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Enhancing Children's Listening Comprehension: The Role of Inference-Making and Test Formats

A young child sitting in a cozy, colorful classroom, attentively listening to a teacher reading a book aloud. The child has a thoughtful expression, with a thought bubble above their head showing an imaginative scene from the story. The teacher is animatedly gesturing, capturing the child's attention. The background includes bookshelves and educational posters, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere that highlights the child's engagement and imagination while listening to the story.
Enhancing Listening Comprehension

Comprehension is a cornerstone of effective learning, particularly in a classroom setting. It involves not just the ability to understand words but also to grasp the underlying meaning by making inferences. Inferences are mental leaps that connect various pieces of information, enabling a deeper understanding of the material. A study by Jenny Freed and Kate Cain has shed light on how different test formats influence children's ability to make inferences during listening comprehension tasks, offering valuable insights for educators and parents alike.

Understanding Inference-Making

Inference-making is an essential cognitive skill that helps in understanding stories and texts. There are two types of inferences critical for comprehension.

Local Coherence Inferences: These involve connecting information between sentences or clauses within a text. For example, if a story mentions a boy putting on a raincoat and then stepping outside, a local coherence inference would involve understanding that it is raining outside.

Global Coherence Inferences: These involve connecting the text with background knowledge to understand broader themes or motivations. For example, understanding that the boy wore a raincoat because he did not want to get wet and might have a long walk to school.

The Study and Its Methodology

Freed and Cain's study focused on typically developing children in Years 3 (ages 7-8) and 5 (ages 9-10) to evaluate their inference-making abilities. The researchers introduced a novel

listening comprehension test in two formats

Segmented Format: Questions were posed at specific points during the story to assess local and global coherence inferences as the story unfolded.

Whole Format: All questions were asked after the entire story was presented.

This design allowed the researchers to determine whether children were more likely to make the necessary inferences when prompted during the story or after hearing it in full.

Age-Related Differences: Older children (Year 5) generally performed better at making both local and global inferences compared to younger children (Year 3). This progression suggests that as children's cognitive and language skills develop, their ability to make inferences improves.

Effectiveness of Segmented Format: The segmented format, where questions were interspersed throughout the story, proved particularly beneficial for younger children. This approach helped them make local inferences more effectively than the whole format.

Global vs. Local Inferences: Across both age groups, children found it easier to make global coherence inferences than local ones. This finding suggests that connecting broader themes to background knowledge might be a more natural process for children than integrating specific details within the text.

The findings from Freed and Cain's study have important implications for educational practices.

Designing Effective Assessments: Educators should consider using segmented formats for comprehension assessments, especially for younger children. This method encourages children to process and integrate information as they encounter it, which can lead to better comprehension.

Classroom Strategies: Teachers can adopt the segmented approach during classroom readings by pausing to ask relevant questions. This practice can help reinforce comprehension and ensure that children are actively engaging with the material.

Targeted Instruction: Recognizing that local inferences are more challenging, educators should design activities that help children practice linking details within a text. This could involve exercises that focus on understanding cause-and-effect relationships or the sequence of events.

Supporting Struggling Learners: For children who find comprehension difficult, providing structured and interactive reading sessions can be particularly beneficial. This might include guided reading with frequent pauses to discuss the story and its elements.

Comprehension and inference-making are critical skills that significantly impact a child's learning journey. The study by Jenny Freed and Kate Cain highlights the importance of test format in assessing these skills and suggests practical strategies for educators to support children's comprehension development. By incorporating these insights into educational practices, we can enhance listening comprehension with stories, ultimately fostering a more robust foundation for lifelong learning.


Freed, J., & Cain, K. (2016). Assessing school-aged children's inference-making: The effect of story test format in listening comprehension. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 59(4), 945-956. doi:10.1111/1460-6984.12260


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