Mechanisms of reading skills and reading strategies for taking international examinations

Students need to be taught a set of procedures, or strategies, that they can use on their own when they read text, especially when they encounter difficulties.

Dr. Dole J. A., 2002

Academic achievements and grades are becoming top priority for most young people in our country. Success in profession and life for many of them correlates with good level of English. The main requirement for applying to the national program "Bolashak", Nazarbayev University or being enrolled for other top world universities is getting a high score in examinations like IELTS or TOEFL. After analyzing of several IELTS test results and summative test outcomes taken by high school students of NIS it was noticed that reading part of the text recalls more challenging than other skills during the test preparation as well as while taking the test. The problem is that the majority of EFL students do not have the tools to achieve high scores in reading comprehension tests. They do not have effective reading strategies to guide them on their reading comprehension tests. The other factor which can influence on results is test anxiety which also can be solved, when a student will be able to implement specific strategies to help him or her stay calm and concentrated, and reduce the possibility of objectionable effect.

Nowadays there are plenty of research papers available regarding the shaping of different reading skills through various strategies which can be seen as a magic tool to improve candidates’ reading comprehension and critical thinking capabilities. At the same time teachers can be confused by implementing them when we talk about strategies demanded for taking international examinations with limited time interval. This article is aimed to consider specific strategies and determine more effective of them in taking reading tests.

Preparation is the most important strategy for taking a test; the more comfortable candidate with the material, the higher his or her confidence and ability to answer questions correctly during the testThe research done by Dr. Janice A. Dole and her followers can persuade in it. The most interesting two facts which they found out were that more-skilled readers used comprehension strategies and that when these strategies are directly taught to readers, their comprehension improves. This is generally true for all readers but especially true for less-skilled readers (Dole et al., 1991). They cite about dozens of studies to document the effectiveness of teaching students comprehension strategies.

Reading comprehension, as is generally considered, can be a result of extended reading. Although under the examination circumstances reader has definitive time to reveal the content of some different texts as close as possible. It goes without saying that candidates can pass the reading test only if they follow instructions systematically as well as methodically to enhance required reading skills. Therefore, to cope with time pressing during the examination students must develop the ability to immediately apply appropriate strategies in order to retain the meaning of a read fragment. Teacher’s function is to teach students how to think about these strategies as they read. The other important point worth mentioning is the rich diversity of topics which are usually used in examination reading materials. In this case teacher should concern about not only their students’ competence in strategy applying, but also developing students’ critical thinking and time managing skills. That is why it is time to understand at greater length mechanisms of reading skills and reading strategies.

For a foreign language learner among all the four skills reading is one of the strenuous and important skills that is taught to students in EFL. According to Susser and Robb (1990), reading is a skill, that is most emphasized in a traditional FL teaching. Reading is recognized as a complex process and it is not an easy course to comprehend for the foreign language students.

Relating to receptive language process it is a complicated psycholinguistic process because it starts with a linguistic surface representation encoded by a writer and ends with meaning which the reader constructs. According to Stoller&Grabe (1997) reading is an interaction between reader and text. They say that reading requires competent knowledge of world and a given topic also an efficient knowledge of the language. As it was stated, reading requires a rich background, and also some ability to comprehend the texts. Consequently reader needs to invoke a mechanism which involves connection of their background, past experience, abilities like interpretation, synthesizing, evaluation, and interpret the read text taking all these into consideration. Moreover, through all these process, candidates need to appeal to some strategies to have an effective comprehending in a short period. To be an efficient reader we need to examine explicitly the difference between reading skills and reading strategies

A reading skill is a helpful tool that a student practices in order to improve reading (Hollas, 2002). Thereby, it is necessary do differentiate reading skills from reading strategies. Various skills can be developed to improve the understanding of reading, whereas reading strategy is a plan or way of doing something; a specific procedure one uses to perform a skill (Hollas, 2002). Duarte (2009) revered to Weinstein and Mayer (1986) who defined strategies as behaviors and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning that are intended to influence the learners encoding process. And what they asserted is that strategies are mandatory for academic development. Further what many researchers mentioned are challenges EFL students face while reading short texts, for instance, magazine or newspaper articles, announcements or instructions. We must confess that we use very little of such kind of resources in our teaching practice and obviously this might be the first reason. The outcomes of NIS English teachers’ survey reflected that only 10% of them appeal to teaching reading strategies in their lesson. Among the techniques they used it is about 30% “Reciprocal Reading”, 15% “Crazy Professor”, 10%“Sheltered Reading”, 15% “Reading Conferences”, 5% “Reader’s Theater” and the rest teachers named individual reading and home reading. In fact, not every strategy, mentioned above can assist in taking tests. Moreover, they confessed to not teaching strategies and ways of thinking while reading. The mentioned techniques are used in purpose to make learning active, but not to explain students the role of them, while taking tests. The next reason, as researchers claim, is that the mentioned challenges are tied together with the competence of concentrating on written words. Due to this, many students need guidance and strategies to help focus on reading and to do more than just read the words on a piece of paper (Hollas, 2002) distinguished skills relating to strategies into the next zones.

