Thursday, 5 February 2015

Developing Effective Reading Skills

A common complaint made by teachers across all grades of English is about how students use the wrong strategies to answer comprehension based questions, or for that effect any other reading task given to them as part of a class activity, or as part of an assessment! Quite a few students first read the questions and then they go back to the passage and literally ‘lift’ the answer verbatim from the text! Some students know that the answer is somewhere in a particular paragraph, and so in order not to miss out on the answer, they copy the whole paragraph, eating into the time allotted for the whole paper!
The purpose of teaching students to read is not just to learn to read for ‘information,’ but rather to read for ‘comprehension!’ Not all questions in a comprehension passage might be based on ‘factual descriptions’ rather there might even be questions that require analysis, explanation, and even how the student would react in a particular situation (the so-called situational questions).
Even bright student struggle while reading, and this is because of the way they have been taught to read. Surely, reading in the classroom should have a different strategy than reading in your bedroom, because while reading in your bedroom is a private process, reading in the classroom is a collaborative process. In this case, I am referring to a classroom setting where students sit not in rows, but in crews or groups so as to facilitate discussions and sharing of ideas. An ideal reading class should follow the under mentioned steps:
A lesson plan for a reading assignment in class
  1. The teacher/facilitator gives the students the text and he tells the students to go through the same in three minutes.
  2. At the end of three minutes, the teacher asks the students probing questions, about what and how they ‘feel’ about the text. The facilitator could set aside five minutes for this part.
  3. The teacher now tells the student to read the text silently in ten minutes. Students who have managed to complete the reading before others are asked to jot down their queries/ questions and observations (this instruction is given at the beginning and towards the end of eight minutes).
  4. The fourth stage is one where the discussion takes place between the groups. Here the teacher steps in to assign groups. The teacher can also specify the parameters and the topics to be discussed, such as figures of speech, the message, the central theme, style of writing, genre, tone, atmosphere, the background of the writer or the piece, and of course, the word meanings. In this case, the teacher will assign portions of the reading text to pairs of groups; a particular stanza to two groups, a paragraph, or an entire page as may be the requirement. The teacher could set aside fifteen minutes for this stage.
  5. The fifth stage is the final stage and in this stage, all the students will be asked to come up with a summary, in writing about what they have understood or learned from their reading. This would be a summary of the entire reading and would include a description of the central theme, characters, message, genre, images, feelings of the reading and stuff that the students liked or disliked about the passage. All this while, the teacher would need to step in from time to time, directing the students in the right direction, but certainly not dictating answers.This stage would take twenty minutes. This can also be a stage where students make a brief presentation on specific portions of the reading text.
  6. The last stage would include the assignment of the home task for the students to do at home. This would help them revise what they have read in class. This would take twelve minutes and this includes the buffer time.
Note: This is a plan for a one hour class which would ideally contain two periods of thirty minutes each. Also, it goes without saying that time limits will have to be kept flexible, although the teacher might have to step so that the time limits are followed.
Important Non Negotiables include:
  1. The teacher highlights the learning outcomes at the outset.
  2. Students are given specific instructions throughout the exercise.
  3. The teacher makes certain that he or she keeps reiterating class norms to maintain discipline in the class these include, raising hands, keeping voice levels low, and waiting for their turn to speak.
  4. In the context of social and collaborative learning, the educator should ensure that the emotional and physical safety of the learners is ensured throughout. In times when bullying continues to be a serious concern today, students should be prevented from snubbing others, checking the other student in mid sentence, or for that effect disparaging another student for  maintaining a differing point of view.
The Philosophy behind collaborative reading
L.S. Vygotsky believed that learning is a socio-cognitive interactive process. In other words, cognitive development is ‘socially mediated’. Talking with others helps the learner understand and evaluated one’s feelings, and ideas and it helps students ideate thought processes. The collaborative approach towards learning enhances the process of meta-cognition. Intellectually stimulating conversations can also help students develop proficiency in the four language domains, namely: reading, writing, speaking and listening, besides, I strongly feel that such conversations help build the emotive skills in students. Students taught through the  collaborative approach can read a wide range of texts varying in difficulty levels from the easiest to the most complex and this is because such exercises are accompanied by specific instructions, and rounded up with ample opportunities for discussions. Discussions help students share their thought processes, problem solving strategies, and also provide them the opportunity to how others think and solve problems. Last but not least, conversations and discussions about the reading text where students deal with not only what the text means, but also how you know what they mean!

Also visit the following link for further reading on the topic:

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