Making my students want to read an extensive reading approach at the school of foreign languages
The benefits of extensive reading in a foreign language. Ways to implement extensive reading in English into the "School of Foreign Languages and Culture". Study of the influence of reading in a foreign language on the success of language learning.
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MAKING MY STUDENTS WANT TO READ AN EXTENSIVE READING APPROACH AT THE SCHOOL OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES
School Of Foreign languages and Cultures
National University of Mongolia
In this paper I shall firstly give a short overview on reading, then focus on the benefits of extensive reading in a foreign language. Thirdly, I will think of ways to implement extensive reading in English into the `School of Foreign Languages and Culture'
`Reading is private. It is a mental, or cognitive, process which involves a reader in trying to follow and respond to a message from a writer who is distant in space and time' [Davies 1995:3]. Interactive models describe reading acts as interactions between `bottom-up' and `top-down' processing [Eskey 1988]. This definition and the models of reading are appropriate for reading in the first language, as well as for reading in a foreign language. But reading in a foreign language is different from reading in the first language because of what the reader brings to the reading process. Very often, the foreign language learner has the advantage of being a skilled processor, meaning that he has developed the necessary reading skills when learning to read in the first language, but lacks linguistic competence in the foreign language [Carrell 1988]. We divide reading into two categories. When we read intensively we read to achieve a clear aim, e.g. to gain a specific piece of information, whereas when we read extensively, we enjoy ourselves by reading a wide range of materials for pleasure. Although there is a lot of evidence that extensive reading promotes foreign language learning immensely, it is rejected by many language learners [Kim 1997]. Therefore, teachers should not only teach intensive reading, but emphasise extensive reading in their classes as well. foreign language extensive reading
Let's cause the case for and against extensive reading.
First of all, we shall try to analyse the benefits of extensive reading.
The relevant literature shows that reading in a foreign language has a strong influence on successful language learning. Results of research on reading in the foreign language classroom give clear evidence that reading is important for all language learning, and profound emphasis on reading programs in the foreign language classroom is well justified. Teachers understand reading as an extremely helpful activity for all language learning and consider it to be of high educational value [Gee 1999]. Krashen summarises the research done on `Free Voluntary Reading' in different countries and continents. He points out, that `Free Voluntary Reading' `results in better reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling and grammatical development'[Krashen 1993: 12].
After considering strategies and skills for reading such as `top-down processing', `bottom-up processing' and the `interactive reading model', Eskey and Grabe conclude that the necessary skills and strategies can only be developed by reading over time. `Classroom work can point the way but cannot substitute for the act itself: people learn to read by reading, not by doing exercises' [Eskey 1988: 228].
Extensive reading and language learning coexist in a `symbiotic relationship' [Devine, 1988: 268]. Based on her own studies and on Elley [Elley 1984] and Cooper [Cooper 1984], Devine concludes that even low-level students benefit from extensive reading and should be exposed to rich linguistic data [Devine, 1988: 268]. Reading promotes language competence and higher language competence leads to a higher reading ability.
Day and Bamford state that extensive reading plays an important role in becoming fluent in second language reading. The most important components on which fluency in foreign language reading depends are `a large sight vocabulary; a wide general vocabulary; and knowledge of the target language, the world and the text types' [Day 1998: 16]. The development of all these components is supported by extensive reading. Furthermore, Day and Bamford add to this cognitive view, that an extensive reading approach can help to change the language learners' attitudes towards reading in the foreign language and has the potential to motivate students to read in the foreign language. They emphasise the role of motivation and attitudes towards reading as crucial variables in a student's decision to read in the foreign language.
In summarising the relevant literature and the research, I can say that extensive reading in a foreign language has high outcomes not only from a linguistic, but from a psychological and educational point of view as well. Therefore, extensive reading should take place in the foreign language classroom more often than it does nowadays.
The last statement causes the question why many teachers do not teach extensive reading.
Although teachers know about the values of extensive reading in a foreign language, many do not implement extensive reading programs into their classes. Harmer [Harmer 2001] and Day and Bamford [Day 1998] see the following as various reasons for this:
o high costs for suitable reading material;
o the workload to set up a program;
o a too narrow time table;
o a restrictive curriculum with a dominant reading skills approach and too much weight on accuracy;
o the learners' low language level;
o the learners' lack of willingness to read;
o the different teacher role from the conventional one.
