping concurrently rather than independently (Royer, Sinatra, &
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 69
Schumer, 1990). The basic pattern, however, is consistent with the
hypothesis that, whereas listening is more efﬁcient early on, the dif-
ference between listening and reading decreases with increasing
grade level (see also Sticht et al., 1974).
The ﬁnding that reading comprehension is comparable to lis-
tening in Grades 4 and 6 and higher than listening in Grade 8
can be attributed to a general increase in the emphasis on reading
and learning from text in the three higher elementary grades, as
indicated by the objectives stated for these grades (Cypriot Min-
istry of Education and Culture, 1996). Moreover, the transition to
independent reading and learning from text in the Cypriot mid-
dle school is a relatively abrupt one, since teachers at this level
are no longer expected to directly guide and support students’
comprehension of written text (Cypriot Ministry of Education and
Culture, 1993). The gradual increase in the emphasis on reading
and its eventual connection to learning and overall school achieve-
ment may have, in effect, promoted the development of more efﬁ-
cient and effective skills and strategies for extracting information
from printed text (see also Sticht et al., 1974). In contrast, listen-
ing comprehension skills and strategies remain as an objective only
in connection with group discussions and speciﬁc literary genres,
such as poetry (Cypriot Ministry of Education and Culture, 1993).
Narrative versus Expository Text
With respect to the type of text, expository comprehension level, in
general, is found to be lower than narrative comprehension level.
That is the case in all grades except in Grade 2, where the ability to
comprehend printed expository text is comparable to the ability to
comprehend printed narrative text. We consider this lack of differ-
ence early on to reﬂect the inﬂuence of less-than-perfect decoding
skills that can be expected to hinder the reading comprehension
of any text. It appears, however, that after decoding skills become
automatic, other factors, such as type of text, become important
and inﬂuence comprehension regardless of input modality.
Moreover, whereas expository comprehension increases
steadily after Grade 4, narrative comprehension decreases at Grade
8. This difference in developmental pattern appears, again, to re-
late to particular school practices that inﬂuence the frequency of
occurrence of and, therefore, students’ familiarity with each text
70 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
type at different grade levels. Although the staple of all reading and
listening in the Cypriot elementary school is the short story, the
gradual increase in the emphasis on learning from text necessitates
a corresponding increase in students’ exposure to informational
text after Grade 4 (Cypriot Ministry of Education and Culture,
1996). At the middle school level, expository text dominates, with
the textbook being the primary medium of learning in all subjects
(Cypriot Ministry of Education and Culture, 1993). In compari-
son, narrative text is used only in connection with the teaching of
ancient and modern Greek literature. Therefore, this decrease in
the comprehension of narrative text appears to reﬂect a decrease
in its frequency of occurrence and relative importance for overall
school achievement at the middle school level.
Although input modality was not found to interact signiﬁ-
cantly with text type (Danks, 1980), the relationship and the dif-
ference patterns between listening and reading appear to diverge
to some extent depending on the type of text. For one thing,
listening to expository text is not more efﬁcient than reading such
text at any grade level. Instead, the ability to comprehend exposi-
tory text develops similarly and concurrently in the two modalities
until reading becomes more efﬁcient than listening in the eighth
grade. Therefore, any advantages associated with listening early on
appear to be conﬁned to the case of narrative text only.
This ﬁnding contrasts with that of Royer, Kulhavy, Lee, and
Peterson (1986) who found that, with difﬁcult text, fourth and
sixth graders’ listening comprehension was higher than their read-
ing comprehension. They also found the opposite to be true with
easy texts. Royer et al. (1986) used narratives that were classiﬁed
as easy or difﬁcult depending on whether their readability level
was below or above their participants’ grade level. In comparison,
all texts used in the present study were judged to be appropriate
for our students’ level. Expository text, however, can be assumed
to represent a more difﬁcult text type by virtue of its diverse struc-
tures, abstract organization, generally unfamiliar content, and rel-
atively low frequency of occurrence in elementary school (Duke,
2000; Englert & Hiebert, 1984; Singer et al., 1997). Nevertheless,
our students’ ability to comprehend these texts was the same re-
gardless of presentation mode. A listening comprehension advan-
tage was manifested only in connection with narrative text and
with the youngest students.
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 71
Furthermore, the relationship between listening and reading
evolves differently depending on the type of text. In the case of
narrative text, the relationship follows the expected pattern, be-
coming stronger after the second grade (Curtis, 1980; Sticht et al.,
1974). The opposite, however, appears to be true with expository
text. Correlation coefﬁcients remain low and, except in Grade 2,
lower than those obtained with narrative text. Contrary to expec-
tations (i.e., Curtis, 1980), the relationship between expository lis-
tening and reading becomes non-signiﬁcant in the fourth grade,
after decoding skills are in place, and remains modest in the higher
grades. In general, expository listening is not a strong or signiﬁcant
predictor of expository reading across the grade levels examined.
In fact, expository listening and expository reading predict each
other to the same modest extent.
These ﬁndings might be attributable to a number of factors.
