Reading: Is it Justifiably done?
Reading, in general, is to infer some kind of idea from the given text or situation. It is a receptive skill. Harmer (1998) referring to the teaching learning context, says ‘To get maximum benefit from their reading, students need to be involved in both extensive and intensive reading.’ Extensive reading generally encourages students to choose the content for themselves. It is done basically for pleasure and general language whereas intensive reading is teacher directed and it is designed to enable the students to develop specific receptive skills. Reading is important to widen the horizon of one’s’ knowledge, and of course, leads other skills making familiar with the text.
Reading Culture in Nepal
At a moment, since there is availability of literature of the world in libraries and book shops, they have attracted many youths in extensive reading, as a result, the culture of reading found to be little more improving in this region. Some academic institutions and publication houses are working further to develop this culture by establishing readers’ circle and introducing new books to them. However, it still needs to scale higher in a graph. As far as the focus of reading skill in schools is concerned, students are found to have given comprehension text which is for intensive reading, and they are merely asked to scan and skim the text. Therefore, scanning and skimming seem to have overridden other strategies found mostly in reading for comprehension.
Scanning and Skimming are two specific speed reading strategies. We look for the specific information like date or particular words while scanning the text whereas in skimming, our purpose is to get detailed information. This is to get the general idea of the text. For instance, while reading newspaper, we skim to find the gist of the news. There are other strategies adopted in reading which are equally significant. Mostly, the purpose of reading determines the reading strategy the reader is adopting while he/she is in the text. Besides scanning and skimming, reading for detailed understanding, reading for understanding the underlying themes and ideas of texts, reading for understanding an argument, reading for identifying the structure and organization of paragraphs and longer texts, reading for anticipating the likely continuation of the interrupted text, reading for interpreting the information presented in diagrammatic forms, reading for deducing the meaning of unfamiliar lexical items, reading for appreciating literary texts and reading for creative expression are some other strategies. These strategies have to focused while teaching reading or they have to be taken into account while designing any reading exercises so that the students will be motivated to use these strategies besides scanning and skimming. Now the question is, do the reading comprehension tests that we have designed help build these important reading strategies in students?
Experiencing Bitter Truth
As a participant of the research work on ‘Reading Strategies’ carried out by Saraswoti Dawadi, the Open University PhD graduate, I was given three sets of SLC questions and was asked further to point out which reading strategies I used while solving each question given below.
- Read the poem and do the activities that follow:
Where the Mind is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is had forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action….
Into that heaven of freedom, my father
Let my country awake – Rabindranath Tagor
- Write ‘True’ for true statement and ‘False’ for false ones:
a. Dignity is high when there is no fear in the mind.
b. Domestic walls have fragmented the world.
c. The poet prays to Father for his individual freedom.
d. A stream can have a good effect in the desert.
- Fill in the blanks with appropriate words from the poem:
a. Continuous effort leads us towards …………..
b. Fearless situation makes people can get ………. of all kinds.
To my surprise, the result I obtained from this data was never expected. While solving all the questions, I found myself scanning in a great deal and often times skimming. I questioned myself if there are the questions that help me think critically and help me express creatively. I found none of them. The questions of School leaving Certificate examinations (SLC exams) in Nepal are thought to be highly standardized questions, however, the analysis reflected that the questions are of very general and plain nature. My point here is the comprehension questions that are asked are very general which mostly require students to scan and skim while doing this activity. They are not required to read for understanding an argument or for identifying the structure and organization of paragraphs and longer texts let alone reading for creative expression or for inference. One may argue that the questions to substantiate other strategies like reading for critical enquiry are asked in other sections of the test question. It may be true but if the questions are carefully observed unlike writing questions, no question focuses on such higher order skill which reveals the truth that it is high time we redesigned reading exercises to address this issue.
The following is the result that my analysis showed.
|Item||Reading for detailed understanding||Reading for general understanding||Reading for understanding the underlying themes and ideas of texts||Reading for scanning||Reading for anticipating the likely continuation of the interrupted text||Deduce the meaning of unfamiliar lexical items|
The above chart shows that the majority of questions have focused on scanning and skimming strategy whereas no questions have addressed reading for creative expression. If a question setter goes little beyond the traditional box of framing questions, he/she can make the comprehension question a little distinct incorporating questions that look for other strategies like reading for understanding an argument or for identifying the structure and organization of paragraphs and longer texts or for inference. For instance, make sentence using the word ‘tireless’ on your own (refer to the passage to retrieve its meaning)/ Where do you think the poet wants to take his countrymen and his country and why? Give any three reasons.
In such questions since they require little more time for the creative expression, the questions setter can allocate some more marks than the usual score they allocate to normal question if needed.
Let’s evaluate where we are in teaching reading and designing reading activities. Are we in the place where we are supposed to be? Are we helping the learners gain higher order skills? Lets’ answer and decide what next we are required to do.
(*Mr. Shrestha is the Assistant Coordinator of English Access Microscholarship Program, Nepal. He is an English Faculty at Medhavi College, Kathmandu. A teacher and teacher trainer, Mr. Shrestha has co-authered ‘English Teaching Methods’ and has worked in the capacity of Editor-in-chief of ‘ The GEM’, an annual magazine of GEMS and edited several magazines like ‘St. Lawrence Darpan’ and ‘Ankha’. He is particularly interested in cyberculture, researches in new trends in ELT and oriental and western Literature. He has presented papers in the USA, Canada and the UK.)