К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006
Автор: Кызыкеева А.Б.
Many have argued in the past several years
that reading is the most important academic language skill for foreign language
students. In academic settings, reading is assumed to be the central means for
learning new information and gaining access to alternative explanations and
interpretations. Reading also provides the foundation for synthesis
and critical evaluation skills. In addition, reading is the primary means for
independent learning (Grabe and Stoller).
We all know that many of today’s students
do not have the reading skills needed to do effective work in their courses.
For any one of a number of reasons, their background in reading is limited. At
the same time, their concerns and interests are those of other students. These
students need to develop their reading skills through the use of adult-level
materials. A related problem, evident even in class discussions, is that they
often lack the skills required to think consistently in a clear and analytic
way (Broderick, 2000).
According to the introduction to Reading in a Second Language: Hypotheses, Organization, and Practice (Mackay et
al. 1979), EFL reading is understood in terms of “matching the flexibility of
the educated native speaker as he performs all reading-related tasks presented
in his environment. These include reading and understanding newspapers and
popular magazines, personal letters, business correspondence, official
documents such as driving license application forms, stories, academic
textbooks, and scientific and technical reports”. This means that the objective
of an EFL reading course is to produce efficient EFL readers who, like educated
native speakers, have flexibility in performing all reading-related tasks in
The ability to read – taking general
comprehension – requires that the reader draw information from a text and
combine it with information and expectations that the reader already has. But
this definition doesn’t reveal much about the specifics of reading. Research on
L1 reading has highlighted the need for readers to develop essential reading
processes and abilities such as rapid word recognition, vocabulary development,
text-structure awareness, and strategic reading. The actual ability to
comprehend texts comes about through reading, and doing a great deal of it, as
the core of reading instruction.
A good way to understand reading is to
consider what is required for fluent reading. Fluent readers typically do all
1. Read rapidly for comprehension;
2. Recognize words rapidly and
3. Draw a very large vocabulary store;
4. Integrate text information with their
5. Recognize the purpose (s) for reading;
6. Comprehend the text as necessary;
7. Use strategies to monitor comprehension;
8. Recognize and repair miscomprehension;
9. Read critically and evaluate
Using these characteristics of a fluent
reader to create an expanded definition of reading reveals multiple skills and
strategies that L2 learners need in order to become fluent readers.
Teachers also can help students to become
fluent readers and address the academic reading needs of their students by
doing the following:
1. Help students build a large recognition
2. Provide explicit language instruction to
help students build a reasonable foundation in the L2;
3. Address the range of skills needed for
4. Introduce students to
discourse-organizing principles through the use of graphic representations and
5. Help students become strategic readers;
6. Give students many opportunities to read
so that they develop reading fluency and automatist;
7. Make extensive reading and broad
exposure to L2 texts a routine practice, in and out of class;
8. Motivate students to read;
9. Integrate reading and writing
10. Develop effective content-based
instruction for authentic integrated-skills tasks.
But what is more important – students
become better readers only by doing a lot of reading (Grabe and Stoller).
Flexibility and fluency in reading includes
flexibility in speed as well as comprehension. Edward Fry discusses this in
detail in his book Teaching Faster Reading: A Manual. According to Fry,
educated native speakers of English generally read at three different speeds,
depending on their purpose, the difficulty of the material, and their
background knowledge. The first type of speed is study speed (200-300
words per minute). This is the slowest speed, used for reading textbooks and
difficult materials such as legal documents, when the reader desires a high
rate of understanding (80%-90% of comprehension) as well as good retention. In
this type of reading the reader studies the material carefully in order not to
miss a single point.
The second type of speed is average
reading speed (250-500 wpm). This is the speed that educated native
speakers use to read everyday materials such as newspapers, magazines, novels,
and stories. At this speed the rate of comprehension is lowered (usually about
70%). They sometimes even skip over paragraphs or pages that don’t interest
The third type of speed is skimming
speed. This is the fastest speed that native speakers use, when they wish
to cover the material in a hurry and high comprehension is not required.
