19 June 2013

The Relevance of Reading Skills

Examination period has barely ended and I wonder, what makes one student do better than another? Among the varied reasons and contexts, one characteristic that often surfaces,  is the receptiveness to reading -  the willingness to read and understand written texts. 

Often when students ask me how I learnt foreign languages, I confess that I only really learnt the language once I began reading in the language. And yes, initially, not always a painless experience, having to pull out the dictionary and trying to figure out the exact meaning of a word. However, I did love reading in my own L1 and as I learnt how not to fear the foreign words on the printed page, I transfered my reading skills into the target language. 

How has this changed for students today? The seemingly endless options both teachers and learners have today when focusing on a particular skill to develop. 

I've already  mentioned Parlor  as an interesting summer exploration reading tool, and today I'd like to point out Newsela

Newsela builds itself around non-fiction themes which may be tailored for different levels of readers, ranging from challenging to easy. Topics are adapted from current events around the world, from political and social uprises, to law, money  and articles related to youth around the world. 

After a teacher signs up, they can select the level for each class, (and give students the class code which is generated so they can sign up) keep track of their reading and their understanding of the text, with the aid of 4 main questions: 

1 - What does the text say? Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. 

2 - Central idea? Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyse their development, summarize the key supporting details and ideas. 

3 - People, Events & Ideas? Analyse how and why individuals, events or ideas develop and interact over the course of the text.

4 - Word Meaning & Choice? Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings and analyse how specific word choices shape meaning and tone. 

As always, teachers do need to check how appropriate an article may be for a certain class, both in terms of interest and alignment to curriculum, as well as how culturally appropriate a text may be. 

Another rich reading source is Discovery News. 

With a wealth of texts and videos, Discovery News  makes learning about the world around us a lot more interesting and current. 

Resources also include games such as Word Bubble 
a simple way to keep students who complete tasks before the others, still focused on learning/practising a challenging vocabulary task. 

No matter how much emphasis is given to Digital Skills, one cannot forget the basics: learning requires reading and understanding. Or in other words, reading skills are essential today as they were yesterday. 

Without knowing how to read, how to reflect and critically assess texts, students will not be able to perform successfully in other fields of study, inclusively, by using the different digital literacies which are demanded today.  When searching for information, for instance, students need to know how to process the information they are searching for; googling is simple, reading between the lines  to locate the exact information one needs, is more demanding. 

As Annie Murphy Paul points out in regard to thinking in a digital world,

"First, acquire a base of fact knowledge in any domain in which you want to perform well. This base supplies the essential foundation for building skills, and it can’t be outsourced to a search engine.
Second: Take advantage of computers’ invariant memory, but also the brain’selaborative memory. Computers are great when you want to store information that shouldn’t change—say, the date and time of that appointment next week. A computer (unlike your brain, or mine) won’t misremember the time of the appointment as 3 PM instead of 2 PM. But brains are the superior choice when you want information to change, in interesting and useful ways: to connect up with other facts and ideas, to acquire successive layers of meaning, to steep for a while in your accumulated knowledge and experience and so produce a richer mental brew."
This can only be achieved by successful reading skills. 

How do you encourage reading?


Annie Murphy Paul, 2013, Rules for Thinking in a Digital World

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