Significant considerations in esl/efl literacy
- Theories of reading and their implications to the teaching of reading in esl/efl classes
& the place of schemata theory on foreign language reading comprehension
by Hasan Bilokcuoglu
Abstract: Researches, reviews, suggestions, remarks, and opinions to improve the teaching of reading in ESL/EFL classes, regarding to the findings of various researches and individual experiences, are now attainable in the language teaching literature. This paper attempts to summarise the various theories of reading, models and the place of schema theory in reading comprehension and its implication into the foreign language reading classroom. Recently, schema theory has been one of the significant fields of research that has definitely been taking its place in the ELT's key issues catalogue. It should be underlined that, despite the fact that a schema can be defined, it is not a phenomenon that is actual or concrete in terms of scientists are able to literally put their hands on it. Just like other numerous things that are talked about in the field of education, schema is an empirically unverifiable subject, such as the Language Acquisition Device (LAD), Universal Grammar (UG), IQ, and so on. Nevertheless, the effects (of schema theory) on language teaching are quite clear. Thus, language teachers must bear in their minds that schema theory is 'functionally' beneficial in their teachings and can help their students in learning a foreign language. By taking these key issues into consideration, learners' level of reading proficiency may remarkably be upgraded.
Chaper I: Foreign language reading comprehension: theories and models
Reading, which is one of the most essential skills to develop due to some reasons among the four language skills, is probably the most intensively studied skill by educators and scholars in the language teaching field. The findings of the research done for a number of decades on the phenomenon of reading comprehension have aided in formulating theories about what really operates best in the teaching of reading. Consequently, language teachers have many choices regarding teaching methods and techniques that they can choose from to teach reading in the SL (Second Language) or FL (Foreign Language).
Being aware of how vital reading is for the students, the job of language teachers is to develop and improve their ability in reading comprehension. To be able to reach this goal, language teachers should always try to make their reading lessons effective by applying the most suitable method (and techniques) in accordance with the theories.
This chapter will not only attempt to draw a guideline for applying a theory of reading, but will also describe some major theories of reading.
1.2. Theories of reading
Since the 1970s, three approaches have been dominant in the history of English as a foreign language. These approaches are ?the bottom up' processing (also known as driven processing) (Gough, 1972; Rayner and Pollatsek, 1989), 'the top-down' data processing (also known as conceptually-driven processing) (Goodman, 1975; Smith, 1971) and 'the interactive' models (Rumelhard, 1977; Stanovich, 1980). In the bottom-up processing, learners use their linguistics ability to process a text, whereas in the top-down process, learners activate their background knowledge and reflect it on the text they read. The third approach entitled "interactive model" claims that a learner needs to combine the two processing mentioned above with a piece of reading text to grasp the utmost comprehension. In the top-down processing, learners use their prior knowledge to make predictions about the text. On the other hand, in the bottom-up processing, learners use their linguistic knowledge to recognize linguistic elements, such as words, sentences, semantics, etc. to do the construction of meaning. In practice, learners mostly adopt a top-down approach to predict the probable theme, and from there they move to the bottom-up approach to check their understanding. It is obvious that efficient readers can 'switch' styles according to the type of text they read.
One of the major factors in relation to reading is the Schema Theory, which Bartlett (1932) first used to explain how the knowledge that we already know about the world is organized based upon our previous knowledge and experience. This theory, which will be discussed in the following chapter in a more detailed way, takes our idea of the interactive reading process a stage further by proposing that efficient readers relate texts to their background knowledge of the world.
1.2.1. Bottom-up models: the traditional view
Bottom-up models argue that readers construct texts from the smallest to the largest units, like letters, words, phrases, clauses, sentences, texts as well as grammatical knowledge. In other words, bottom-up process refers to deriving the meaning of the text based on the incoming language data, from sounds, words, grammatical relationships, to meaning. Firstly, the reader is expected to become familiar with the words. Secondly, s/he is expected to get the meaning intended by the writer by combining the words that the reader recognized earlier.