Generally speaking, the skimming speed of educated native speakers is at least
twice as fast as their average reading speed. Some of them can skim more than
800 wpm. At this speed they intentionally accept a much lower comprehension (50%
on the average).
So we can see that, like two sides of a
coin, speed and comprehension are inseparable in efficient reading. An
efficient reader can not only read slowly with good comprehension, but also can
read fast with needed comprehension when circumstances require. Experimental evidences
has shown that a poor reader is typically one who reads everything at the same
slow speed and does not get much meaning from reading. Therefore, the major
objective of an EFL reading course should be to improve the average and
skimming speeds of our students, and to help them cultivate the ability to vary
their speed in reading different materials for different purposes.
As we have already said, reading is an
activity with a purpose. When we read, we read for a variety of purposes. We
may read in order to gain information or verify existing knowledge, or in order
to critique a writer's ideas or writing style. We sometimes read to get the
main idea but not much more (e.g., skimming a newspaper article) and sometimes
we read to locate specific information (e.g., scanning for a name, date, or
term). Commonly we read texts to learn information (e.g., reading to learn) and
sometimes we are expected to synthesize information from multiple texts, or
from a longer chapter or book, in order to take a critical position with
respect to that information (e.g., reading to integrate and evaluate
information). Perhaps most often, we read for general comprehension (e.g.
reading to understand main ideas and relevant supporting information). We also
read for pleasure, with the intention of being entertained or informed, but not
tested. (Grabe, Stoller) We may read to enhance knowledge of the language being
The purpose(s) for reading guide the
reader's selection of texts. The purpose for reading also determines the
appropriate approach to reading comprehension. A person who needs to know
whether she/he can afford to eat at a particular restaurant needs to comprehend
the pricing information provided on the menu, but does not need to recognize
the name of every appetizer listed. A person reading poetry for enjoyment needs
to recognize the words the poet uses and the ways they are put together, but
does not need to identify main idea and supporting details. However, a person
using a scientific article to support an opinion needs to know the vocabulary
that is used, understand the facts and cause-effect sequences that are
presented, and recognize ideas that are presented as hypotheses and givens.
Reading research shows that good readers read
extensively, integrate information in the text with existing knowledge, have a
flexible reading style, depending on what they are reading, are motivated, rely
on different skills interacting: perceptual processing, phonemic processing,
Reading is an interactive process that goes on between the
reader and the text, resulting in comprehension. The text presents letters,
words, sentences, and paragraphs that encode meaning. The reader uses
knowledge, skills, and strategies to determine what that meaning is.
Reading skills enable readers to turn writing into meaning
and achieve the goals of independence, comprehension, and fluency. Reading skills are specific abilities which enable a reader
to read the written form as meaningful language to read anything written with
independence, comprehension and fluency, and to mentally interact with the
message. There are some kinds of reading skills:
- Word attack skills let the reader figure
out new words.
- Comprehension skills help the reader
predict the next word, phrase, or sentence quickly enough to speed recognition.
- Fluency skills help the readers see
larger segments, phrases, and groups of words as wholes.
- Critical reading skills help the reader
see the relationship of ideas and use these in reading with meaning and
John Langan in the book Ten Steps to
Improving College Reading Skills presents the following sequence of ten
reading skills that are widely recognized as essential for basic and advanced
comprehension. The first six skills concern the more literal levels of
- Using vocabulary in context;
- Recognizing main ideas;
- Identifying supporting details;
- Recognizing implied main ideas and the
- Understanding relationships that involve
addition and time;
- Understanding relationships that involve
examples, comparison or contrast, and cause and effect.