  1. Predict – declaring in advance or to foretell on the basis of observation and/or experience.
  2. Visualize – forming mental pictures of scenes, characters and events.
  3. Connect – to link two things together or to associate and see a relationship.
  4. Question – to inquire or examine.
  5. Clarify – to make understandable or to become clear and free of confusion.
  6. Summarize – to concisely obtain the essence or main point of the text.
  7. Evaluate – to form an opinion about what you have read.

Duarte, (2009) in his study referred to Grellet, F, (1981) who proposed the following hints to develop reading skills:

  • Teach the students to concentrate on the text and not on the sentence. If reading comprehension is to be achieved, the structure of long units such as the paragraph or the whole text must be understood.
  • Start with global understanding and move towards detailed understanding rather than working the other way around.
  • Use authentic text whenever possible. The authentic text does not make learning more difficult. The difficulty depends on the activity which is required on the students rather than on the text itself. In other words, the teacher should grade exercises rather than texts.
  • Link the different activities through the different activities chosen.
  • Focus on reading skills and learning strategies and plan comprehension exercises for each of them.
  • Do not impose your own interpretation on the learners. Teach them to think by providing enough evidences for them to follow the right way.
  • Do not impose an exercise on the text. It is better to allow the text to suggest what exercises are more appropriate to it.
  • Do not use so many exercises that you might spoil the pleasure of reading.
  • Help the students to time themselves and increase their reading speed, little, by little.Use variety of procedures when controlling the student’s reading activities. Selfcorrecting exercises are extremely useful.

These seven areas can be linked to various strategies to improve the effectiveness of each reader. The "predicting, visualizing and connecting" areas are implemented as before reading strategies. The "question and clarification" areas are implemented as during reading strategies whereas, "summarizing and evaluating" are implemented as after reading strategies. The goal of the teacher is to help students apply reading strategies to become effective readers. Furthermore, strategies help students when they are reading and strategies are used in various tasks. For example, while students are predicting outcomes of a reading passage, strategies assist them. Also it is the same when students are summarizing what they read. Students use strategies as they are looking for clues; for example, context clues and rereading to correct what they read. They also need strategies either in interpreting main idea of texts or in determining the type of the texts.

Table 1. Difference between a Skill and a Strategy

SKILLS

STRATEGIES

Instructor decides what learner needs

Learner's needs are anticipated by instructor

Skills are often taught in predetermined sequence

Self-direction/need is determined by learner

Skills are often practiced in isolation

Strategies are taught in a meaningful context

The emphasis is often on practice for practice's sake only

Strategies are student-centered rather than teacherdirected

An automatic response is usually expected

Activities are purposeful, interactive, and independent

Applications to meaningful contexts may not occur

Continual observation is practiced for evaluation of what is needed

Taken from: http://www.sarasota.k12.fl.us/

Reading Strategies

There are many reading strategies that appear to be very important according to a multitude of researchers. It is a difficult task to decide which strategies are the most significant. Cunningham and Allington (1994) suggested necessary strategies that readers need to use when reading. These are: Calling up relevant background knowledge; predicting what will be learned and what will happen; making mental pictures; self-monitoring and selfcorrection; using fix-up strategies such as rereading or asking for help; determining the most important ideas and events and seeing how they are related; drawing conclusions and making inferences; deciding "what you think"(opinion); comparing and contrasting what you read and what you already know; figuring out unknown words; summarizing what has been read.

These have been broken down into five key strategies:

Using background knowledge

Above, it was mentioned about the role of background experience and knowledge. Cunningham and Allington (1994) also assert about the crucial role of previous knowledge in comprehending reading assignments.