Readers use top-down process when prior knowledge is used to understand the meaning of a text. Content words and contextual clues are used to form hypotheses for comprehension. On the other hand, readers as well use bottom-up process when they use linguistic knowledge to b understand the meaning of a text, which occurs in this way: meaning from lower level such as sounds, words, grammatical relationships to lexical meanings are built to reach at the final comprehension. Reading comprehension can be considered as an interactive process which requires both top-down and bottom-up processing, that is to say that readers use both prior knowledge and linguistic knowledge in understanding. For example, if someone asks us, 'have you got a watch?' and if we only employ the bottom-up process, and try to decode each individual word, then we may face a misunderstanding because of the missing top-down process. In the given example, the speaker asks the other person to tell him/her the time in fact.
According to Grabe and Stoller (2002), there is a mechanical pattern that the reader goes through by creating a piece-by-piece mental translation of the information in the text in which the interaction between the text and the reader contains little or no inference from the reader's own background knowledge. Anderson (1999) stresses that the reader is supposed to recognize letters at first, then recognize the words, and in the end get the meaning intended by the writer by combining the words the reader recognized earlier in this piece-by-piece mental translation process. Shortly, the bottom-up process of reading can be as a serial model where the reader begins with the printed word, recognizes graphics stimuli, decodes them to sounds, recognizes words, and decodes meaning (Paran, 1996; Alderson, 2000).
Barnett (1988:11) distinguishes the bottom-up process from the top-down process as following:
* Letters and characters
* The phonological component (letter and sound correspondences)
* Individual words
* The lexicon or vocabulary (words carrying meaning)
* Semantics (meaningful groups of words)
* Syntax or grammar (words functioning in relation to each other)
* Structure of sentences, paragraphs and the whole text.
Which elements of a written discourse are processed first determines the difference between bottom-up and top-down process. Jeremy Harmer (2001) describes this as: ''In metaphorical terms, this can be linked to the difference between looking down on something from above –getting an overview– and, on the contrary, being in the middle of something and understanding where we are by concentrating on all the individual features. It is the difference between looking at a forest, or studying individual trees in it.''(Harmer, 2001:201)
The reader reaches at understanding, in bottom-up reading, first, by putting different text elements together; that is, letters and words until a chunk of data is created (decoding stage). Just after the decoding stage, s/he goes through a stage of comprehension which transfers previous articulatory and phonological data into meaning. Bottom-up model of reading is characterized by a linear process of joining lower-level text items and gradually adding them together until a meaningful chunk of data is created (Samuels and Kamil in Barnett, 1988). A typical weak reader, when the texts are beyond her/his comprehension skills, operates the bottom-up decoding process as s/he is unable to draw meaning immediately. What some theorists believe is that bottom-up processing makes emphasis on how readers extract information from the printed page and letters and words are dealt with in a relatively complete and systematic fashion (Gough, 1972).
1.2.2. Top-down models: the cognitive view
In top-down processing, learners use their prior knowledge to make predictions about the text. Teachers, mostly, assume that when students hear (or read) every sound, word or sentence, they make out the general meaning of the passage. Nevertheless, in practice, they often take on a top-down approach to guess the probable theme and from there, they move on the bottom-up approach to check their understanding.
This process is called "conceptually driven" as it occurs when the system makes general predictions based on higher level, general schemata, and then looks for the input for the information to fit into these partially satisfied, higher order schemata. Considering the information mentioned above, it is possible to say that it is easier for students to comprehend the passage if students have background knowledge about it. It is believed that when students are familiar with the topic, then they are able to process it much better. Otherwise, if students have difficulties with it, then it is the teacher's job to help them with stimulating their schemata by some pre-reading activities. A top-down reading model can be described as a complete contradiction of a bottom-up model. Goodman (1970) calls the model "a psycholinguistic guessing game", which is quite exact that the reader does not immediately concentrate on the elements of text, but makes predictions about the meaning based on his/her knowledge of syntax and semantics. Goodman differentiates between four stages of top-down processing as seen following:
• predicting about grammar and meaning
• sampling the text to check whether the predictions are correct
Grabe and Stoller (2002) point out that reading is mainly directed by the readers' expectations and goals, that is why top-down models identify the reader as somebody who has expectations about the text information and grasps enough information from the text to confirm or reject these expectations.