The remaining skills cover the more
advanced, critical levels of comprehension:
- Distinguishing between facts and opinions;
- Making inferences;
- Understanding purpose and tone;
- Evaluating arguments (Langan, 1997, Kar,
One of the goals of reading instruction is
the development of strategic readers. Strategies are the organizing principle
of the text. The emphasis is on teaching students how to comprehend a
text, rather than merely testing whether they comprehended. (Kozlow and Lehmann,
1986) Strategic readers understand the goals of a reading activity, have a
range of well-practiced reading strategies at their disposal, apply them in
efficient combinations, monitor comprehension appropriately, recognize
miscomprehension, and repair comprehension problems effectively. Strategic readers
make use of a wide repertoire of strategies in combination rather than in
The development of strategic readers
requires a commitment to teaching strategies. The introduction of strategies,
their practice, and their uses should be part of every lesson. Indeed, it is
not difficult to talk about strategies in class if every session requires
reading, focuses on text comprehension, and includes discussions about the text
and how it is understood (Jansen and Stoller 1998). Ultimately, the goal is to
develop fairly automatic routines that work to resolve more general reading
comprehension difficulties and a more elaborate set of problem-solving
strategies that can be used when routine strategies do not work well (Grabe and
Reader’s knowledge, skills, and strategies
include different types of competence:
- Linguistic competence: the ability to recognize
the elements of the writing system; knowledge of vocabulary; knowledge of how
words are structured into sentences;
- Discourse competence: knowledge of
discourse markers and how they connect parts of the text to one another;
- Sociolinguistic competence: knowledge
about different types of texts and their usual structure and content;
- Strategic competence: the ability to use
top-down strategies as well as knowledge of the language (a bottom-up
The purpose(s) for reading and the type of text
determine the specific knowledge, skills, and strategies that readers need to
apply to achieve comprehension. Reading comprehension is thus much more than
decoding. Reading comprehension results when the reader knows which skills and
strategies are appropriate for the type of text, and understand how to apply
them to accomplish the reading purpose.
Traditionally, the purpose of learning to
read in a language has been to have access to the literature written in that
language. In language instruction, reading materials have traditionally been
chosen from literary texts that represent "higher" forms of culture.
This approach assumes that students learn to read in a language by studying its
vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure, not by actually reading it. In
this approach, lower level learners read only sentences and paragraphs generated
by textbook writers and instructors. The reading of authentic materials is
limited to the works of great authors and reserved for upper level students who
have developed the language skills needed to read them. The communicative
approach to language teaching has given instructors a different understanding
of the role of reading in the language classroom and the types of texts that
can be used in instruction. When the goal of instruction is communicative
competence, everyday materials such as train schedules, newspaper articles, and
travel and tourism Web sites become appropriate classroom materials, because
reading them is one way communicative competence is developed. Instruction in
reading and reading practice thus become essential parts of language teaching
at every level.
Saville-Troike (1979) summarizes an
effective way to teach EFL reading when he says: “Improving the reading skill
of any student begins with identifying his weaknesses, and then implementing
appropriate methods for strengthening these skills.” So the first thing for the
teacher of EFL reading to do is to find out the weaknesses or problems of
his/her students. Observations show that many students have the following major
1. Reading word by word, relying too heavily
on their visual information, which greatly impedes their reading speed and hampers
2. Focusing too much attention on form at
the expense of meaning;
3. Paying too much attention to details,
with the result that they often miss the main ideas and see only the trees
instead of the forest;
4. A small reading vocabulary and heavy
reliance on the use of the dictionary for word meaning;
5. Limited background knowledge.
The task before the teacher, then, is to
help the students change their reading habits by teaching those efficient
reading skills. An effective way to do this is through guided reading. The term guided reading refers to timed reading conducted in class under the
control and guidance of the teacher. In guided reading not only can students
learn how to read in different ways at different speeds for different purposes,
but the teacher can observe how the students actually read so that he/she can give
them prompt help by correcting reading habits such as subvocalization and pointing
at the words they read. What is more, in guided reading the teacher can teach
different efficient reading skills. Some skills that we may use through guided
reading are given below.