Predicting

Making predictions through regarding, it is an essential strategy in terms of getting aware about the purpose of written text and purpose for reading a definite text. Synthesizing the previous experience and doing presumption for reading are synthesized process; therefore they can be developed via one and the same activities. Using their background knowledge their goal becomes finding out, or predicting what is going to happen next. Further, they are engaged in generating predictions prior to reading by first drawing upon background knowledge. By applying this strategy students are given the opportunity to integrate what they know while they read and are also faced with new information that may conflict with their own assumptions which, in turn may bolster critical thinking skills (Duarte, 2009)

Self-monitoring and self-correcting

If consider the self-monitoring and selfcorrecting as one of the reading strategies we can call then as "fix-up strategies" as well, as it is known in extensive reading type a reader allows himself to return to the complicated fragment again and again, but in our case it usually brings to time failure and needs developing up to automatism beforehand the test. Students must realize by themselves where they must stop and just to reread the information, thereby it is not easy to teacher to track this process and the role of self controlling is huge because not only rereading but the combination of other strategies are recalled to convey the sensible meaning of the text fragment. In most cases the capacity like guessing through the context is dominated above other skills. Applying self monitoring as a strategy is very similar to predicting skills application because a reader continually is asking himself has he or she can understand the text or not. Experience readers are able to predict and recognize immediately problems with comprehending and are able to fix them as they occur, but this might be hard for most of the students during the test when they meet unfamiliar words, because of absence of dictionary to look up the word, lack of the time, student has to decide whether to continue reading or reread to fix the problem.

Identifying main ideas and summarizing Summarizing strategy is supposed to be the most difficult that most of candidates come across while reading and doing the test. In addition, it bases on all other strategies which implication is resulted on fully and explicit comprehension of the text. This strategy is an important one because it helps them build an informational framework. Many researchers agree that summarizing happens either through deleting unimportant and redundant information or categorizing information, identifying and using the author's main ideas and creating your own main idea if the author did not clearly state his or hers.

Making inferences and questioning Making inferences and questioning is another strategy that even older students find quite tedious. This may be due to the fact that students are accustomed to their teachers giving them the questions. But if the teachers are asking all of the questions, students are not going to become strategic readers. Instead, they need to learn to ask themselves questions as they read. Harmer states that many studies which have shown having students generate their own questions lead to increased comprehension of text. It seems that by having students do this it forces them to think more deeply about the author's words and intentions, giving them a goal for reading. Actually, this strategy, from my point of view, might help students while they gist for the answer for the most questions of the test, for example, when they decide between answers like TRUE, FALSE OR NOT GIVEN. Students

have to make up questions to a given statement or paraphrase it to make sure about the answer. The same for other question type which test student’s ability to making inferences which involves understanding of the main idea, connecting the fundamental dots in order to not to go away from what an author’s message.

Finally, it seems appropriate to consider one final point in this discussion of the nature of reading strategies. Dole and his fellow researchers asserted that good readers make decisions about which strategies to use when to use it, and how to adapt it to a particular type of text. The student may be understood as an active reader who constructs meaning through the integration of existing and new knowledge and the flexible use of strategies to foster, monitor, regulate and maintain comprehension. (1991, pp. 242)

In conclusion, to overcome with reading tests in a limited time learners should be trained in using of appropriate strategies, critical thinking skills and will be able to implement them under any exam circumstances.

Lesson observation and survey results determined the lack of teachers’ attention to teaching strategies and practicing them permanently. Being able to comprehend what you have read is a requirement for success in all aspects of learning including beyond the educational years. Thus, in order to reach a qualified identity in chosen field students should learn to read and understand in English because most of the sources you can read in that language, just because of this, the university students need to improve their reading abilities.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Cunningham, P.M. & Allington, R.L. (1994). Classrooms That Work: They Can All Read and Write, New York: Harper Collins
  2. Dole J.A. (1991), Comprehension Strategies MacMillan. Retrieved February 05, 2013 from http://www.ehow.com/
  3. Duarte, V.B. (2009) Master in Teaching English as a Foreign Language Retrieved January 24, 2013 from http:// www. monografias. com/
  4. Grellet, F, 1981. Developing Reading Skills. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press. Hollas, B. (2002). Teaching your below-grade level students how to become strategic readers.
  5. Susser, B.& Robb, T.N. (1989). Extensive homework. The Language Teacher. 13(8), 7-9.
  6. Weinstein, C.E. & Mayer, R.E. (1986). The teaching of learning strategies. In M.C. Wittrock, (Ed.). Handbook of Research on Teaching. London: Macmillan. 315-327.
Year: 2014
City: Almaty
Category: Philology