Eskey (1988), however, emphasises the limitations of the top down model, pointing out that this model is dependent on the prediction of meaning (by using context clues) and combining contextual clues with background knowledge, so this model is only useful with skillful and fluent readers and does not work well with less proficient readers.
In short, readers principally need to train their higher order reading skills, i.e. improving predicting or guessing abilities, guessing meanings of words (by referring to the text), guessing topics of texts (by referring titles), skimming, scanning, critical reading, etc.
1.2.3. Interactive models
In interactive models, developed by the theorists as a new approach after the criticism against bottom-up and top-down models, readers are usually expected to go through both bottom-up and top-down processing before eventually settling upon an interpretation of a text. In other words, interactive models involve both a collection of lower-level comprehension skills and an array of higher-level comprehension skills. In interactive approaches, readers get to train their bottom-up processing skills and top-down processing skills at the same time. Readers should be fast in order to recognize the letters in interactive models, just like what the readers do in top-down models when they skim a text for the main idea.
According to Barnett (1989:26), "bottom-up models do not allow for higher-level processing stages to influence lower-level processing". Simultaneously, "top-down models do not account for the situation in which a reader has little knowledge of a text topic, therefore, cannot form predictions". That is why Day and Bamford (1988:12) define reading as a process which starts with "the automatic, lightning-like recognition of words" and then involves reasoning, knowledge of the world, and knowledge of the topic.
Rumelhart (1989) was the first scholar to develop interactive reading model. In this theory, the following terms are important:
VIS (visual information store) – a place in one's mind where all the words and their corresponding spelling are kept.
Feature extraction device – a mental device that is used for the recognition of distinctive traits of words kept in VIS.
Pattern synthesizer – a mental device that interprets the previous knowledge about the language spelling patterns, syntax, vocabulary, semantics and context.
According to Rumelhart (1989), interactive process of reading begins with the reader, looking at the items kept in VIS. The next stage is that, to be able to extract characteristic features of words stored in VIS and to place them in the pattern synthesizer, the feature extraction is employed. In the last stage, the pattern synthesizer, we arrive at meaning by processing syntactic, semantic, orthographic, and lexical knowledge. What is important here is that the pattern synthesizer handles all the knowledge sources simultaneously. The interpretation becomes more dependent on other sources when/if any of the sources are not sufficiently developed.
Chapter II: An introduction to 'schema theory'
Learners' background knowledge has greatly been taking attention in recent theories of second language acquisition, and schemata theory, which is one of the significant theories of learning, has been the subject of considerable studies because of its impact on perception and memory. Many researchers currently acknowledge the importance of background knowledge, i.e. schematic knowledge, in foreign/second language teaching. This theory has a number of definitions and has three types: content schemata, formal schemata, and cultural schemata. The three types are all very closely bound to learners' reading as well as to their listening comprehension (in gaining the L2).
2.2. what is a schema?
A schema (plural schemata) is a hypothetical mental structure for representing generic concepts that are stored in memory. It is a kind of plan, framework or script. We start to make generalizations around the notion expressed by using our experiences to develop an abstracted, generic set of expectations about what we will encounter for that particular notion. For instance, when a student tells a story about a lesson in a school, s/he does not necessarily add all the details about taking the school bus to the school, attending the class on time, being seated, greeting the teacher, doing the activities etc., since our schema for a lesson experience can fill in these missing details. Schemata can be defined as the organized background knowledge, which leads us make expectations or predictions within our interpretation.
