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What do learners report as difficult in reading graded stories (summer term)?
How can learners move from graded to authentic reading material (autumn term)?
What do learners report as difficult in reading expository prose and academic text (winter/spring term)?
In this short article, then, I share some of the insights that such
self-reports revealed. But first, questions of method need consideration.
A question of position? I find myself hyphenated between teacher and
researcher --not quite able to reconcile the two (see Freeman, 1998, for
an elaborate discussion of that very hyphen). However, Nunan (1992), for
example, approves the rise of introspective methods of data collection
in recent years for classroom research. Moreover, he notes that it is hard
to "see how the sort of data yielded by diaries and journals could be collected
in any other way" (p.123). So, by way of qualifying the claims that are
made in this article, it is probably best to describe the results as preliminary
and in need of further investigation. They do set out some interesting
and possible pathways, as you will see, but they are not absolutely watertight,
In the third year, the substance of the lesson is grammar, grasping the content of the textbook, and reading it smoothly. I go to my teacher to have her hear my reading. If I can read the textbook by heart, she gives me marks... (Junior High)
Then I entered a high school. We had two kind of English class, "reading class" and "grammar class". The content of the textbook become to be difficult. The vocabularies are rich and complicated. On every Tuesday we have the English test. It was said it "Weekly test" ... In the first year of high school it was written examinations. In the second, third year, it was written examinations and mark. My school class emphasized grammar and grasping the content of the sentences... (Senior High).
These experiences are to some extent an important part of the competitive
preparation that school students must undergo for university entrance exams;
one consequence that later becomes clear is how slowly first-year students
initially plod through text as they read. Hence, the single greatest strength
of extensively reading texts where the reader can experience a high rate
of comprehension is that it makes reading both enjoyable and relatively
easy. Reading can quickly become motivating. The risk, though, is to become
complacent and believe that students do not face any problems in reading
such graded texts.
Reading tasks and skills practice varied according to the materials. For example, in the summer term, students read at least 600 pages, kept double-entry notes in their
notebooks (key points from the text on the left page, student's own response/opinion/ comment on the right page). In-class activities included reading and discussion, reading for pleasure and enjoyment, setting their own reading goals and keeping learning diaries to review their performance and develop their awareness of their changing reading styles and habits.
On the other hand, in the second term, students were asked to read one newspaper article a week for five weeks, and 20-pages from content-based materials books per week for the other five weeks. Here, they made summary notes, plus vocabulary notes in English and engaged in some strategy practice such as skimming, scanning, using the index and list of contents, and reading non-consecutive pages. They also learnt to parse sentences, use dictionaries, exploit surrounding text to guess words, mind-map key points, connect their own associations with those key points in text, to continue to set goals and keep learning diaries.
In contrast, in the winter/spring term, students chose their own books
from university libraries and kept double-entry notes plus mind maps, thus
bringing together two elements from the previous terms. In particular,
they were asked to copy on the left pages of their notebooks difficult
parts of the text, and on the right page to put down a comment about the
difficult part, to ask a question and to attempt to answer their question
as well (see Mateer, 1998, for more detailed explanation of this technique).
The class also undertook further strategy training, which centered on ways
of activating background knowledge to make the reading load easier--reading
for concrete "everyday" examples before identifying and analyzing main
"abstract" ideas; identifying lexical chains and basic lexical relationships
of equivalence and opposition; further parsing of sentences; engaging in
cooperative reading problem-solving with their peers and the teacher, as
well as continuing to set their own reading goals and keeping learning
|Difficulty||No. of mentions||% of total||Example||Learner comment
|inferencing / disbelief/ comprehending||43||
||"Peter, you didn't write this story. You copied the story from a book. You cheated."||Why did the teacher said so thing?|
|Victor Frankenstein died a few hours after he had written his last word. I was sad to see him die, because he had become a good friend. But he will not be unhappy or in pain any more, and I am happy for him.||I couldn't understand this meaning. Why does he become happy for him?|
||He told the King that his daughter could make gold out of straw.||I don't know the meaning of "straw". And I don't know "gold out of straw", too.|
|Many people had come to the funeral.||I don't know the meaning of the last word.|
||Then the diver came up for the last time, and the pearl that he brought with him was fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz, for it was shaped like the full moon, and it was whiter than the morning star.||It is long sentence, words are used in the sentence is easy.|
||"It's OK, man. I didn't burn, I'm fine."||I don't know this sentence meaning.|
||Because the art group is meeting here this morning. I have to model for them.||In America, is an art group meeting the house of members?|
||Grace bowed quietly and went back in through the dark door.||I read this part of the book over and over, but I couldn't find some sentence about Grace, who she is.|
exclamations, discourse markers, pro-forms, ellipsis, pronunciation, poetry
||As I landed, four of them came towards me and took me by the arms. 'We are taking you to Mr Kewin, the judge. He wants to ask you some questions about the murder of a man here last night.'||One scene before this scene is a scene of ship. I feeled this change of scene is too rapid to understand. It needs much more explanation.|
|Example reading difficulty||The difficulty explained in the students' words||Action taken||
1 The scientist found out the fungi was digestive.
2 Tokyo women injured in "copycat" attacks
|I didn't know what digestive means.
I didn't know the word "copycat".
I looked up my dictionary because I wanted to know what digestive means.
I used my dictionary.
Increasing public awareness and a tailing off in political viruses had cut significantly the infection rate suffered by Chinese computers, Wan said.
|I don't know "tail- ing off in political viruses." I couldn't understand what a main verb is.||[Dictionary + parsing]
I saw English-Japanese dictionary, but I didn't find "tail off". So I don't know now. Concerning grammar, I circled "Increasing ...political viruses" and lined on "significantly". I understand "had cut" is main verb, and "suffered" is adjunct of "the infection rate".
|[Cohesion and coherence]
This was due partly to the rapid increase in demand for teachers and partly because of calls for diversification.
