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The importance of predicting and interacting
with texts in developing learners’ reading skills
by Malgorzata Bryndal
- 2

3. Predicting - a skill of an effective reader and a cause of learner problems.

Perhaps the one strategy, or rather skill, that is directly related with the schema theory and the interactive view of the reading process is predicting. As Grellet (1981, also White 1993) points out r eading is a constant process of guessing and what one brings to the text is often more important than what one finds in it. It follows then, that prediction is crucial in reading and to become efficient readers our learners need to develop this skill. Predicting will allow them to react with the text by having expectations and ideas about the purpose of the text, as well as ideas about possible outcomes. Predicting will help them become selective about what is significant and insignificant in the passage and how to pick up the key words in reading, which will ultimately lead to better fluency and reading speed. It also leads the student to become sensitive to contextual and extra-textual clues in creating meaning (McDonough & Shaw 2003).

The importance of this skill is also evident in the fact that it is being utilised throughout the whole time of the reading process, and affects all levels of text processing:

  • on the cultural level – it helps activate schemata,
  • on the text-type level – helps utilise genre clues,
  • on the page level – helps utilise genre and textual clues (headings, captions, pictures),
  • on the paragraph level – directs attention to the validity of using topic sentences,
  • on the sentence level – helps utilise word clues to predict sentence theme and rheme,
  • on the clause-level – directs attention to grammar-lexical relationships between the parts of the sentence,
  • on the word level – encourages contextual guessing of meaning.

(Ellis, unpublished article)

The inability to predict at different levels of the reading process echoes in various difficulties students face when reading in English. A lot of students avoid reading in English for the fear of encountering too many unknown lexical items. On some occasions this problem might be caused by the choice of the text inappropriate to the level of the students in terms of its lexical and grammatical density (4). In most cases it is the result of the students’ inability to guess the meaning from context which may stem from the lack of knowledge that certain combination of items are more likely to occur than others. From my teaching experience it seems that this problem is particularly noticeable with pre-intermediate and intermediate students who have made or are just making the transition from relying on an L1 dictionary to using a bilingual dictionary and developing higher tolerance of ambiguity, but still having a strong need to understand almost every new word they encounter in the text.

Many students struggle with reading if the topic or genre they are dealing with is unfamiliar to them. Without the right kind of pre-existing knowledge, comprehension becomes more difficult. This is a problem for some EFL learners who have different shared knowledge of cultural reference and discourse patterning in their own language and culture from that in the English variety they are dealing with. Research also suggests that different types of text structure affect comprehension and recall. Moreover, there are differences between language groups as to which text structure facilitates recall better, e.g. Arabs remember best from expository texts with comparison structures, Asians recall best from text with either problem-solution or causation structures (Singhal 1998). The lack of formal and content schemata leaves the learners unable to make any predictions and unable to relate to the text. In result, they perceive it as more difficult and become reluctant to engage with the reading activity. I have personally experienced the lack of students’ engagement when a group of Asian learners were presented with an inappropriate text, heavily laden with European culture referents.

Some learners have negative expectations of reading and assume failure even before they tackle the task. This might be the result of previous bad learning experiences or may be based on inaccurate or false text-type and page level predictions regarding the degree of language and content difficulty.

In essence, the skill of predicting depends on several language and culture-specific factors. Non-native readers are at a considerable disadvantage in all of the levels of prediction, due to their imperfect linguistic and socio-linguistic competence in English. The main difficulty for teachers then, lies in the provision of suitable reading exercises aimed at promoting predictive reading and the maximising of contextual and extra-textual clues to meaning.

4. Especially if authentic texts are chosen carelessly.

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