According to Brewer (1999), Bartlett developed and proposed the schema notion in 1920s, whereas; the idea gained its importance with the developments in cognitive psychology and cognitive science in the 1970s and 1980s. The reason why there was a 50 years-gap was that; unluckily for Bartlett, he proposed his new form of mental representation during the period when behaviourism was the dominant intellectual framework in psychology, and the mental entities which are a core component of the behaviourist framework were excluded from scientific psychology. Despite the fact that Bartlett gathered very much of his care on human memory during World War I, in the early 1920s he became frustrated by his inability to work out a theoretical account of his data, and he eventually destroyed the chapters for a book which was describing his research on memory. Nevertheless, he spent much time interacting with Herry Head, a neurologist, and his reports on the discussions with him led to the construction of the schema notion in the early 1920s. In the end, in 1932, Remembering, his famous book, was published, in which the idea of schema was suggested the first time on a written material.
Bartlett (1932) posited that people's expectations and prior knowledge shape their understanding and remembrance, and these expectations are mentally presented in some kind of schematic organization. Similarly, Rumelhart (1980) defines schema as follows:
"All knowledge is packed into units. These units are the schemata. Embedded in these packets of knowledge is, in addition to knowledge itself, information about how this knowledge is to be used. A schema, then, is a data structure for representing the generic concepts stored in memory."
Pritchard (1990) states that schemata can be defined as our theories on the way things are, or as representations of one's background experiences, and it is obvious that the culture one lives in influences schemata. Moreover, Yekovich and Walker (1990) call a schema as scripted knowledge, whereas; Poplin (1988) names it as the spiral of knowledge. Zhu (1997) simply defines it as background information and background knowledge.
According to Yule (1985) it is people who make sense of what they read and hear and the concept of coherence is not something existing in the language, but something which is existing in people. They try to get to the point of interpretation which goes hand in hand with their knowledge of the world, i.e., experience of the way the world is. Actually, it is argued that our ability of making sense of what we perceive or experience in the world is probably bigger than the ability of the general ability towards sensing of what we read or hear.
For Cook (1989), "the mind stimulated by key words or phrases in the text or by the context that activates a knowledge schema." What Cook tries to imply here is that we do not necessarily deal with conscious process, but rather with automatic cognitive responses given to external stimuli. Schemata are activated in one of two following ways according to this view:
• New information from the outside world can be cognitively received and related to already known information stored in memory through retrieval or remembering. In this case, new concepts are assimilated into existing schema which can be altered or expanded;
• New information can be represented new mental structures. In this case, in absence of already existing schemata, new knowledge builds up new schemata.
2.3. The schema theory
Considering the place of background knowledge in language comprehension has led to a formalisation of what is called schema theory. According to schema theory, a text can only lead directions for readers (or listeners), but how they ought to retrieve or build up meaning depends on the previously acquired knowledge. Clearly, this previously acquired knowledge is called background knowledge, and according to Bartlett (1932), Adams and Collins (1979), and Rumelhart (1980), the previously acquired knowledge structures are called schemata. Schema theory is the result of the search for making out the correlation between background knowledge and comprehension. This model tries to describe and help us to understand the process of cognition, and it puts a heavy emphasis on the importance of the learners' background knowledge within psycholinguistic model of reading. Goodman (1970) points out that, reading can be regarded as a psycholinguistic guessing game. In this model, the reader does not use all the information available for him/her, but only enough to select and predict a language structure which is decodable. To be able to do this, schema model (background information) becomes a vital factor. For instance, students having western background learn English in a faster way, rather than those without such background. This process that Goodman (1970) suggested can be viewed in the figure below.
As it is seen in the figure, schema theory can be regarded as a model that claims comprehending a text goes through an interactive process between the readers' background knowledge and the text itself.
