Effective Reading

| October 5, 2006
Effective Reading

Keywords: No Keywords

Ngan Phan

Bio Data
We are particularly pleased to present Ngan Phan s article on effective reading this month since she has embarked upon the Asian EFL Journal s own TESOL Certificate course. The standard of her paper is a sign of the overall quality that the certificate programme is trying to encourage among its participants. Congratulations to her on negotiating our stringent review procedure.

Reading is not merely a receptive process of picking up information from the page in a word-by-word manner (Grabe, 1991). Rather, it is a selective process and characterized as an active process of comprehending. Therefore, non-English-speaking readers find it important to employ reading strategies to read English texts more effectively. According to Grabe, effective reading is rapid, purposeful, comprehending, flexible and gradually developing. So, reading is a very complex process, and this is what drives many researchers to attempt to understand and explain its process.


Reading is not merely a receptive process of picking up information from the page in a word-by-word manner (Grabe, 1991). Rather, it is a selective process and characterized as an active process of comprehending. Therefore, non-English-speaking readers find it important to employ reading strategies to read English texts more effectively. According to Grabe, effective reading is rapid, purposeful, comprehending, flexible and gradually developing. So, reading is a very complex process, and this is what drives many researchers to attempt to understand and explain its process.

Reading strategies
According to Oxford and Crookall (1989), strategies can be operationalized as learning techniques, behaviors, and problem-solving or study skills that enhance learning more effectively and efficiently. In the light of second language learning, however, it is crucial to see the difference between strategies that enhance learning and strategies that improve comprehension. For this study, reading comprehension strategies are the main focus and are seen as comprehension processes that enable readers to construct meaning from the printed page most effectively. In other words, those strategies show how readers tackle a reading task, how they interpret their reading and what they do when they do not comprehend. Brantmeier summarizes these strategies as follows:

The strategies may involve skimming, scanning, guessing, recognizing cognates and word families, reading for meaning, predicting, activating general knowledge, making inferences, following references, and separating main ideas from supporting ideas (2002, p.1).

Furthermore, the reading strategies can consist of evaluating content, such as agreeing or disagreeing, making an association with prior knowledge or experience, asking and answering questions, looking at the key words, using sentence structure analysis such as determining the subject, verb or object of the sentence, skipping and rereading (Almasi, 2003; Sugirin, 1999). Clearly, not all strategies are of equal effectiveness due to the different types of reading texts and tasks, and reading strategy use by each reader.

A number of studies have been conducted on the use of reading strategies by second language readers. In a qualitative study, Hosenfeld (1977) examined successful and unsuccessful readers to find out what types of cognitive operations they used to process written texts. In an oral interview, the participants were asked to read a text and do think-aloud reports, i.e. they were directed to say in their first language whatever came to their minds while processing each sentence in the text. By doing so, the researcher could identify relationships between certain types of reading strategies and successful or unsuccessful second language readers. Specifically, the good readers tended to maintain the meaning of the text in mind, read in large phrases, ignore unimportant vocabulary and had a positive self-concept as a reader. However, inexperienced readers failed to extract the main idea from the sentences, worked in short phrases, rarely skipped any unimportant words and had a negative self-concept.

Think-aloud procedures were also used by Block (1986) to find the effect of using strategies on reading comprehension. Block compared the reading comprehension strategies used by native English speakers and English as a Second Language (ESL) students who were enrolled in a remedial reading course at the university level, and she connected these behaviors to comprehension. Having failed a college reading proficiency test before the study, the subjects were designated as non-proficient readers. They were asked to read two expository passages and do a think-aloud while reading (they reported all the thoughts that occurred to them after each sentence). After finishing reading and retelling each passage, they were instructed to answer twenty multiple-choice comprehension questions. Results showed that the participants first language background (Chinese, Spanish and/or English) did not account for the use of particular strategies. The results showed that readers with higher comprehension scores on the retellings and the multiple-choice questions integrated new information in the text with old information, extracted main ideas from details, referred to their background, and focused on textual meanings as a whole that are all classified as top-down strategies. Readers with low comprehension scores, on the other hand, seldom did so.

In a later study and using the same protocol, Block (1992) investigated the comprehension-monitoring process used by proficient and non-proficient ESL readers. The results indicated that when being confronted with a vocabulary problem, proficient ESL readers used their background knowledge, decided on whether the word was the key to the overall meaning of the passage, reread the sentence and worked out the meaning of the word by using syntactic clues. These strategies are categorized as top-down behaviors. Meanwhile, less-proficient ESL readers concentrated on identifying lexical problems and did not make an effort to figure out the meaning of words and, therefore, failed to recognize the key words from the reading text.

