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Enhancing Reading Skill Essay Sample

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Enhancing Reading Skill Essay Sample

  1. Background Information

The era in which we are living in has been described as the information age ( Komenar, 1997). A predominant characteristic of this age is the speed with which information is created, processed, stored or retrieved. To say that we are inundated with information, often well beyond what we can comfortably take in, is to say the obvious. This development has made reading, an essential skill set to acquire. Reading is one of the means by which information is assimilated.

Reading itself is done for several reasons or with different purposes in mind. According to Catherine Walter (2003) reading can be in the form of skimming (read for gist), scanning (read for specific information), for pleasure, for learning and for gaining general understanding. For reading to be profitable in this era, one needs to acquire the needed skills in not just assimilating information, but more importantly, in doing so speedily. Several strategies and skills sets exist, which when learnt enable the reader to master the art of reading.

Strategy, as it relates to reading, has been defined as a plan developed by a reader to assist in comprehending and thinking about texts, when reading the words alone does not give the reader a sense of the meaning of the text . It has established that there are seven core strategies for comprehending any given reading material. These are (a) activating background knowledge to make connections between new and known information (b) questioning the text as one plows through a given reading material (c) drawing relevant inferences (d) creating images of what one’s is reading about (e) repairing understanding when meaning breaks down and (f) synthesizing information.

It is estimated that there are now over One billion people online (Businessweek, 2005). A

number of class exercises requires the use of the internet. The internet now constitutes an integral part of the lives of many people including readers. A good number of reading materials are read solely from online. It is foolhardy to assume that strategies employed in reading materials from a hardcover material are equally applicable to the reader in the online environment. According to Anderson (2003) despite the increasing role this medium play in the lives of readers , very little research has been carried out to find out the strategies online readers employ to get by. Further more, he pointed out that research that pertains to online reading is one area which has not been integrated into other areas of research investigations.

To this end, he advocated for more research into finding out the reading rates of online readers. Also, he called for the gathering of reading strategy data from the same readers in the online reading contexts as well as in hard copy contexts. This study therefore seeks to contribute to filling the knowledge gaps in the areas advocated for by Anderson (2003). The importance of this study lies in the fact that the integration of the internet into the teaching and learning of reading is just beginning. It can therefore be expected that in future greater portion of reading would take place online. Already electronic books have been developed and their use is growing by day

  1. Literature Review

This review covers reading as a subject generally and also in L 2 environment. It further considers the various models of reading and the schema theory. It also takes a look

at reading strategies indepthly. It outlines and classifies the various strategies in use. Specifically, it reviews strategies for reading, pre-reading , while reading and post-reading. It also delves into the strategies good readers use to get by. It also  assesses the subject of reading from the perspective of the teacher and considers  the difficulties encountered in strategy training and teaching reading strategies. It concludes by examining teaching strategies separately and in combination with strategy instructions.

  • Reading

 Reading as a subject has been defined in several ways by different persons or organizations. WordNet (2006) has defined reading in seven distinct ways. Two of the definitions relevant to our subject matter are given below:-

  • Reading is the “ cognitive process of understanding a written linguistic message”
  • Reading is a “ mental representation of the meaning or significance of something”

The Encyclopedia (2006), on the other hand, defines reading as the “process of mentally interpreting written symbols. According to the Encyclopedia, an adult reader can read and understand between 200 to 1000 words per minute. Catherine Walter (2003), on the other hand, has given 300 words per minute as the optimal rate for processing prose.

She added that for fluent adult readers, this rate is constant, regardless of whether the text was difficult or not.  Generally for young readers, the ability of one to read often depends on the rate of fixation of one’s eye on the words being read and also the difficulty of the material being. Reading is a core subject given greater emphasis in most schools throughout the world. One’s ability to master the skill of reading to a large extent determines how far one can climb the academic ladder.

  • Models of Reading

Treiman (2001) has reviewed the processes involved in reading and learning to read. According to her, two kinds (models) of processing are distinguishable in reading. These are the bottom-up processes and the Top-down processes. The former involves those that take in stimuli from the outside world in the form of letters and words for reading.

Adherents of this theory (bottom up processing) focus on how readers extract information from the printed page. Whereas with the latter, the uptake of information is guided by an individual’s prior knowledge and expectations. Proponents of this theory posit that readers form hypothesis about which words they would encounter and take in only enough visual information to test their hypothesis.  Acceptance

 or rejection of a given text is based primarily on what their formed hypothesis is all about. If the formed hypothesis is consistent with what has been read the material is readily accepted. On the other hand, if the read material is not in congruent, the material may be rejected. In practice, she added that, both processes (bottom-up and top-down) are tapped into to facilitate accurate and rapid processing of information.