Widdowson(1983) expresses that as follows;
''They (people) reflect the experiences, conceptual understanding, attitudes, values, skills, and strategies... (We) bring to a text situation''. Therefore, schemata have been called 'the building blocks of cognition'. (Rumelhart, 1980).
Schema theory, which is a technical term used by cognitive scientists to describe how people process, organize, and store information in their heads, is based on the notion that 'every act of comprehension involves one's knowledge of the world' (Anderson, 1977).
Similar to Anderson, Smith (1994) underlines:
'Everything we know and believe is organised in a theory of what the world is like, a theory that is basis of all our perceptions and understanding of the world, the root of all learning, the source of hopes and fears, motive and expectations, reasoning and creativity. And this theory is all we have. If we make sense of the world at all, it is by interpreting our interactions with the world in the light of our theory. The theory is our shield against bewilderment'.
2.4. Schema types
Despite the fact that there is no single categorisation for schema, many reading researchers in general, subcategorise it, namely, linguistic schemata, formal schemata and content schemata and in order to figure out the affect of background knowledge on reading comprehension.
2.4.1. Linguistic schemata
As is known, linguistic knowledge has one of the essential parts in text comprehension, and basically linguistic schemata refer to readers' current language proficiency in grammar, vocabulary and idioms, etc. It becomes almost impossible for the reader to decode and comprehend a text without linguistic schemata. It is clear that the more linguistic schemata a reader stores in his/her mind, the quicker the reader acquires information and may have better understanding.
2.4.2. Formal schemata
Formal schemata refer to the rhetorical structures and organizational structures of written texts, which include knowledge of different text types and genres, as well as the knowledge that different types of text use text organization, vocabulary, grammar, level of formality and language structures differently. Readers activate their schematic representations towards the text, like fictions, poems, newspaper articles, academic articles, essays, and journals to aid them in comprehending the information in the text. The results of studies demonstrate that, knowing what type or genre of text is may facilitate reading comprehension, as the type of the text will offer detailed evidence of the content of the text. Carrell (1984) states that the formal schemata offer less power, compared with the linguistic and content schemata in the reading process.
2.4.3. Content schemata
Content schemata refer to the background knowledge of the content area of the text, or the topic in question in the text that a reader may bring to a text, such as knowledge about the world, the universe, people and culture. Languages should not be regarded as only a simple mixture of vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure, but they also carry different levels of the culture of the language. Learners understand texts by predicting, choosing information and removing ambiguities since content schemata, to some extent, can fill in the gap of linguistic schemata. According to Carrell and Eisterhold (1983), through textual cues, appropriate content schema can be accessed. In 2000, Alderson adds that to be able to understand a passage, readers need to have knowledge about the content of it.
The results of many studies demonstrate that it is readers' content schemata that have a greater impact on their readering comprehension rather than formal schemata. Besides, the familiarity of the topic is another important factor influencing directly the readers' comprehension that is to say, if the reader knows more about the topic, then s/he will more easily and quickly get the information of the text.
Chapter III: Application of schema theory to l2 reading
Considering the previously stated ideas and views, it is clear that it is the teacher's job to trigger and build students' schemata to teach reading in an effective way. At this point, teachers need to choose reading texts that are not irrelevant to the students' culture, needs, preferences, knowledge of the world or experiences so that the students can better comprehend the message stimulating and/or building on their existing schemata.
It is obvious that the reading materials can be understood much better if/when the students' background knowledge is activated. Besides, by activating their background knowledge, students can get attracted to read more materials; and the more they read, the more they get interested in reading.
It is highly recommended that if a teacher would like to activate the students' background knowledge effectively, s/he has to do the following three stages of activities, which are pre-reading, during reading, and post reading activities. The following titles examine the stages in a more detailed way.