1. Word-attack skills: these skills
enable the reader to work out the meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases
without looking them up in the dictionary. Here are two useful word attack
a. Using context clues: this includes using the meaning of other
words such as synonyms and antonyms in the same sentence or paragraph, or the
meaning of the sentence or paragraph as a whole, to deduce the possible meaning
of unfamiliar words and phrases. For example, in the sentence The Indians
cut their canoes out of tree trunks by using an adze, the meaning of the
word adze can be deduced from the meaning of the whole sentence. It must
be a kind of instrument for cutting, something like an ax.
b. Using structural information: this refers to word formation. An analysis
of the stems and affixes of words can help out students get the meaning of many
unfamiliar words. Let’s take the word antidisestablishmentarianism. It
is a very long word, but its meaning is not hard to work out. We can see that
the stem is established and that two prefixes and four suffixes are
added to it. The meaning of the whole word can be worked out by analyzing its
component parts. It may mean a kind of theory against the advocacy of the
principle of changing the existing status that has been established.
2. Reading in meaningful units: one of the factors that determine reading speed and
comprehension is the number of words the eyes can see at one glance. The more
words students can see and comprehend at one glance, the greater will be their
reading speed and the better will be their comprehension. Students should be
able to read in meaningful units instead of isolated words.
3. Scanning: this is a useful skill
to locate a specific item(s) of information that we need, such as a date, a
figure, or a name. In scanning we focus our search only on the information we
want, passing quickly over all the irrelevant material. The key to scanning is
to decide exactly what kind of information we are looking for and where to find
it. A useful way to teach this skill is to have students search for some
specific information such as a definition, or the name of a person or a place,
asking them to start at the same time and see who the first to find it is. Then
ask the student who finds the information first to explain how he or she has
4. Skimming: this is the technique
we generally use to determine whether a book or an article merits a more
careful and thorough reading. Skimming may sometimes be the prerequisite of
reading for full understanding. The difference between scanning and skimming is
that in skimming we are not locating specific, isolated, and scattered items of
information; what we are trying to get is the general, overall idea(s) of the
whole text. Therefore the key to skimming is to know where to find the main
ideas of different paragraphs, and to be able to synthesize them into an
organic whole by way of generalization. Since the main idea of a well-organized
paragraph is, in most cases, either in the first or the last sentence, and the
general idea of a text is usually in the introductory paragraph or in the
concluding paragraph, the best way to teach skimming is to have students read
the first and last paragraphs in full, and the first and last sentences of the
paragraphs in between, and pick up the key words such as dates, figures, and
names while moving their eyes down the page. The time assigned for skimming
should be only a half or a third of their average reading speed.
5. Prediction: According to the
psycholinguistic models of reading, efficient reading depends, to a large
extent, on making correct predictions with minimal sampling. This ability will
greatly reduce out reliance on visual information, increase our reading speed,
and enhance our comprehension. Therefore, it is a very useful skill. Students
can learn to make predictions based on the title, subtitles, and their
knowledge of the topic; the linguistic context; the non-linguistic context,
such as diagrams, graphs, tables, pictures, and maps, which serves the same purpose
as gestures and facial expressions in conversation.
6. Recognizing organizational patterns: the
logical structure of a passage is often signaled by textual connectors, which
are expressions connecting ideas. The most common organizational pattern in
textbooks, for example, are cause-effect, definition, sequence of events, spatial
geographic, thesis-example, description, generalization, and
hypothesis-evidence, each of which has its characteristic textual connectors.
These textual connectors are the best indicators of ideas, hence most important
for reading comprehension. The best ways to teach this is to have students read
different passages with different organizational patterns and identify their
7. Distinguishing general statements
from specific details: general statements usually contain main ideas, and
specific details are usually explanations and examples that support the general
statements. Therefore, general statements are more important to comprehension.