  • Schema theory

Piaget is credited for having coined the word, Schema but the theory that under girds the word was developed by R. C. Anderson (Sil, 2006).Schema theory, according to Sil (2006), is a learning theory that views organized knowledge as an elaborate network of abstract mental structures which is representative of one’s understanding of the world.  Thus, the more complex one’s abstract mental structures, the deeper that person’s schema is. Conversely, the narrower one’s perception of the world, the shallower is his schema. On the basis of this understanding, some educators emphasize that students need to be taught general knowledge and generic concepts to deepen their perception of the world in which they live in and by so doing broaden their schema.

Sil (2006) has pointed out that a large proportion of learner’s difficulty can be traced to insufficient general knowledge, especially in cross-cultural situations. There are other proponents to this viewpoint, who consider specialized knowledge a better option to generalized knowledge.  It is now easier to acquire generalized knowledge, thanks to the internet, search engines and other technologies that have enabled information to be easily developed, retrieved, processed and stored. Specific ways and means by which one’s schemata can be developed include participation in discussions, role plays

  • Reading in second language (L2)

Studies undertaken by Schoonen, Hulstijn and Bosser (1998) on Dutch learners of the English language revealed that as proficiency grew, metacognitive knowledge contributed to a greater extent to reading comprehension skill acquisition. They further added that knowledge of textual characteristics and reading strategies played greater role in supporting the comprehension gained from reading. Thanks to the pioneering work of Sheory and Mokhtari (2001), it is now possible to measure the metacognitive reading strategies of L2 readers assigned academic materials to read. They called their tool the “Survey of Reading Strategies” (SORS).

In one of their studies, they assessed the differences in reading strategies between native speakers (US) and non-native speakers of English. The study revealed that ESL students reported a higher usage of strategies to get by than their US counterparts. Also, the ESL students reported using a greater number of supportive reading strategies. As an entire group, however, the study showed no significant gender differences. On the other hand, the female ESL students admitted using the strategy of underlining information in the text more their male colleagues (ESL students).

Interestingly, students who gave themselves higher scores for reading ability also reported using a higher frequency of reading strategies than those readers who gave themselves a lower rating. Can we take this particular finding as an actualization of self-confession or one of self-confidence in one’s reading abilities or simply a matter of one not knowing what he is capable of.Catherine Walter (2003) has pointed out that less skilled L2 readers do not necessarily have fewer strategies than skilled readers, but that they are less able to choose the most appropriate strategy for the problem at hand.

On the basis of this knowledge, this author counseled teachers to help learners become aware of the strategies they use sometimes unknowingly when reading as well as other strategies available to them and how these strategies can be used selectively. From this account, we can learn that the problem with L2 readers are not so much about the lack of knowledge of reading strategies  but more importantly the ability to apply the most appropriate reading strategy for a given problem or situation.

Reading itself is known to influence greatly one’s writing skill acquisition.  According to Catherine Walter (2003) several studies involving L2 students have confirmed that those of them who engaged in extensive reading over a period of time showed significantly more improvement in L2 writing skills than the control groups, who did not practice extensive reading of any kind. She attributed this effect to the unconscious acquisition of the rhetorical conventions of L2 written genres.

  • Reading Strategies and Skills

Readers described as good adopt these five strategies when reading a material. First, they change their reading speed depending on the difficulty of the material they are handling. Secondly, they show a greater tendency to re-read the material, especially when the reading material is considered “hard”. Thirdly, good readers set for themselves a definite purpose fro reading a given material.

This approach enables them to stay focused and also to pawn the wheat from the chaff. Fourthly, they ask themselves questions as they read the material. This strategy enables them to look for definite answers from the given text. Furthermore, it also increases their concentration and ability to draw meaning from the material read. This methodology also enables them to make personal connections to what are being read and their own stock of knowledge. Fifthly, good readers are also good visualisers. They endeavour to visualize what the author is seeking to convey to them from the reading material.

What separates good or successful readers from the poor ones often lies in the ability of the former to solve problems that relate to (a) difficult words (b) distractions (c) disagreements with the author (d) nervousness (e) lack of prior knowledge of the subject matter being read and (f) lack of definite purpose.

With regards to difficult words, good readers try to re-read the previous sentence before them or try to substitute them to gain comprehension. Another means they employ to overcome difficult vocabulary is to write it down and find its meaning, as writing itself is a good way for recalling information read.

Anderson (1991) has examined individual differences in the use of strategy by adult second language learners, while engaged in two reading tasks. These tasks were taking a standardized reading and comprehension test and reading academic text.

The internet has become part and parcel of the daily lives of many persons including L2 readers. A great deal of reading materials gets assimilated from the online terrain.