3.1. Pre-reading activities
Pre-reading activities can be defined as the activities that are used with the students prior to the actual reading material. These activities aim to provide students with required background knowledge that will be needed to have a better comprehension when they interact with a passage. Pre-reading activities are also useful for setting up a purpose for reading. That is why they can be considered as vital activities that should be done as the learner's schema should be activated to prevent any failure in comprehending a piece of written-text. Through the use of the pre-reading activities, students get familiar with the topic, vocabulary, or complex structures in the passage.
The effectiveness of pre-reading activities can specially be seen on providing the motivation for reading, as well as on teaching cultural key concepts. According to Chastain (1988), pre-reading activities are important factors in motivating the readers to read the text, and when they have motivation, then they are prepared for the reading activity. Moreover, they can finish the activity better without spending too much effort and are more willing to take a part in the activity as they have gained confidence. Lewin (1984) suggests that language teachers should hearten learners to make evaluations on what they read. To facilitate this, pre-reading activities may help the teacher. It is the teacher's job to provide the students with some background knowledge, if the students do not have enough background knowledge. It is believed that stimulating readers to have prior knowledge about the topic may raise comprehension. (Carrell and Eisterbold, 1983; Grabe, 1991; Ur, 1996). In addition, Ur (1996) believes that tasks make the activity more interesting, let the students have a purpose in reading, and give the teacher a chance to see how well the text can be understood with the help of the tasks given before/after reading. In pre-reading activities, the teacher should get students think, write, and discuss everything they possibly know about the topic, applying techniques like semantic mapping, prediction, previewing, brain showering, etc. The goal of these activities is to have an idea whether or not students own the relevant schema for comprehending the text fully.
3.2. While (during) reading activities:
The while (during) phase of a reading lesson is quite important, because 'while reading' exercises aid students in developing reading strategies, as well as improving their control of the second language by decoding problematic text passages. Doing this may be difficult for the teacher as individual students control and need different strategies. However, the teacher can point out useful strategies, explain which strategies individuals mostly need to practice, and suggest useful exercises in the form of 'guided reading' activity sheets. Such exercises may consist of guessing word meaning by using contextual clues, word formation clues, or cognate practice like considering syntax and sentence structure (by noting the grammatical functions of unknown words, analyzing reference words, predicting text content, reading for specific pieces of information, and even learning to use the dictionary effectively).
The aim of the while-reading stage (or interactive process) is to develop the students' ability to confront texts by developing their linguistic and schematic knowledge. Hedge (2003) makes an argument that despite the fact that some oppose the interactive activities carried during the while-reading phase, there are only a few research studies that show the effects of intervention and their outcomes. Unlike Hedge, Paran (1996) states that second language readers are ''less reliant on top-down processing'' due to modern interactive reading models and enable them to achieve ''greater reliance on bottom-up strategies as they become more proficient'' (p.29).
It is quite obvious that teachers should use a balanced approach to teaching reading involving both top-down and bottom-up processes in choosing the reading text. The main idea of this phase is to encourage students to be active as they read by providing different class activities, such as following information it contains, confirming expectations, or predicting the text from clues. The while reading activities can include scanning, skimming, identifying the main idea (topic sentences or themes), distinguishing between general and specific ideas, recognizing connecting ideas (connectors), and recognizing lexical clues (eg. reference words) etc. Generally, while-reading activities start with an overall understanding of the text, and then move to smaller units like words, sentences, or paragraphs, which is a 'top-down reading modelling' that develops the students' reading strategies, such as skimming for gist, scanning for details, and guessing words (according to the context). According to Brown (2001), the most valuable reading strategies are skimming and scanning. The reader can predict the purpose of the passage through skimming. Similarly, Alderson (2000) considers skimming as a metacognitive skill that is used by good readers. Bachman and Cohen (1998) and Flower and Peacock (2001) argue that skimming should be used to read for general understanding.
In the following section, activities that can be used by the language teacher during while-reading phase are listed:
-"Wh" type questions
-Tables or charts to complete
3.3. Post reading activities
In this phase, the teacher gives importance to how students apply the strategies emphasized in the pre-reading and during reading phases. The teacher may also test the students' understanding of what they have already read, as well as applying and using the information they have gained.