The above listed problem areas are not to be ignored and some of them cause real concern. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that most of these can be solved with reasonable effort. In the next section it is possible to suggest some possible ways for teachers to do that.
In ither words the problems mentioned above can at least partially be solved. Well documented reading project reports, books and articles about extensive reading projects such as the `E.P.E.R. Guide' [Hill 1992] provide guidelines and give excellent background knowledge on how to deal with the needs of students, teachers, the syllabuses and the funding bodies [Day 1998], [Nuttall 1996], [Davies 1995], [Hill 1992], [Ellis 1991], [Williams 1984].
High costs are a serious problem, especially at the beginning of an extensive reading program. But setting up a library is an investment and with time the average costs per year will decline. Practical advice would be to start small and to put quality in front of quantity. Good books are not necessarily expensive. A small but well selected stock of books promises better success than a huge amount of unsuitable reading material. In addition, students themselves prefer the far cheaper paperbacks to hardcover books. One book per student, plus an additional ten for variety is the absolute minimum to start a reading program. In the long run, the amount of books should be enhanced to a ten times bigger number than there are students in a course or program. Through this, the library will be kept `up to date' with relevant reading materials.
The workload for teachers to set up a reading program is very big indeed. The best way for coping with the problem is to start small. The authors I have already mentioned are of help again guiding the teacher `step by step' on how to install an extensive reading program, and where to pay special attention. In addition, they provide reading lists with pre-selected and graded reading materials, sometimes with comments. These help the teachers to save time and allow them to concentrate on other issues.
The question which reading material is appropriate for which students are not easy to answer. On the one hand, there are the proponents of authentic material. This is material, that was not written or adapted for language learners. The idea behind using authentic texts in reading programs is to prepare the learners to cope with the language outside the classroom. This is done best by looking at `real' language inside the classroom [Williams 1984]. On the other hand there is the pedagogical need to manifest reading as a joyful and pleasurable activity. It is certainly not helpful to challenge the learners with too difficult texts. Harmer declares carelessly chosen authentic materials as extremely de-motivating for students because they do not understand it [Harmer 2001]. Nuttall doubts that linguistically difficult texts are helpful in developing reading skills [Nuttall 1996]. She lists suitability of content, exploitability, readability, variety and presentation as equally or even more important criteria than authenticity when teachers pre-select material for the reading class. Lautamatti [Davies 1984: 184] suggests using simplified texts in the reading class as a ladder towards the next less simplified reader level and finally to reach authentic texts. This views correspond with Krashen's `input hypothesis'. Students develop linguistically, when they are exposed to comprehensible input [Krashen 1985].
Too narrow timetables and restrictive syllabuses are further barriers a teacher has to `knock down' when he or she wants to introduce an extensive reading program in his or her classes. Day and Bamford believe, that time and space will be found by teachers and heads of schools, when the students' needs to become fluent and independent readers become an accepted goal [Day 1998]. Furthermore, Krashen describes in his research overview that those who read extensively in a foreign language in and out of school achieve higher results in reading comprehension as well as in writing, vocabulary and grammatical development [Krashen 1993]. These facts should convince every syllabus planner of the value of extensive reading and allow a change of priorities in a syllabus.
To persuade learners of the value of extensive reading is different from convincing their teachers, heads or parents. Factors determining the learners' attitudes towards reading in a foreign language are the socio cultural environment (family, community, peers), the reading material and the individual characteristics [Aebersold and Field 1997]. Of course, the teacher cannot change the students' socio-cultural environment and their previous experience as readers. But, the teacher can influence the present classroom situation by creating and supporting a reader-friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and by providing easy access to attractive and interesting material. I will discuss this in more detail in the section about my learners' attitudes and motivation.
At my school, School of Foreign Languages and Culture, where the students are 16 to 25 years old and are majoring in English. They receive various English instructions almost everyday. During the four-year program the students are given between 120-130 credits of English instructions. However, they receive limited reading practice during their study at the university. In addition to the expected general benefits of an extensive reading program I have mentioned earlier, I see two more main reasons why an extensive reading approach is particularly justified and useful for my students.
