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The importance of predicting and interacting
with texts in developing learners reading skills
by Malgorzata Bryndal
- 1

1. Introduction: the benefits of teaching and learning the skill of reading.

For most EFL learners reading in English is a daunting and demoralising task. They do not enjoy it, are often nervous about it and, if they can, avoid it outside the language classroom. As Stanley (2005) and Harmer (2001) point out such insecurities about reading in English are reinforced by the way reading is usually approached in the language classroom. The authentic purpose of reading is often submerged by the purpose of language improvement (1), moreover, traditional reading exercises tend to concentrate on the unfamiliar in the text rather than encourage the student to rely on what is familiar, which only adds to anxiety and negative expectations. There is then a confusion of aims: the students are not being taught reading and how to develop reading abilities per se, but rather a written text is used as a vehicle for the introduction of new vocabulary and/or structures (McDonough & Shaw 2003).

While language improvement is a natural, highly desirable by-product of reading, reading lessons should be preoccupied with authentic purposes of reading where the attention is on the meaning rather than the language of the text (Nutall 1982). Reading lessons should aim at creating better readers through reading. When teachers choose the right kind of material (and use appropriate teaching techniques) and the students are successful, then the benefits of learning to read are obvious. Harmer (2001) notices that students who read a lot seem to acquire English better than those who do not. They improve their general language competence but also get a lot of affective benefits from reading (which, in turn, foster motivation to learn English); success in reading and its associates skills, most notably writing, makes learners come to enjoy language learning and to value their study of English (Nation 1997). Without much exposure to reading material in class EFL students are unlikely to make much progress.

2. Interactive reading, schemata and cognitive reading strategies.

Recently reading in L2 has been described as an interactive process, with the emphasis on the role of the reader and the knowledge s/he brings to the text. Hedge (2000) refers to this process as a dynamic relationship between the reader and the text, in which the reader performs various cognitive tasks and combines his/her knowledge with the information in the text to make sense of it.

The interactive view of reading draws heavily on the schema theory (Carrell 1987, Carrell&Eisterhold 1988) which proposes that readers possess different conceptual frameworks, called schemata (2) which they bring to the reading of a text and which they use to understand what they read. New knowledge can only be processed coherently in relation to existing knowledge frameworks, and efficient readers activate the necessary frameworks to assist in decoding the text being read (cf. Cook 1989, McCarthy 1991).

There is now considerable body of research (e.g.: Alderson & Urquhart 1984 in: David & Norazit 2000) which suggests that teachers need to pay attention to activating schematic knowledge and it is reflected in the emphasis on a pre-reading stage in current reading methodology. Still, it may be the case that a certain level of language competence is necessary before any training in the use of schematic knowledge can be effective.

Making sense of the text is facilitated not only by activating relevant schemata, but also by employing cognitive reading strategies which are determined by the type of the text we are reading, the purpose we are reading for and the type of information we want to obtain. It is impossible to list all the reading strategies, as a lot of them are not accessible for analysis and there is much individual variation amongst readers - each learner uses an individual mix of strategies in relation to a particular text and topic. E xhaustive lists of strategies are given by Munby (1978) and Klein et al. (1991). From the teacher’s and learner’s point of view though the strategies suggested by Harmer (2001) and Hedge (2000) seem to be the most important. These include:

  • identifying topic,
  • predicting and guessing,
  • reading for gist (skimming),
  • reading for specific information (scanning),
  • intensive reading (reading to understand everything in detail)
  • receptive reading (e.g. when reader wants to enjoy a story),
  • reflective reading ( involves episodes of reading a text and then pausing to reflect),
  • interpreting text (critical reading),
  • extensive reading (reading for pleasure) (3).

Although most learners use these skills in their L1 (consciously or subconsciously) they do not always transfer them into English. This implies that to be successful readers in English the learners need explicit instruction in recognising the strategies required for a particular text type, and training in their application.

1. E.g. to support the teaching of language itself ; a text helps to present or practise specific linguistic items of lexis or grammar.

2. Two types of schemata most often discussed in reading research are formal schemata (the knowledge of the general properties of text types and differences in genre; e.g. syntactic, morphological knowledge, genre knowledge) and content schemata (the knowledge reader brings to a text relative to the content domain of the text, e.g. sociocultural knowledge, topic knowledge, general world knowledge). Research suggests (e.g. Carrell 1987) that content schemata affect reading comprehension and remembering more than formal schemata for text organisation, i.e. readers will comprehend texts about their own cultures more accurately than texts that are not related to their cultures.

3. There is lack of consensus among writers on what exactly is meant by the term ‘extensive reading’. The precise nature of extensive reading will vary with student motivation and institutional resources, but the characterisation might include:

  • reading large quantities of material
  • reading consistently over time on a frequent and regular basis
  • reading longer texts (more than a few paragraphs in length)
  • reading for general meaning, primarily for pleasure, curiosity or professional interest
  • reading longer texts during class time but also engaging in individual independent reading at home, ideally of self-selected material (cf. Hedge 2000).

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