According to Chastain (1988), post-reading activities support readers by clarifying an unclear meaning in which the focus is not on the grammatical or lexical aspects but on the meaning itself. Ur (1996) considers summarising as a type of post-reading activity in which the readers are required to summarize the content in one or two sentences. Karakas (2002) declares that using activities like summarising, question and answer type of activities, and drawing conclusions, readers can comprehend the text.
Post-reading activities give the teacher a chance to judge and check the students' comprehension, clarify their understanding, which results in having comprehension beyond the literal level to the interpretive and critical levels. Thinking aloud, discussion, and summarising are useful post-reading activities along with new endings, re-enacting text; dramatizing interviews based upon the text, and creating role play situations, etc.
Despite the fact that schema activation and developing may happen in the all three stages, the pre-reading stage is the golden one since the students' first contact with the reading text occurs in the pre-reading stage, in which their schemata should be stimulated. Thus, the following title underlines the significance of pre-reading activities.
3.4. The significance of pre-reading activities in reading comprehension
In reading classes, a common problem that students face is the feeling that they know almost nothing about the subject they read about. In such cases, teachers need to ask themselves some questions about why their students have hard times at comprehending the overall idea of a piece of written work. There may be several underlying reasons for students' having difficulty in comprehending the general idea of a piece of work. First, the text may be too complex for certain level of a reader. Second, the text may not be interesting or motivating. Third, readers may have negative attitudes towards reading. Fourth, the type of text can be regarded as another factor that affects the reading comprehension. It is not possible to expect a reader to have a total comprehension if the text is culturally unfamiliar. There are many other factors to be added here, but in this study, only the major factors that affect reading comprehension deeply will be included. Recent studies demonstrate that prior knowledge or more technically 'schema (plural: schemata)' plays a determinative role in reading comprehension. In such a case, it becomes very essential to activate the reader's schema if s/he lacks knowledge in a particular topic s/he is supposed to read about. Considering these, the pre-reading activities naturally gain a great importance, as it is the first phase of a reading lesson and plays a crucial role in activating a reader's existing schema or backing up the background knowledge. It is obvious that in most cases, the problem may not only be the lack of background knowledge, but rather not being able to achieve to activate that knowledge. Pre-reading activities, which are based upon schema theory, may be the cure to this problem, because pre-reading activities, if done effectively and efficiently, can build up background information, and they can elicit prior-knowledge. Moreover, it is believed that the pre-reading activities can motivate learners to read, enhance and promote their reading comprehension. Pre-reading activities are considered to prepare the student not only to have a reason to read but also to prepare them to involve cognitive engagement with previews and ideas which are essential to comprehension (of the reading material). The teacher's role here is to stimulate the students' background knowledge, as well as bringing students prior knowledge into light in a pre-reading session.
Ur (1996) stresses the importance of pre-reading activities as to provide anticipation and to activate the reader's schema. The reason why these activities are included is to build a better self-awareness between the relationship of the reader's meaning and the author's meaning, and to facilitate the readers' understanding the teacher's expectations and views. Ringler and Weber (1984) additionally make an argument that pre-reading activities help in eliciting prior knowledge, establishing knowledge and serving to focus attention. Wallace (1992) notes that in order to reach satisfactory interpretation of the text, second language readers need to operate on appropriate schematic knowledge. He adds that reading might be considered in the light of schema theory, as a comprehension or understanding process in which pre-reading stage is involved.
It is argued that background knowledge can be provided in the pre-reading stage prior to reading, and prior to teaching, the teacher has an opportunity to make the lexical elements related with the topic of a text clear. This way, the teacher can activate the relevant schemata in the reader's mind. Pre-reading tasks also play a role in increasing interest in the reading phase. According to Taglieber, Johnson and Yarbough (1988), pre-reading activities are essential because they can be viewed as a motivational factor, because they establish a reason for reading.