Firstly, all my students are English majors and their future careers are likely to be in Language teaching, British and American Studies and their planned future studies are strongly related to these fields. More and more, the literature relevant to these areas is published in English only. For my students, therefore, it is an absolute necessity to become fluent and independent English readers with highly skilled reading comprehension abilities. There is no doubt that extensive reading programs are the best strategy to achieve this.
Secondly, the students at the SFLC learn English in a non English speaking environment and that can clearly not provide enough English language input. Because exposure to the target language is crucial for successful foreign language learning, a solution for this must be found. Here, an extensive reading approach can `kill two birds with one stone' by extending the English learning out of class, and by increasing the students' exposure to English at the same time. Nuttall brings this to the point when she states: 'The best way to improve your knowledge of a foreign language is to go and live among its speakers. The next best way is to read extensively in it' [Nuttall 1996: 128].
Despite the need to become fluent English readers, my students do not automatically want to read in English. In the next section, I will explain just why this is so and will make some suggestions of how I can convince my learners to take part in reading programs.
A large part of my students do not read voluntarily whether in their first nor in a second language. If I ask my students why this is the case, they reply that they simply do not like reading or that they are not motivated to read. Thus, if I want my students to become extensive readers I must try to motivate them. Motivation is explained as an individual's state of arousal that leads to the decision to act in a particular way in order to reach a previously set goal, and to sustain this activity for a period of time. The individual can either be extrinsically motivated or intrinsically [Williams 1997]. Expectancy of the outcome (success or failure) and perceived value of an activity are determining factors, when individuals choose particular activities. Looking at all that in terms of reading, students will not make the decision to read when they see no value in reading and when they feel unable to read successfully [Day 1998]. So my challenge as a reading teacher is to increase my non-reading students' motivation to read and to implement reading activities and tasks which are most likely to foster extrinsic motivation.
My students are 16 to 25 year-old young adults and predominantly female. Although they are widely interested in different topics, the main tendency of interests point towards divergent fields. My students usually have easy access to English texts and enjoy reading texts in their mother tongue. Although they are experienced readers in their first language with knowledge of a wide range of texts and a rich mental lexicon, as real beginners in learning English they lack knowledge of the linguistic structures and have very little `automaticity' in recognizing vocabulary. According to Davies, this can be very frustrating and, therefore, my students will tend to reject reading in English to avoid failure [Davies 1995]. The students' motivation and interest to take part in a reading program will only increase, when they truly believe in the high value of reading in the foreign language and when they feel confident that they can do it successfully. According to Day and Bamford this can be achieved by increasing the students' reading ability, providing appropriate reading material, fostering positive attitudes towards reading in the foreign language and creating a secure and friendly reading atmosphere [Day 1998].
The reading materials which I pre-select for my students must be enjoyable for them. This means the books and texts must be appropriate in Nuttall's terms of `readability' and `suitability of content' [Nuttall 1996]. Firstly, she suggests using short texts especially for beginners and early stage readers which allow them a quick experience of success. Secondly, the texts must be appealingly presented, they should look attractive, be well printed (bigger print for elementary level) and have coloured illustrations. Thirdly, a rich variety of texts is needed to suit the various readers' preferences and needs of content, language and intellectual maturity. Lastly, the texts should be linguistically easier than the actual course book used in the classroom. Nuttall summarises these criteria with the acronym `SAVE', where S stands for Short, A stands for Appealing, V for Variety and E for Easy.
Several authors propose reading materials, which I will comment on corresponding to the `SAVE' principle and in view of my readers' needs at the `Technische Berufsmittelschule' [Day 1998], [Krashen 1993], [McRae 1991].
Graded readers and adapted classic readers are very valuable for my students and are perfectly designed for building up an `English department' in our school library. Although some may criticize the use of such series' because of the loss of quality through adaptation, it is more important to me that the students feel comfortable with the language level and the rich variety of topics these thousands of books will provide. In addition, these readers have been tested and been confirmed successful in extensive reading programs all over the world [Hill 1992]. A further key advantage is the progress my students experience when they manage to get to the next higher reader level, which is particularly motivating.