For one thing, oral expository text, as exempliﬁed by extended
lectures and speeches, remains relatively rare in elementary and
middle school. In fact, the guidelines for elementary- and middle-
school teachers in the Cypriot National Curriculum (Cypriot Min-
istry of Education and Culture, 1993, 1996) advise teachers to avoid
lengthy presentations and to encourage, instead, group discussions
and hands-on activities. Such an approach, although undeniably
helpful and effective in many instructional situations, may con-
tribute to a general lack of familiarity with expository text struc-
tures and a speciﬁc lack of practice in comprehending such text
through listening. Therefore, the ability to comprehend oral ex-
pository text cannot be expected to predict the ability to compre-
hend written expository text. On the other hand, the increasing
exposure to written expository text may promote the development
of comprehension strategies that speciﬁcally take advantage of the
fact that readers have control over the rate they process text infor-
mation and the option to reprocess it as needed for coherence pur-
poses (i.e., Carlisle & Felbinger, 1991; Danks, 1980; Sinatra, 1990).
Expository text characteristics, such as unfamiliar content and di-
verse structures that accommodate abstract relationships (Englert
& Hiebert, 1984; Kintsch & Kozminsky, 1977; Singer et al., 1997),
may further necessitate a reliance on visual presentation factors
that help reduce the amount of information that needs to be kept
active in memory. Therefore, the development of presentation-
speciﬁc strategies in addition to general comprehension skills and
72 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
the notable absence of oral expository discourse may be responsi-
ble for the overall low relationships observed.
Prediction patterns are also found to vary across grade lev-
els. Whereas the ability to comprehend written narrative text is
the strongest predictor of expository reading comprehension in
Grade 2, the ability to comprehend orally-presented narratives be-
comes the strongest predictor in the higher grades and the only
predictor in Grade 4. Similarly, whereas the ability to compre-
hend written expository text is the strongest predictor of narrative
reading in Grade 2, the ability to comprehend orally-presented
narratives becomes again the strongest predictor in the higher
grades. These changes in prediction pattern appear to suggest that
(a) listening and reading processes are more different than sim-
ilar early on, with perceptual skills being the crucial factor and
regardless of text type (Perfetti, 1987); and (b) basic comprehen-
sion skills developed in the context of listening to narratives are
transferred and applied to some extent to the processing of writ-
ten text, again regardless of its type (Kintsch & Kozminsky, 1977;
Sticht & James, 1984). Moreover, the ﬁnding that narrative read-
ing comprehension level is the strongest predictor of expository
listening in Grades 4 and 6 appears to underscore the possibil-
ity that the comprehension of oral expository discourse may have
more in common with reading than listening (Akinnaso, 1985;
Biber, 1982; Danks, 1980). Nevertheless, the ﬁndings concerning
relationship and prediction patterns lend support to Hendrick
and Cunningham’s (1995) claim that the relationship between
listening and reading is more likely to be a reciprocal one than
unidirectional after decoding mastery.
Theoretical Implications and Limitations
Although the present ﬁndings lend some support to the domi-
nant unitary process perspective, they also suggest that its stronger
claims need to be qualiﬁed in some respects. First, the extent to
which listening exceeds reading early on (i.e., Sticht et al., 1974)
depends also on text factors in addition to any lingering decoding
difﬁculties. As a result, the claim that the development of listen-
ing comprehension ability precedes the development of reading
comprehension (Curtis, 1980; Kintsch & Kozminsky, 1977; Sticht &
James, 1984) cannot be generalized across discourse types. Second,
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 73
reversals in the direction of the difference cast doubt on the extent
to which listening comprehension represents an absolute potential
for reading comprehension (Sticht & James, 1984). Instead, they
suggest that listening comprehension skills, although probably
necessary early on, are not sufﬁcient for becoming a skilled reader
after decoding mastery (see also Carlisle & Felbinger, 1991; Danks,
1980; Hendrick & Cunningham, 1995). Finally, the relationship be-
tween listening and reading cannot be taken for granted since it is
also mediated by text-related factors in addition to the perceptual
skill factors associated exclusively with reading (i.e., Curtis, 1980).
The present ﬁndings contribute to Samuels’ (1987) argument
that differences in the context, if not in modality, result in general
comprehension mechanisms functioning in somewhat different
ways. The type of the text represents one such difference that is
found to inﬂuence listening and reading comprehension levels
and their relationship in complex ways. Considering that the task
of the comprehender is to construct a mental representation of
what the text is about (McNamara, Miller, & Bransford, 1991),
there is no reason to suppose that the task itself and/or the ba-
sic processes by which it is accomplished varies as a function of
modality. Knowledge of text structure, however, can provide an or-
ganizational framework inﬂuencing, thereby, the coherence and
the elaboration of the resulting representation (i.e., Goldman &
Rakestraw, 2000). Conversely, lack of such knowledge may render
visual presentation factors important in the sense that a slower
reading pace and the ability to reprocess information can facili-
tate the identiﬁcation of main ideas and connections. This is more
likely to be the case with expository text where lack of familiar-
ity with its diverse structures is compounded with unfamiliar and
more abstract content (Duke, 2000; Englert & Hiebert, 1984).