I don't know what to stand for mean-ing of "this".
|[Continue to read; read before and after.]
I continued to read near part of sentences.
|[Real world knowledge]
Although he didn't have any on his wedding day - "I was still trying to hold back a bit so my wife didn't think I was weird" - this restraint apparently only lasted briefly.
|The article tells about a man who devoted his life for ramen (Chinese noodle), And there were many unknown words about foods and tasting.||[Guess / imagine]
I visualized when I eat ramen ...
This is in part quite similar to the way that many academic books develop
their argumen --though academic text works at greater levels of abstraction
and remote detail, and with much less directly recognizable first person
experiences as supportive elaborations. Rather, many of the example elaborations
in academic text take hypothetical everyday examples to make such a bridge
(Imagine for example ..., Take the case ..., X is a case in point)
between the two worlds of abstract ("scientific") concepts and the reader's
imagined ("everyday") conceptual world. In effect, the narrative parts
of such newspaper reports about social trends might be exploited to make
the connection with graded texts of the first term, while the expository
sections could be used to prepare for academic text.
|Difficulty||# of mentions||% of total||Example||Learner comment
|vocabulary||27||25%||The cult remained there throughout antiquity, dominating the city.||The word "antiquity" is the noun, but for the meaning I don't have a clue. It might be pointing at a certain point or range of time.|
|In the last days of the waning summer, I made the acquaintance of Beethoven and found this reputedly savage and unsociable man to be the most magnificent artist with a heart of gold, a glorious spirit and a friendly disposition.||I can't image a heart of gold. I guess this means cold or hard heart, or this means twinkling heart. I don't remember "acquaintance" well. But I think "make the acquaintance" means "meet".|
|technical phrases||23||22%||Perception, according to Larry Samovar and Richard Porter, is the "internal process by which we select, evaluate, and organize from the external environment."||I don't understand the words "evaluate", "stimuli" and "external".I think "external" is the opposite of "internal" so it means "outside". If so, "stimuli" means information, influence or something, I think "evaluate" is between "select" and "organize" in this sentence. So, it is the process after selecting and before organizing. I think the word like that is "judge whether a thing is right".|
|sentence length||21||20%||By the Ninth Century the old Roman towns, most numerous in the provinces bordering the Mediterranean, had sadly declined from their earlier importance, while in Northern Europe town life, even of the relatively superficial Roman type, had never developed.||When I read the sentences like this, I always try to find "S" and "V", but this sentence is too long to be sure which is "S" and which is "V".|
|20||19%||In many cases, the buds of a new style do not appear at first in readily recognizable form. Nor do they appear in a positive form which is immediately accepted by the majority. This is clearly true when one considers the periods of transition in style in the history of painting and architecture.||I don't know about the periods of transition in painting well. So, such general opinion I cannot understand ... I need more knowledge about art and design.|
|syntax||11||9%||Hatovani (who incidentally wrote an obituary of Schiele) saw Expressionism as a response to Impressionism, in which the world and the ego had admittedly been in harmony but where the ego had become an illusion that was no more than the sum of disparate sensations.||I don't know this sentence exactly. Especially, I don't understand two parts "which ~" and "where ~". I don't know what "which" and "where" mean.|
|cohesion||5||3%||It uses the method of small regular strokes invented by Seurat and employed contemporaneously by the French Neo-Impressionists, but here it is only a motif, a method of stylizing nature, of using the fragmentation of objects in real space - leaves, trunks, flower petals - as just so many elements of a pattern.||What does "it" express? I understand the meaning of sentence, but I don't understand what "it" is. I think "it" expresses the method of small regular strokes (pointillism).|
... we have no clear idea at this time of how readers in general combine bottom-up and top down processes, much less how particular readers do so. In practice, we are therefore still very dependent on each student's natural ability to learn, and our working goal must be to facilitate, not to mechanically control, that learning. (p.227)
...good readers process language in the form of written text without thinking consciously about it, and good second language readers must learn to do so... It is only this kind of local processing
that allows for global reading with true comprehension. (pp. 235-236)
Personally, I am not so sure about that "must". And in a sense that's what I'm working on at the moment with another reading class, more than a year after I collected the student self-reports presented in this report. If learning is actively solving problems, then reading probably also largely consists of recognizing problems, articulating them and choosing the appropriate actions to take.
Brown, J.D. (1988). Understanding research in second language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carrell, P.L., Devine, J. & D. Eskey (Eds.). (1988). Interactive approaches to second language reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Eskey, D. & W. Grabe. (1988). Interactive models for second language reading: perspectives on instruction. In Carrell, P.L., Devine, J., & D. Eskey (Eds.), Interactive approaches to second language reading (pp. 223-238). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Freeman, D. (1998). Doing teacher research. Toronto: Heinle and Heinle.
Mateer, B. (1998). A reader response approach to junior high oral communication classes. [In, FL literacy: Meeting needs and realities in Japan (Presentations from the JALT 97 Foreign Language Literacy N-SIG Roundtable)]. Literacy Across Cultures, 2 (2), pp. 3-8.
Nunan, D. (1992). Research methods in language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Seliger, H.W. and E. Shohamy. (1989). Second language research methods.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Andy Barfield can be contacted at: Foreign Language Centre, Tsukuba University, Tennoudai, 1-1-1, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki-ken 305; e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org. jp>.
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