Children's books and picture books are a fascinating source for extensive reading materials. If carefully selected, many picture books originally designed for children are very joyful even for my students. I would not necessarily put them into the school library, but save them for reading aloud in classes on special and planned occasions. Like `story telling', `reading aloud' is an excellent opportunity to expose my students to authentic and comprehensible English. Beginners benefit even more when a text is presented visually and read aloud at the same time [Amer 1997].
Like other young people, most of my students are keen on comics in any language and there is no need at all to force them into comic reading. Some of the popular comics might be considered quite narrow or even cross the borderline of what can be tolerated in school environment. Nevertheless, the classic comic series such as `Asterix', `Snoopy' and many others seem to be timeless and highly enjoyable. In addition, some of the famous series', I have already mentioned two of them, are available in several languages and many of my students have read them in their first language already. The comparison of these translated materials allows students to follow the stories very closely and successfully. My students experience English comics reading as a pleasurable activity and by doing this they receive a remarkable amount of linguistically appropriate language input. Krashen backs this up when he concludes: `It [comic reading] can help readers not only develop the linguistic competence for harder reading but can also develop an interest in books' [Krashen 1993: 56].
Young adult literature and light reading are criticised by some authors or at least not recommended for the English learner library for their lack of language level, style and content. Others see reading `light stuff' as being similar to reading comics. I agree with this latter view and believe that light reading material can increase my students' desire to read and lure the students into the library. Although the reasons are different, publishers of light literature match Nuttall's `SAVE' principles and create readable and suitable materials for my language learners. Of course, these books are not suitable for beginners, but students on an intermediate level can certainly cope with the language used in light reading and can choose from a wide range of topics and genres.
Newspapers, illustrated and specialised magazines are a further excellent source for authentic material. As my learners are non native speakers, in reading English they will find it too difficult to read authentic newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, it can be a real pleasure to skim through high quality magazines such as the `National Geographic' or to skim particular sections of newspapers. By doing this the students pick up language `en passant' and readers from all different levels can enjoy the perfect pictures and understand the accompanying little junks of text and headlines without too much difficulties. Furthermore, the students are able to read at remarkably higher levels when reading material from their specific professional field is presented. The `well-established schemata' will compensate for the lack of language competence [Davies 1995]. Thus, specialized subject magazines can match the criteria of `readability' and `suitability' mentioned earlier. Finally, these very attractive materials might well turn into a `trap' for my teacher colleagues to get hooked to the library's English corner, which would be a nice side-effect. Therefore, high quality magazines will have a permanent and prominent place on my library's shelves.
My list of suitable extensive reading material for my students is certainly not complete. And one may ask, why I have not mentioned the world wide web. It is obviously the richest source for finding authentic texts, which offer a fantastic choice and is highly accessible and easy to search. Thus, for many, including my students and myself, the web is quite simply the perfect source for all types of information and my students make regular and intensive use of it, sometimes for several hours a day. Therefore, I see no need to increase the time spent in front of a screen, which is the main reason why I do not recommend extensive reading from the world wide web. The sometimes poor visual presentation of texts is yet another reason, although a lesser one. Extremely long texts are often of little reader friendliness and not attractive for the readers' eye. Finally, although my students like surfing the web, they very quickly get bored staying on only one website and scrolling down for too long. Therefore, I suggest using the web for purposes other than the extensive reading class.
Good readers read unfamiliar texts with high speed and with adequate comprehension. They have become so by doing mainly one thing - reading. Good readers in a foreign language do exactly the same. Earlier in this assignment, I characterised my students as being good readers in their first language. The question now is, how they can become good readers in a foreign language. In my opinion, the most important thing is to prevent my students from sliding into the `cycle of frustration' and guide them instead into the `cycle of growth' [Nuttall 1996: 127]. Processing and comprehension are private processes and as a teacher I cannot `give' them to the learners, but I can promote them. This can be achieved by implementing a variety of strategies and techniques which make individual progress in processing and comprehension possible. In relation to extensive reading, this means that I have to survey and monitor every student's reading and provide individual support and guidance. The individual readers' abilities must be taken into consideration when choosing the right materials. Reading a lot of appropriate literature will automatically result in better reading ability.