Although the above possibility can account for the weak re-
lationship between expository listening and reading, it cannot ex-
plain fully why expository listening and reading levels remain com-
parable across elementary grades. These comparable levels may
result from comprehension strengths and weaknesses speciﬁcally
associated with each modality. Carlisle and Felbinger (1991), who
also used expository text with fourth, sixth, and eighth graders,
found some students to be weak in listening comprehension only
while others to be weak in reading comprehension. Such differ-
ential patterns of ability may be responsible for the comparable
74 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
performances observed in this study. Moreover, given the empha-
sis on learning from expository text after Grade 4, any modality-
speciﬁc comprehension abilities may operate in parallel with a
more general academic ability with which reading ability, in par-
ticular, must be related. However, an examination of ability factors
was beyond the scope of the present study. Therefore, further re-
search is needed to examine the extent to which this is the case and
whether any ability inﬂuences are conﬁned to expository text only.
Weak relationships and comparable levels are accompanied by
changes in the prediction patterns across grade levels and modal-
ity in the case of expository text. Whereas narrative listening skills
predict expository reading level, narrative reading skills predict
expository listening level after decoding mastery. These predic-
tion patterns appear to suggest (a) that narrative comprehension
skills provide the basis upon which additional or modiﬁed strate-
gies are developed to deal with different discourse types; and (b)
that narrative comprehension skills developed in each modality are
transferred and employed across modality in the particular case of
expository text. With respect to the ﬁrst point, it can be argued that
narrative comprehension skills are developed earlier and practiced
extensively in the course of everyday conversation and story read-
ing at home. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that they will
support, at least to some extent, subsequent development in com-
prehension ability. The simultaneous inﬂuences across modality
and text type, however, were unexpected and remain puzzling.
Since we cannot preclude the possibility of this being due to the
materials used and/or to measurement error, further research is
necessary to establish whether this ﬁnding is replicable and, if yes,
to unravel the text- and, possibly, person-related factors that may
Further research is also necessary to establish the extent to
which the different results obtained with expository text are simply
due to lack of exposure and, therefore, familiarity with expository
structures. If that is the case, then comparable exposure to oral
expository and narrative text early on should give rise to similar
results concerning the relationship between listening and reading.
This, in turn, would provide additional evidence in support of the
hypothesis that the same general processes underlie both listen-
ing and reading comprehension. If, however, divergent patterns
of difference and relationship continue to be observed, then the
The Relationship Between Listening and Reading 75
possibility of comprehension processes being fundamentally inﬂu-
enced by the context and, possibly, by modality remains open.
Although the general ﬁndings of the present study contribute to
the unitary process position, the particular pattern of results ap-
pear to support the educational implications that follow from a
dual process position (see also Sinatra, 1990). In agreement with
Carlisle and Felbinger (1991), our ﬁndings indicate that assessing
both listening and reading comprehension levels with different
types of text would provide a more detailed picture of students’
capabilities and instructional needs. The extent to which listen-
ing level reﬂects reading potential (Sticht & James, 1984) is lim-
ited and dependent on age and the materials used. As Stanovich
(1991) and Kertoy and Goetz (1995) have pointed out, the diag-
nostic value of any discrepancies between listening and reading is
high. Such discrepancies, however, are more than a simple index of
whether a student is experiencing decoding difﬁculties as opposed
to more general comprehension problems. They further provide
indications of the ability to process effectively a variety of texts in
different contexts and modalities. Our ﬁndings also suggest that
language competence, as a construct, is far too complex to be cap-
tured by a single score obtained in a single assessment context.
Therefore, listening comprehension levels are better thought of
as reﬂecting the ability to process a particular type of text when
presented orally. The efﬁciency with which the same type of text
is processed through reading needs to be further established after
Our ﬁndings also suggest that listening comprehension abil-
ity, just as reading comprehension, is amenable to instruction and
practice (see also Carlisle & Felbinger, 1991). The assumption that
listening ability develops solely as a function of natural language
exposure cannot be taken for granted (Sticht & James, 1984).
Students’ listening ability improves as a function of instructional
practices that facilitate the processing of orally-presented text.
Moreover, our ﬁndings suggest that reading instruction needs to
continue beyond decoding mastery to familiarize students with the
content and the structure of different text types (i.e., Horrowitz &
Samuels, 1987) and to provide the context for developing more
76 I.-A. N. Diakidoy et al.
effective comprehension strategies. This appears to be most nec-
essary with expository text (Duke, 2000) that may present greater
difﬁculty in terms of both content and structure and that eventually
becomes more important for learning purposes. It might be the
case that the ability to comprehend narrative structures precedes
the ability to comprehend expository structures (see also Englert
& Hiebert, 1984). The extent to which this is entirely due to sim-
ple variability in frequency of exposure remains to be seen. On
the basis of our ﬁndings, however, and given the research on early
literacy acquisition (Feitelson et al., 1993; Senechal et al., 1998)
we would agree with Duke (2000) that early exposure to oral ex-
pository texts would contribute to the ability to comprehend them
both through listening and reading.
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