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Teaching reading an in EFL classroom

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 their environment.

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 the following:

1. Read rapidly for comprehension;

2. Recognize words rapidly and automatically;

3. Draw a very large vocabulary store;

4. Integrate text information with their own knowledge;

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 information.

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 vocabulary;

2. Provide explicit language instruction to help students build a reasonable foundation in the L2;

3. Address the range of skills needed for successful comprehension;

4. Introduce students to discourse-organizing principles through the use of graphic representations and other practices;

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 instruction;

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 them.

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 read.

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, recall.

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 fluency.

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 comprehension:

- Using vocabulary in context;

- Recognizing main ideas;

- Identifying supporting details;

- Recognizing implied main ideas and the certain point;

- 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, 1989).

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 isolated applications.

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 Stoller).

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 strategy).

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 reading problems:

1. Reading word by word, relying too heavily on their visual information, which greatly impedes their reading speed and hampers their comprehension;

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 skills:

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 done it.

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 textual connectors.

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 table:

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 facts.

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 strategies include:

- Previewing a text;

- Predicting what will come later in a text;

- Summarizing;

- Learning new words through the analysis of word stems and affixes;

- Using context to maintain comprehension;

- Recognizing text organization;

- Generating appropriate questions about the text;

- 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:

Class work:

1. Sampling by surveying the title, pictures, diagrams, etc.

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 questions.

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 readers.

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.

REFERENCES

1. Broderick, Bill. 2000. Groundwork for College Reading. Townsend Press. Instructor’s Edition. Third Edition.

2. Burke, J., The English Teacher's Companion: A Complete Guide to Classroom, Curriculum, and the Profession. Boynton/Cook Publishers. 1998.

3. Coady, James. 1979. A psycholinguistic model of the ESL reader. In Reading in a second language: Hypothesis, organization, and practice. See Mackay et al. 1979.

4. Fry, Edward. 1981. Teaching Faster Reading: A Manual. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

5. Goodman, Kenneth. 1982. Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game. In Language and literacy: The selected writings of Kenneth S. Goodman, Vol.1, ed. Frederick V. Gollash. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

6. Kozlow, Lee Vogel, Lehmann, Jane. 1986. Fundamentals of College Reading. Strategies for Success. Prentice-Hall, Inc.

7. Langan, John. 1997. Ten Steps to Improving College Reading Skills. Townsend Press. Third Edition.

8. Langan, J., Kar. G. 1989. Ten Steps to Building College Reading Skills. Townsend Press.

9. Langan, J., Kar. G. 1989. Ten Steps to Building College Reading Skills. Instructor’s Manual to Accompany. Townsend Press.

10. Mackay, R., B. Barkman, and R.R.Jordan, eds. 1979. Reading in a second language: Hypothesis, organization, and practice. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.

11. Mei-yun, Yue. 1996. Teaching efficient ESL Reading. Selected articles from the English teaching forum 1989-1993) Edited by Thomas Kral. Washington, D.C.

12. Miller, Wanda Maureen, Steeber de Orozco, Sharon. Reading Faster and Understanding More. Book Two. Instructor’s Edition. Scott, Foresman/Little, Brown Higher Education.

13. Moore, John et al. 1979. Reading and thinking in English: Discovering discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

14. Royce Adams, W. 1988. Prep for Better Reading. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Third Edition.

15. Saville-Troike, Muriel. 1979. Reading and the audiolingual method. In Reading in a second language: Hypothesis, organization, and practice. See Mackay et al. 1979.

16. Smith, Frank. 1978. Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

17. Smith, Lorraine C., Mare, Nancy Nici. 1994. Concepts for Today. A High Intermediate Reading Skills Text. Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

18. Troyka, Lynn Quitman. 1978. Structured Reading. Prentice-Hall, Inc



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