We become interested in things when we get involved in them. Consequently, my students' interests in books and reading will increase, when I involve them in books. Therefore, I have to bring the students and the books together. To do this I see three main possibilities. Firstly, I can involve my students in tasks during lessons, where contact with books and texts is unavoidable but cheerful. Examples for such activities can be found in resource books and books about teaching reading [Harmer 1998, 2001], [Silberstein 1994], [Williams 1984]. Secondly, I can approach the issue rather rationally, where I discuss the pros and cons of extensive reading very openly and make my personal values and principles clear. The students appreciate this openness and are more likely to start into the adventure of reading when they see my goals and intentions. Thirdly, I can influence my students' attitudes towards reading through my own personal example and actively take part in the program as a READING teacher rather than as a reading TEACHER. Nuttall makes the following comparison: `Like an infectious disease (fortunately only in this respect), it cannot be caught from people who have not got it themselves' [Nuttall 1996: 229]. Moreover, my personal involvement will keep me in touch with my readers and provide opportunities to survey and monitor the program's different phases and aspects in and out of class.
The benefits of estensive reading in English as a foreign language and how to best implement it into my English language teaching environment were the main focuses of this assignment. In the near future, we will have the opportunity to build up an English department in our school library along with the English `libraries' of the English Department together with the other English teachers at our school. The work on this paper will hopefully help me to widely spread Nuttall's `extensive reading virus' and to turn our library into a `place of infection'.
1. Aebersold, J. A. and Field, M. L. 1997. From Reading to Reading Teacher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2. Amer, A. 1997. The effect of the teacher's reading aloud on the reading comprehension of EFL students. In ELT Journal 51/1, p 43-47.
3. Carrell, P. L. 1988. `Some causes of text-boundedness and schema interference in ESL reading'. In Long, M. H. and Richards, J. S. (eds.) 1988. Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Davies, A. 1984. Simple, simplified and simplification: what is authentic? In Alderson, J. C. and Urquhart, A. H. (eds.) 1984. Reading in a Foreign language. Harlow: Longman.
5. Davies, F. 1995. Introducing Reading. London: Penguin Books.
6. Day, R. and Bamford, J. 1998. Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
7. Devine, J. 1988. `The relationship between general language competence and second language reading proficiency: implications for teaching'. In Long, M. H. and Richards, J. S. (eds.) 1988. Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
8. Ellis, G. and McRae, J. 1991. The Extensive Reading Handbook For Secondary Teachers. London: Penguin Books
9. Eskey, D. E. 1988. `Holding in the bottom: an interactive approach to the language problems of second language readers'. In Long, M. H. and Richards, J. S. (eds.) 1988. Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
10. Eskey, D. E. and Grabe, W. 1988. `Interactive models for second language reading: perspectives on instruction'. In Long, M. H. and Richards, J. S. (eds.) 1988. Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
11. Gee, R. W. 1999. `Encouraging ESL Students To Read'. TESOL Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1.
12. Grabe, W. 1988. `Reassessing the term interactive'. In Long, M. H. and Richards, J. S. (eds.) 1988. Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
13. Harmer, J. 2001. The Practice of English Language Teaching, (3rd edition). Harlow Essex: Longman
14. Harmer, J. 1998. how to Teach English. Harlow Essex: Longman.
15. Hill, D. R. 1992. The E.P.E.R. Guide To Organising Programmes Of Extensive Reading. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.
16. Kim, H. and Krashen, S. D. 1997. Why Don't Language Acquirers Take Advantage of the Power of Reading? In TESOL Journal, Vol. 6, No. 3.
17. Krashen, S. D. 1993. The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
18. Krashen, S. D. 1985. The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications. Harlow: Longman.
19. McRae, J. 1991. Literature with a small `lґ. London: Macmillan Publishers.
20. Nuttall, C. 1996. Teaching Reading Skills in a foreign language. Oxford: Heinemann.
21. Silberstein, S. 1994. Techniques and Resources in Teaching Reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
22. Williams, E. 1984. Reading In The Language Classroom. London: Macmillan Publishers.
23. Williams, M. and Burden, R. L. 1997. Psychology for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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