Reading: lesson 1
Hello. I’m Janet Swaffar, a Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. My language teaching has centered on the reading process as the basis for learning a foreign language. I have found that authentic texts can provide optional stages for learning: starting with comprehension, then reproducing that text’s language by reading key words and phrases aloud and then analyzing that text by sorting the way it presents information.
Research on reading comprehension suggests that about 50 percent of what is understood depends on text-extrinsic factors such as familiar topics or concreteness of information, so teachers need to choose texts with regard to such factors. The module you are about to see will introduce ways reading choices can be integrated into a curriculum, not just as a task for students to learn facts, but as the basis for their own critical thinking, their speaking, their writing, and learning about a foreign culture—reading as a holistic, multi-literacy, applicable to the broader learning objectives of a foreign language teacher.
The module is broken down into four lessons. Lesson 1 looks at what to consider when foreign language teachers select readings. In Lesson 2, the discussion turns to pre-reading—ways to engage learners in getting ready to read texts for their the central messages. Lesson 3 looks at ways to design reading activities that help learners structure their assigned reading and facilitate their transition to speaking and writing about texts. The last lesson looks at the challenges posed by the holistic approach to reading advocated in this module—ways to integrate reading needs with other activities over the arc of language learning.
1 What is Reading?
Specific learning goals, along with the tasks that help students reach those goals. Choosing suitable texts for a particular group of learners.
2 From Pre-Reading to Initial Reading
Demonstrates how pre-reading and initial reading activities help structure the reading process, and how specific tasks help students to manage their reading and facilitate their move from comprehension to production.
Reading strategies that foster more sophisticated language-learning outcomes. The importance of rereading.
4 Challenges of the Holistic Approach
Challenges of the holistic approach and suggestions for overcoming these challenges.
Definitions of Reading
Among the many definitions of reading that have arisen in recent decades, three prominent ideas emerge as most critical for understanding what “learning to read” means:
• Reading is a process undertaken to reduce uncertainty about meanings a text conveys.
• The process results from a negotiation of meaning between the text and its reader.
• The knowledge, expectations, and strategies a reader uses to uncover textual meaning all play decisive roles way the reader negotiates with the text’s meaning.
Reading does not draw on one kind of cognitive skill, nor does it have a straightforward outcome—most texts are understood in different ways by different readers.
For foreign language learners to read, they have to be prepared to use various abilities and strategies they already possess from their reading experiences in their native language. They will need the knowledge they possess to help orient themselves in the many dimensions of language implicated in any text. Researchers have established that the act of reading is a non-linear process that is recursive and context-dependent. Readers tend to jump ahead or go back to different segments of the text, depending on what they are reading to find out.
Asking a learner to “read” a text requires that teachers specify a reading goal. One minimal goal is to ask the learner to find particular grammatical constructions or to identify words that relate to particular features or topics of the reading. But such goals are always only partial. For example, a text also reveals a lot about the readers for which it is written and a lot about subject matter that foreign language learners may or may not know or anticipate.
A Holistic Approach to Reading
The curriculum described here is called a holistic curriculum, following Miller (1996). Holistic education is concerned with connections in human experience—connections between mind and body, between linear thinking and intuitive ways of knowing, between academic disciplines, between the individual and the community.
A holistic curriculum emphasizes how the parts of a whole relate to each other to form the whole. From this perspective, reading relates to speaking, writing, listening comprehension, and culture.
Pedagogical Stages of Reading
Ideally, each text used in such a curriculum should be pedagogically staged so that learners approach it by moving from pre-reading, through initial reading, and into rereading. This sequence carefully moves the learner from comprehension tasks to production tasks. In addition, these tasks should build upon each other in terms of increasing cognitive difficulty.
• Pre-Reading: The initial levels of learning, as described in Bloom’s Taxonomy, involve recognizing and comprehending features of a text. As proposed here, pre-reading tasks involve speaking, reading, and listening.
• Initial Reading: Initial reading tasks orient the learner to the text and activate the cognitive resources that are associated with the learner’s own expectations. For example, discussions of genres and stereotypes may help the learner to identify potential reading difficulties and to strategize ways to overcome these challenges. Simple oral and written reproduction tasks should precede more complex production tasks that call for considering creative thinking about several issues at the same time.
• Rereading: In rereading, the learner is encouraged to engage in active L2 production such as verbal or written analysis and argumentation. These activities require longer and more complex discourse. At this point, the language learners’ critical thinking needs to interact with their general knowledge. Ideally, cultural context and the individual foreign language learner’s own identity emerge as central to all acts of production.
Before you watch the following clip, brainstorm about what kinds of cognitive demands are involved in the following activities: pre-reading, initial reading, and rereading.
Cognitive development and the reading curriculum.
When the stages of reading are repeated over the course of a semester or year, learners tend to improve not only their language skills, but also their cultural literacy. Multiple stages in reading engage the learners by returning to the language of the text from different points of view. A curriculum built around such stages is considered holistic if they involve practice that integrates language various kinds of language acquisition and fills multiple cognitive demands in interlocking activities that spiral learning. For example, a pre-reading for sub-topics of a subject, an initial reading to identify how topics are described, and a rereading to modify those descriptions by inserting them into a new genre or describing them for a different audience.
Readability and the Holistic Approach
Teachers should assess whether the texts they assign are appropriately readable for their students. But how to measure readability? In the holistic approach advocated here, readability is not a static property of a given text. Instead, readability is determined by three characteristics: the suitability of the text for the readers’ background, their language, and the instructor’s curricular goals.
In general, a text is more readable when:
• it presents concrete issues rather than abstract ones
• it provides the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when” familiar to the reader
• it is age-appropriate
• it is in a genre familiar to the reader
• it is acceptable to the reader’s cultural background
• it is longer, with context clues, or it is a short text on a familiar topic
Before you watch this clip, think of times when you brought a reading text into your classroom and had either a notable success or a notable failure with it. What factors made the text a hit or miss with your students? What made it too hard or too easy or too alien?
Readability factors to consider when selecting a text.
Horizons of Expectation
Sometimes, the readability of a text can be enhanced if a missing piece of background knowledge about the text’s culture is provided. The reader needs to know about contextual elements that most authentic texts assume their readership knows. Sometimes the missing element is a historical or social fact, sometimes it can be a fact that looks like a social stereotype.
The concept “horizons of expectation” is attributed to Hans Robert Jauss, who used the term when illustrating ways in which textual features reflect a broad consensus about a given genre’s style, content, and organizational structures; and to argue that these features suggest assumptions shared among a group of readers. When the literatures and cultures of the foreign languages studied reflect horizons of expectation with which the language learner is unfamiliar, misreadings often result.
What assumptions do Americans share about the National Enquirer? What would the horizon of expectations be for regular readers of the National Enquirer?
How horizons of expectation are culture-bound.
Overall, readability and reading goals need to be set vis-à-vis the reader, not as a property of the text in its own right. And through reading an accessible authentic text, the reader is also likely to confront the stereotypes about a culture as well as those held by that culture. By learning to recognize ways authentic media reflect particular viewpoints, readers begin to engage in the practice of multi-literacies—explorations of self and other.
[Module Instructor Janet Swaffar. ] 2010. [Reading]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.