Very often they are introduced by signal words such as in general, above
all, in conclusion, and it can be seen that. Students should learn
to direct their attention to these signal words. They should also learn to
identify expressions of probability, frequency, and quantity that indicate
different levels of generality. Some of these can be shown in the following
8. Inference and conclusion: comprehension
involves understanding not only what is stated explicitly but also what is
implied. That is to say, the reader has to make inferences based on what is
stated. To do so requires the ability to analyze and synthesize. For example,
from the sentence Age affects hearing; we can infer that with age
hearing increases, decreases, or changes. Conclusion is different from inference
in that the former is based on putting stated facts together, whereas the
latter is based on deduction of what is implied from what is stated. For
example, from the three statements Noise prevents people from sleeping,
Noise interrupts sleep, and Noise may reduce the quality of sleep, we
can conclude that noise is harmful to sleep. In short, to infer, the reader has
to read between the lines, whereas to conclude, he has to summarize stated
9. Evaluation and appreciation: this
is a high-level comprehension skill. The reader not only has to thoroughly
understand what he has read; he also has to analyze and synthesize it so as to
form his own opinions and judgments. To evaluate, the reader has to read
critically. And the essence of critical reading is to consider what, why, and
for whom the author has written. That is to say, the reader has to determine
the author’s purpose, consider his intended audience, recognize his strengths
and weaknesses, and distinguish his opinions from facts. Appreciation is
different from evaluation in that the former only requires the reader to see
the merits of the text, whereas the latter requires the reader to see both its
merits and demerits. To appreciate, the reader has to understand the author’s
tone and attitude, to recognize his literary devices such as the use of figures
of speech, to identify his characteristic style, and to see his humor, satire,
and irony. Evaluation is a useful skill for reading political and academic
essays, whereas appreciation is useful in reading literary works.
The task of the teacher is to teach students
to apply different strategies to developing their reading skills. Commonly used
- Previewing a text;
- Predicting what will come later in a
- Learning new words through the analysis
of word stems and affixes;
- Using context to maintain comprehension;
- Recognizing text organization;
- Generating appropriate questions about
- Clarifying text meaning;
- Repairing miscomprehension;
- And many others.
One more important thing that students must
not forget is to read not only on lines, but also between and beyond them. Reading on the lines means understanding
the stated meaning of the material. Students can develop their ability to read on the line by completing the exercises on vocabulary, central theme and main
ideas, and major details.
Reading between the lines means understanding what is
clearly implied but not stated in the material. When reading between the lines
students should look for what the author assumes they already know. Also,
students should look for the author’s underlying attitudes which are not stated
but are implied by the author’s choice of words and use of evidences. The
exercises on inferences and critical reading can help students develop their
ability to read between the lines.
Reading beyond the lines means developing informed
opinions about the subject. To do this students use what has been stated and
what has been implied to come to their own conclusions. The exercises on
informed opinion give students the opportunity to think about their personal
point of view on many subjects.
Almost every text in any textbook
includes a lot of exercises on developing different reading skills and practice
on reading on, between, and beyond the lines. It is up to the students to take
advantage of them. The sample plan of working with the text is the following:
1. Sampling by surveying the title, pictures, diagrams,
2. Prediction based on sampling.
3. Skimming to confirm or reject prediction.
4. Further prediction or revision of prediction.
5. Second reading at average speed.
After prediction there is a discussion of
different predictions. After skimming there is a discussion of global
questions. After the second reading there is a discussion of comprehension
Home work: students study the text for full understanding.
Class work: questions to check full comprehension, inference, and
conclusion, and evaluation and/or appreciation are discussed.
Homework (written assignment): students write a summary or an outline of
the text. Sometimes they have to transfer the information from a linguistic to
a nonlinguistic form.
It is a spiral. With each cycle students’
comprehension of the text deepens. The strengths of this approach lies in that
it can kill two birds (speed and comprehension) with one stone (teaching
efficient reading skills), and that it enables students to become flexible
The last thing to be remembered is the
following: “dull readings and exercises work against learning. The reading
selections in the book must be chosen not only for the appropriateness of their
reading levels but also for their compelling content. This should facilitate
the learning process. They also must take into account the diverse backgrounds
of the students” (Broderick, 2000).
Reading is not just looking at words. Reading is receiving and sorting out information from the
words. But how can our students read skillfully? The first step is to
understand the process of reading. The next step is to practice basic reading
skills over and over again until they become automatic. The final step is to
stay in shape by reading frequently.
Students learn skills not just by hearing
about them in a lecture, but by applying them. So, students must be provided
lots of reading and thinking practice.
Certainly reading is basic for literate
survival in today’s world. Only those of us who read skillfully are able to
function effectively in a world that values the printed word.
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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006