Teaching Reading in Greek Primary Schools
The Funway Reading Programme
The purpose of this paper is to define the teaching reading programme in Greek primary schools. In other words, we will try to clear out who are the Greek learners, what is the use of the English books and which approaches-methods the English teachers use.
I was inspired to approach the above subject, because from my 7 years experience as a school advisor in the region of Thessaly and Thessaloniki, I found out that the series of Funway English books may cause difficulties both to the teachers and to the students learning the English language.
In this presentation, first, we will try to give reasons for some of the difficulties as well as to clarify the parameters, which enter these difficulties.
Second, based on some of the existing theories on the reading skill, which are referred in the next paragraphs, we will try to come into a Greek Primary EFL class and set the pilot study.
Third, we will present a sample lesson that is, a particular reading lesson adapted from the students’ handbook. Twenty EFL teachers and I observed this particular lesson in the 13th primary school of Volos four years ago.
Finally, we will show the conclusions which all of us ended in from the observation and the discussions.
* The teaching of English in Greek primary schools has been introduced – on a wide scale – not more than fifteen years ago.
* The purpose the Greek learners have is somehow indefinite.
In a primary school class there are usually four kinds of learners:
a) Those who are already being taught English in frontistirions for one or even more years, b) those who are beginners at school and simultaneously at frontistirions, c) those who begin English only at school because they have no financial means or interest in learning English and d) those who are striving to learn Greek, let alone English! This teaching situation requires a well- trained teacher who will be capable of using his/her knowledge to eliminate such differences among learners and to provide interest for the learners of such age.
· As far as the primary English books concerned there is a series of two course books one double for the two senior classes and one single for the third class, which is considered to be difficult related to the previous one, accompanied by 2 work- books. It is provided to students by the state and is written by Greek authors.
· The methodology teachers follow is already predetermined through clear-cut guidelines written in a separate booklet, the “Teacher’ book”. Teachers are advised to strictly follow the given methodology and the set time limits. Authors may have expected to achieve unanimity by providing guidelines in teaching, (the teacher’s book first published in 1994) but they have not until now even though the books have been corrected.
In this presentation we will try to explain the Fun way reading programme focusing on the fourth grade class (students just beginning to be taught English at school) but before doing so, we should first consider some physical and psychological aspects of reading; in this way, we will be able to better understand the current approaches to the teaching of this skill.
What is reading?
When you learn to read two main parts of the head take part in the process. In other words, learning to read has to do with the brain or mind (« Knowing, Spelling”) and language (« saying, pronouncing”), or else a link between word recognition and understanding. ((The reading book, CLPE, 1991).
In a general sense reading is what happens when people look at a text and assign meaning to the written symbols in that text. ( Jo Ann Aebersold-Mary Lee Field, 1997, pp.15).
On the other hand, reading is an interactive process-as well as conversation.
To make it clear, when we converse with people, it is obvious that we depend on one another; each participant relies on certain unspoken rules that the others will follow. These rules have been formulated as the so-called co- operative principle. As it applies to reading, this principle might be extended along these lines:
The reader assumes
· That he and the writer are using the same code (the same language);
· That the writer has a message;
· That the writer wants the reader to understand the message.
The choice of Input material
According to the choice of input material the authentic texts, for many years an indispensable tool of the communicative approach to teaching, have long been considered as a motivating input; learners could best cope with “ real world” texts when they had experienced them in class. Students, though, should also learn vocabulary, syntax and grammar. What kind of “ authentic” response might then be elicited by reading, for example, a poem to learn vocabulary? An adapted or specially written text, on the other hand, not reflecting the target language “ superstructure” ( Beaumont, 1996, Unit 2: 44) may cause similar problems. It is concluded that in reading authenticity does not rely on the text but on the interaction between reader and text: any text that readers find suitable for their purpose is “ authentic” to them.
The content role
The questions, which should be arisen, are: Why do you read? What do you want to get from it? Was it only information? When students are confronted with a written page, a purpose must be provided to stimulate their interest. Content becomes important.
Johns and Davis (1983) distinguish between a Text as a Linguistic Object, TALO, and Text as a Vehicle for Information, TAVI (Beaumont,996: Unit 2 p.p.33-37), expands this distinction to include Text as a Stimulus for Production, TASP, and Text as a source of Enjoyment, TASE. TALO focuses on grammar practice while TAVI uses information towards authentic (real –life) uses of the language.
The text in Funway book is mainly used as a TALO so our students do not benefit from the merits of a TAVI. The content does not always meet their needs;
It is already chosen by the authors who had in mind a very broad audience of students when they made the selection; an audience of nine year olds, living in the same country all sharing the same kind of experience, knowledge and cultural background, something which is far from realistic.