Carrel and Floyd (1987) point out the importance of pre-reading activities mentioning that the ESL teacher must arouse and/or provide the students' background knowledge s/he lacks, and also needs to teach the students how to have a link between existing knowledge and new knowledge, which is required for text comprehension. The link can be established through pre-reading activities.
Another reason why pre-reading activities must be done and not to be disregarded is that pre-reading tasks focus on getting the reader ready for probable linguistic difficulties, and paying attention to cultural or conceptual difficulties. To create confidence among the learners, background knowledge, in regards to the target text, needs to be activated. This can be established through pre-reading activities which prepare the students for the reading task and get them familiarized with the topic of the reading exercise. Moreover, pre-reading activities assist the students in creating expectations and stimulate their interest for the reading material.
Harmer (1991) specifies this by saying:
"We will not get students to interact properly with spoken or written materials unless we ensure that their desire to read (or listen) has been awakened. Especially, where the subject matter of the texts may not be immediately appealing to them, we have the responsibility to make students interested and to encourage them to tackle the text with positive anticipation".
Zhang (1993) summarized that "comprehension is facilitated by explicitly introducing schemata through pre-reading activities", so the pre-reading activities are very important in activating the relevant schema. Most teachers claim that there is not enough time for the pre-reading procedure, so most of them tend to neglect them which lead to having demotivated students for reading.
Similar to Zhang, Abraham (2002) emphasizes that teachers need to give importance to pre-reading activities to activate the students' 'schema' by helping students recognize the knowledge that they already have about the topic of a text. This can be achieved by the discussions of titles, subtitles, photograph, identifying text structure, previewing, etc.
To summarise, the pre-reading stage helps and prepares to make the next stages of reading become more easily adoptable for the student. More skills start to develop as the reader progresses along the reading stages. Hence, this stage (pre-reading) is crucial to familiarise students to any new material that they do not know, to set off background-knowledge (schema) for previous knowledge of a topic and help motivating students. Besides, the task (while-reading) may become progressively less enjoyable and become more difficult without the pre-reading stage, which may lead to the reader's facing with complication and eventually giving up reading. Additionally, from the schema theory point of view, comprehension of a reading text occurs when the interaction between the readers' existing knowledge meet the content of reading. This is the reason why students are required to be provided with relevant background knowledge in advance, and in a reading lesson, that is, simply the pre-reading phase.
Being aware of how important reading is for the students, we can realise the significance of the need for developing their reading skill in the L2 context. To be successful in this goal, we, as language teachers, must improve our reading courses by implementing the best and possible methods and techniques suggested by theories and models, like 'top-down', 'bottom-up' and the mixture of the two (interactive) processings. Besides the reading models, theories and techniques, the teachers of English as a foreign language should also be inspirited by the schema theory to have richer and effective reading courses. Comprehending a text does not simply mean decoding what is written. Yet, the reader visits some previously learnt experiences to be able to entirely understand a text, which is quite essential for a true comprehension. Students will possibly have a poor comprehension if they do not have sufficient background knowledge; thus, it is a must to prepare students what they are going to read about before they look at the text. Otherwise, we, language teachers, cannot expect our students to be successful readers in the L2 reading class. By the aid of these key aspects in reading, we can have students who manage to read English texts much more effectively, rather than having students who approach texts in a painful way, rather slow word by word manner, which is quite frustrating. In short, it is crucial to emphasise not only the linguistic aspects in the target language reading, but also the psychological aspects.
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|Hasan Bilokcuoglu, B.A. the European University of Lefke & M.A the European University of Lefke, and PhD in ELT in progress, is currently working at the European University of Lefke, Cyprus. He is deeply interested in the applications of the schemata theory on reading comprehension. Additionally, he is interested in the effects of cultural schemata and reading comprehension, and English for Specific Purposes. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
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