Recognizing the increasing importance this information and communication medium plays in the lives of L2 readers, Anderson (2003) carried out a study to find out (a) the online reading strategies employed by second language readers and (b) whether online reading strategies of English as a second language readers (ESL) differ from English as a foreign language readers (EFL). He found the under listed as the top twelve reading strategies most widely used. Of these strategies, eight (67 percent) were problem-solving ones, whilst the other four (33 percent) were global reading strategies.

  • I try to get back on track when I lose concentration (problem-solving strategy
  • When on-line text becomes difficult, I re-read it to increase my understanding (problem-solving strategy)
  • When on-line text becomes difficult, I pay closer attention to what I am reading (problem-solving strategy).
  • I read slowly and carefully to make sure I understand what I am reading online(problem-solving strategy)
  • When I read online, I guess the meaning of unknown words or phrases (problem-solving strategy)
  • I try to guess what the content of the online text is about when I read (Global strategy
  • I think about what I know to help me understand what I read online (Global strategy
  • I can distinguish between fact and opinion in online texts (Problem-solving strategy
  • I try to picture or visualize information to help me remember what I read online (Problem-solving strategy)
  • When reading online, I decide what to read closely and what to ignore(Global strategy)
  • I adjust my reading online (Problem-solving strategy
  • I scan the online text to get a basic idea of whether it will serve my purposes before choosing to read it (Global strategy

This research worker also found that the only significant difference between EFL and ESL readers were in the use of problem-solving strategies. The former group reported a higher use of problem-solving strategies than their counterparts. The predominant reason assigned to these findings was that the differences between ERL and ESL learning environs were diminishing with the advent of the internet, the increased use of

Radio, television and other information and communication technologies.

  • Strategies for Reading

According to Anderson (2003) reading strategies are “conscious” actions that learners take to improve their language learning. These strategies are either observable like a student taking notes during a lecture session or are mentally conceived. He further pointed out that because strategies are conscious to the L2 reader; their selection and use are very much controlled by him. This author also added that strategies are related to each other and therefore should be viewed as a process and not a singular and isolated action.

  • Pre-reading strategies

What a reader brings to the printed page or computer screen to a large extent determines the understanding he gains. It is therefore extremely important for a reader to organize himself before he reads. The knowledge an individual reader already possess can be activated through specific activities such as brainstorming with oneself, mind or concept mapping, the use of pre-questions and visual aids.

In brainstorming, the reader examines the title of the reading material chosen or given and lists all the information that comes to mind about it. These pieces of information are then used to recall and understand the material. In practice, it may not be possible to write this information down on paper, but that does not prevent the reader from doing so in the mind.

This is where the use of concept or mind mapping comes to the fore. With the mind, the reader can place the title or subject under consideration as the principal idea and build a “mind map” around it. A teacher can use cover illustration if there is one to prepare his students for a given reading assignment (bnkst, 20006). Where illustrative information is not available, use can be made of a brief summary of the book.

With the use of pre-questions, the reader can write a set of questions that he hopes to answer from the reading material. An added advantage of this strategy is that, it enables the reader to stay focused on the material and also fish out relevant information as he seeks to answer the questions.

Visual aids help greatly in recalling prior information as the eye comes into contact with visual materials, visual sensors are sent to the brain to determine whether the information has been encountered before in the life of the reader. When the recall affirms that indeed the information has been seen or read before, it builds further connection between the reader and the material being read.

Another pre-reading strategy readers can use is to have a definite purpose and goals for reading a given material. This strategy helps the reader to stay focused and also become more attentive.  Purposes can be developed through questions posed by the teacher, from class discussions or from the reader himself. Teachers can help their students in classroom based reading by providing them with overviews and vocabulary previews before they commence reading the assigned materials. Overviews given by the teacher can take the form of class discussions, printed overviews, outlines or the use of visual aids.

These materials help students to conceptualize what the assigned texts have in store for them before they reading them. Another approach, teachers can take to help their students profit from reading is by previewing key unfamiliar words with them. When word understanding is gained, it becomes easier for students to comprehend better the context in which these words occur or are used. Teachers can also help their student readers by specifically asking them to tell the class or the teacher alone what they know about the subject matter of the assigned reading material. Furthermore, teachers can also help their pupils determine reading methods based on the reading purpose or goal.

  • While-Reading Strategies

During reading, it is important for the reader to give his utmost attention to the reading assignment. This also means that distraction of any form should be removed. It is extremely difficult for a reader to benefit maximally from reading if he is distracted. It also needful for the reader to continuously check his own understanding of the material being read.

When the reader identifies that he is unable to comprehend what he is reading, it may be necessary to adopt a strategy which would help gain understanding. One of such strategy is re-reading the material. When this approach also fails to give desired result, it is necessary for the reader to stop and find a fixed-up strategy gain comprehension. In practice, this author has found that it is very unproductive to keep reading a given material when comprehension is totally absent or minimal.

