of predicting and interacting
with texts in developing learners reading skills
by Malgorzata Bryndal
4. Approaches to teaching reading and overcoming learner difficulties.
Traditional approach to teaching reading was centred around the ‘bottom-up’ model of reading which supported the notion that reading methodology should be text driven, focusing on de-coding written symbols into their aural equivalents and comprehension based on sentence-level reference (White 1993, Nunan 1991). Students were given little (if any) help in developing whatever skills may be needed in order to read efficiently or comprehend effectively. White (1993) refers to this approach as pedagogical and contrasts it with communication approach which sets reading firmly in the context of the communicative use of language and favours top-down view of the reading process in which the reader forms hypothesis about text elements (makes predictions) and then ‘samples’ the text to determine whether or not the hypotheses are correct. The interaction of the reader and the text is central to the process, and reader brings to this interaction their knowledge of the subject at hand, knowledge of and expectation about how language works, motivation, interest and attitudes towards the content of the text. In communication approach to reading students are given a reason for reading and instructions as to how they should go about the reading task (this will depend on the type of reading style we wish them to develop, e.g. scan the text to find information, search for detail) (Vaezi 2005, Nunan 1991).
Nowadays there is no more debate whether reading is a top-down or bottom-up process. To be effective reading methodology needs to embrace both kinds of processes. Schematic processes alone will not suffice in developing students’ reading skills, as knowledge of linguistic features is also necessary for comprehension to take place. In interactive reading various kinds of knowledge and different reading processes interplay (Clanfield 2005).
The standard classroom practice is to approach teaching reading using a 3 stage procedure involving pre-, while- and post-reading activities including follow up activities linked to the text and integrating other skills in a natural response to the text (Hedge 2000). Each of these stages creates opportunities to address the learner difficulties described earlier.
To deal with vocabulary issues we could use the pre-reading stage to pre-teach essential lexis, or use some (unknown) words from a reading passage as part of the procedure to create interest and activate the students’ schemata. We could also devise exercises practising contextual guessing that could be done during the post-reading stage, or set a time limit (e.g. 5 minutes) or a word/phrase limit (e.g. only 5) for students to ask for the meaning of the words they do not know. Also, remembering that reading is a skill the learners take ‘outside’ the classroom, we should introduce authentic texts in the lessons and encourage them to read extensively, as this is the best possible way for students to develop automaticity, i.e. the automatic recognition of words when they see them.
To tackle the problems with unfamiliar topic and genre, (except for choosing a text appropriate to our students’ interests in the first place), teachers could use various ways to stimulate interest in the topic during the pre-reading phase, e.g. by showing them visual or aural stimuli and discussing the topic, by having them to look at the headlines and predicting what story might follow before they read it, by asking them about their own experience in relation to the topic, etc. teacher should use techniques that support learning preferences of her students. Creating interest in the topic/genre is concurrent with activating learners’ schemata. The more alien the topic and genre are to our learners, the more time will have to be spent on creating interest and activating schemata of our learners. As the teachers and learners progress with their course of study more different genres and topics should be introduced to broaden the learners’ horizons and reading experience.
Finally, students’ negative expectations could be counteracted in all three stages of a reading lesson. First, by choosing topics that interest our students and getting them personally involved, e.g. ‘interacting’ with the writer by expecting questions to be answered, reflecting on expectations at every stage, anticipating what the writer will say next, etc. Second, during the while-reading stage by agreeing on both general and specific purposes for the students’ reading. If the students know why they are reading, they will be able to choose how to approach the task and maximise their chances of achieving the purpose of reading. They can be put in pairs or groups to share responsibility for the task, or jigsaw reading technique could be used to emphasise the interactive side of reading. Third, in the post-reading task, by comprehension questions pitched at the right level of challenge, starting from the overall meaning of the text, its function and aim, rather than working on vocabulary or more specific ideas straight away (Grellet 1981). Another way to check comprehension is to ask learners to do a task after reading, e.g. assembling an object from a set of instructions. Successful reading enables a certain task to be completed and it is what most people do in their L1 after reading. Moreover, it enables integrating other skills into reading, which is important form the pragmatic point of view – in real life we seldom read something and not talk or write about what we have read.
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