Sugirin (1999) used a multi-method study to explore the comprehension strategies of EFL readers. He collected data by using think-aloud protocol analysis, retellings, a reading comprehension test, in-depth interviews and casual observations. There were fifteen participants in the study, but only the profiles of the two participants rated as above-average readers were displayed. The two participants did the think-aloud activity in their native language, Indonesian. The analysis showed that employing the think-aloud protocols alone might not have effectively revealed some of the strategies and phenomena in the study. Others, such as in-depth interviews, were helpful in discovering strategies. The results indicated that there were noticeable gaps among the participants in the degree of comprehension and the strategies used. Moreover, the subjects were found to share characteristics of both poor and good readers. In the think-aloud activity, they skimmed the whole text at the beginning although they were instructed to read it sentence by sentence, which indicates that their strategies follow top-down processing, considered a characteristic of good readers strategies. Interestingly, the reading text seemed to be easy for one participant whose strategy pattern included the three elements of inferring, association with prior knowledge, and evaluation followed by paraphrasing. The other participant focused attention on questioning the meaning of a word or words before trying to paraphrase the sentence and making an inference, which is deemed to be bottom-up processing, characteristic of poor or less proficient readers strategies.

AhmadAsraf (2004) did a research study on the underlying strategies used by second language learners in responding to English texts. This case study investigated how the learners made an effort to comprehend the texts by selecting, understanding and integrating information in the context of eight reading comprehension sub-skills in the form of comprehension questions, such as word meaning, words in context, literal comprehension, drawing inferences from single strings, etc. The main goal of this study was to test the hypothesis: there is a difference between good and average readers in their response to the various question types within the framework of the eight sub-skills (p. 34). In this study, average readers were selected by their class teachers, the school supervisors, the head teacher, their language teachers, and their mid-year language test scores, which were from 50-70 out of a possible 100. In addition, the monthly test scores for English were counted, and their verbal communication ability was good. Likewise, the same selection criteria were applied for good readers whose mid-year language test scores were from 80-100 and oral and written abilities were very good. The results suggested that the same comprehension answering strategies were used by the good and average readers. However, the good readers were more consistently focused on each question type than the average ones; they articulated their comprehension answering strategies more often on each question type than the average readers. This, therefore, shows the importance of cognitive contextual awareness in obtaining reading comprehension.

Metacognitive awareness
Together with cognitive strategies, metacognitive awareness plays an essential part in achieving comprehension. Metacognitive awareness in reading processes deals with the knowledge about ourselves as readers, the reading tasks that we confront, and the reading strategies that we apply so as to solve the tasks (Baker & Brown, (1984) as cited in Singhal, 2001). Several studies have been carried out to seek the relationship between metacognitive awareness and reading comprehension. Devine s (1983) (as cited in Shinghal, 2001) conducted a study on L2 readers conceptualizations of their L2 reading processes through interviews. The results showed that older and more proficient readers tended to focus on reading as a meaning-making process rather than a decoding process. Meanwhile, the younger and less proficient readers appeared to do the opposite. In addition, conducting a study of L2 reading with 278 French language students, Barnett (1988) pointed out that proficient ESL readers displayed more awareness of their use of strategies in reading English than less proficient ESL readers. Carrell s (1989) study (as cited in Chern, 1994) also found support for positive relationships between readers metacognitive awareness of strategy use and their reading capacity in both L1 and L2. More recently, Sheorey and Mokhtari (2001) (as cited in Mokhtari, K. & Sheorey, R. (2002)) discovered the relation between students reading capacity and strategy use while reading. In both ESL and U.S college student groups, high-ability readers showed a higher level of awareness and strategy use than low-ability ones.

The above research findings on reading strategies indicate that there are, indeed, differences between proficient readers and non-proficient readers in terms of strategy use. There is also a strong relationship between reading strategies and proficiency level. Overall, good readers appear to use a wider range of strategies with higher frequency than poor readers do. As a result, detecting reading strategies used by readers when reading plays an essential part in this domain. It is anticipated that the more reading strategies readers employed while reading, the better the comprehension.

Although much literature has been devoted to reading, there is still little known about the reading process of ESL learners. Block (1986) stated the significance of widening the knowledge about the process of reading, not just the product of reading, so as to design reading programs that truly meet the needs of students. Grabe (1991) emphasized the need to conduct more second language reading research. Furthermore, with an overview of the research on L2 learners and reading strategies, Singhal (2001) called for more studies, such as studies of reading strategies and metacognitive factors in L2 reading, because many questions about reading comprehension and the reading process still remain (p. 8). Similarly, after Brantmeier (2002) carried out her second language reading strategy research at the secondary and university levels, she stressed that there remains important research to be done in this area, especially similar studies to obtain consistent results before generalizing to the whole population. Indeed, past investigations have focused mainly on the question of comparing effective readers with less effective readers in terms of reading strategies. What is apparent is that not many studies have specifically examined which reading strategies are selected and employed by non-English-speaking students while coping with a reading text in English. Consequently, discovering reading strategies used by non-English students when interacting with an English reading text in an academic context is the goal of this study. Another goal is to deepen the understanding of the process of their employing reading comprehension strategies.

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Category: Teaching Articles, Volume 15