Another strategy a reader can adopt during reading is to use semantic, syntactic and graphophonic cues to find meaning to unfamiliar words (Wou, 2006). By gaining understanding of key words from the reading material, the context in which such words are used  become  illuminated and in the process help the reader grasped meaning of the material being read.

Asking relevant questions during reading is another strategy readers can adopt. By asking questions while reading, the reader’s mind can stay focused and make his reading a profitable undertaking.

Synthesizing relevant information from a given material whilst reading is a yet another strategic tool readers can adopt. Writing has also been found to aid recall of prior knowledge. So by putting relevant ideas down in writing the reader enhances his rate of recall. It needs to be stressed however that such as a practice slows down the reading process.

Other means by which readers can profit from reading is by reflecting on what has been read and also by talking to themselves.  These reading strategies also assists in recalling materials read.

  • Post-Reading Strategies

If the reader sets himself a reading purpose or goal, the post- reading phase is the time to assess whether the goal was achieved or not. It is also the time to evaluate if understanding was gained from the reading done. If the set goal was achieved and understanding gained, the post-reading period is the time summarized major ideas and insights discovered. Summarizing ideas makes them easier to recall later in future.

Another post-reading strategy is to pawn the wheat of what has been read from the chaff. It is not all the ideas discovered that merit further attention, so the reader must be able to distinguish the relevant ideas from the irrelevant ones.

The former must be built upon, whereas the latter should be discarded. This period also offers an opportunity for the reader to seek for additional information outside the material read. In this wise, the understanding gained is used as a launching pad to gaining further knowledge. Thus, giving meaning to the saying “Like begat like”. The successful application of this strategy to a large extent depends on the experience, know-how and the judgment of the reader. With matured knowledge and judgment, this exercise can be done with greater accuracy even during the reading period.

  • Good reader Strategy use

What sets good readers apart from poor ones are the strategies they adopt before, during and after reading. Whereas poor readers start reading without giving forethought to the reading process and topic, good readers make a deliberate effort to build their own prior knowledge about the topic. They also show a greater tendency to set a specific purpose for their readings. In short, they do not read for reading sake.

Zimmermann and Hutchins (2003) have identified seven strategies used by good readers to unlock meaning from a given text. These are : (a) they create mental images and also become emotionally involved with what they read (b) They use their relevant prior knowledge before, during and after reading to enhance their understanding of what they have read (c) They ask relevant questions to clarify meaning and also pay particular attention to what is important (d)  they use prior knowledge to make inferences

(e) They identify key ideas or themes as they read (f) they also synthesis information and (g) they use fix-up strategies such as re-reading, skipping ahead, asking questions, using a dictionary and reading the passage aloud. These authors further pointed out that good readers use the same strategies whether they reading ‘soft’ material such as a magazine or a ‘hard’ text such as textbook.

Cunningham and Allington (1999) have  also given eleven strategies commonly employed by good readers. These are (a) they call up relevant background knowledge, (b) predict what would be learned as well as what possibly would happen, (c) they make mental images of what they are reading

  • Difficulties in Strategy training

  • Teaching reading Strategy

Ikeda (1999) reported that as a result of increasing use of computers in education, many computer-assisted learning tools and multimedia teaching materials have been developed and are being used. This research worker also pointed out that evaluation methods and standard for these materials and their educational effects have not been established.

  • Teaching strategies separately versus combined strategy instructions

  1. Conclusion

 

 

 

References

 

Anderson, N.J. (2001). Individual Differences in Strategy Use in Second Language,

Modern Language Journal, 75(4):460-472.

 

Anderson, .N.J. (2003). Scrolling, Clicking and Reading English: Online reading Strategies in a Second/foreign language, The Reading Matrix, 3(3):1-33.

Catherine Walter, H. (2003).  Guide to Good Practice for learning and teaching in Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies. Material retrieved on November, 30th, 2006 from www.llas.ac.uk/resources/directory/goodpractice.

Encyclopedia (2006). What is reading? Material retrieved on November, 30th, 2006 from www.answers.com/Encyclopedia/Reading.

Ikeda, N. (1999). Language learning strategies with sound-hints in computer-based drill, Journal of computer-assisted learning, 15(4):312.

Treiman, R. (2001). Reading, In: M. Aronoff and J. Rees-Miller (Eds), Blackwell Handbook of Linguistic (pp. 664-672). Oxford, England, Blackwell.

 

WordNet (2006). Definitions of Reading. Material retrieved on November, 30th, 2006 from www.answers.com/encyclopedia/what is reading.

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