Apart from this, the discovery of knowledge from the content does not focus on the processes employed; it is assumed that the students are already aware of them possibly from mother tongue. On the other hand, much attention is devoted to activate the learner’s existing knowledge (schemata), a very influential factor for the nature of comprehension. Using schemata learners make guesses about what they hear and can let go of the belief that they have to recognize and understand every single element of the message. This is called “redundancy” and it helps listeners anticipate what is likely to come next, select which elements to pay more attention to reduce the memory load and set up further predictions during the on going process of reading. ( Carrell 1983, 1984, 1897 , Rumelhart, 1980).
Fun way is a teacher-centered book; teachers are in a status of superiority as they use the input material and the tasks according to their own perception of what the students need to learn. Students respond to a kind of teaching which resembles a testing situation; they need to produce correct answers and satisfy the teachers’ demands, not theirs.
Arna Peretz ( 1988: 181-190) marked the transition from the “Traditional Teacher-Student Roles” to the restructured “Student-Teacher Roles”. This learner-centered approach, the most current of five phases in developing and refining reading (outlined in Beaumont, 1996, Unit 2: 6-12), holds that students should assume responsibility for their learning and become aware of what they need to learn and how to accomplish it. Thus they can develop intellectually (they develop a critical mind towards what they read) socially (they use language for real-life communication goals) and linguistically (they learn in a creative environment). The teacher assumes the demanding role of “a coach/classroom organizer/ trouble-shooter/ consultant/ personal manager/ catalyst (Williams, R: 1986: 44).
Purposes, approaches strategies and skills in reading. The Fun way reading process.
According to the Beaumont’s theory (1996) reading may fulfill four purposes for the learner.
a) Reading for pleasure, usually during our free time, (recreational purpose)
b) Reading in everyday life for example reading directions, advertisements, labels and so on, (functional purpose),
c) Reading that provides an authentic purpose in the classroom (educational purpose).
The authors of Fun way tried to insert material that will train students to become competent in all four uses of the language.
But to my opinion all these purposes cannot be achieved at the same time. Reading for pleasure could be the first step because, children at such age can be motivated by watching, doing things and enjoying themselves.
Therefore teachers have to organize a “basket of Good books’ in order to make students gradually get familiar with the books. We know that children need time to look through a book get familiar with it and feel confident as a reader.
The functional reading purpose could be the second step and reading for educational purpose plus reading at home could be the third step.
However, Fun way’ authors tried to train students to use all four uses of language by exposing them to the most important approaches in reading, such as:
a) Scanning, which trains students to focus on the main ideas the text wants to get across, b) skimming that puts the focus on specific details, c) extensive reading that encourages students to read for gist and d) intensive reading which is used to stimulate students to pick out specific pieces of information. The practice students get on the above is not always enough for them to master because they are not given the opportunity to use them frequently. Fun Way is sometimes over ambitious: many and different strategies, skills and activities appear and both students and teachers are expected to cope and make good use of them in a very short limit of time.
Students are also expected to respond to several skills and strategies. One of them is inferring. The text will never fully reveal itself. The amount of shared knowledge between writer-reader, activation of relevant schemata and appropriate use of bottom-up processes (primary emphasis on textual decoding from lower level processes such as letter and word recognition) will determine interpretation. Top-down processes (primary emphasis on reader interpretation and prior knowledge) will also prove indispensable. Communication should be, but is not, viewed as a reasonable interpretation rather than extraction of meaning (Widdowson 1979: 174; Byrne, undated: 4). Goodman’ psycholinguistic model of teaching, as it has been referred above, provided the well known definition for reading as a “psycholinguistic guessing game” (Goodman 1967: 126, quoted in Williams 1984:3) in which the reader “ reconstructs, as best as he can, a message encoded by the writer as a graphic display”.
The above model does not seem to have been taken into account in FunWay . Inferring, which may help students overcome vocabulary problems, is rather undermined as a skill to be developed. Learners should also be trained to use redundancy of the easily perceivable words or structures in the text, a strategy which facilitates reading because we normally read in groups of words and more attention should be given to the words which convey some kind of meaning-content words.
Training on the above skills results in putting less load on LTM (Long Term Memory) and retrieval of information will be easier. As teachers of the language we should also consider the opinions of Williams R. (1986: 43) and Alderson (1984: 1-27) who welcome the recent emphasis on teaching appropriate skills and strategies but they, rightfully, claim that “ a minimum language threshold is necessary before reading skills and strategies can successfully operate”. No one, though, proposes any kind of close linguistic analysis of texts- “ it is not real life so its outcome will be abnormal” (C. Wallace 1989:278) – as it may consequently develop distorted reading strategies.
The class of the research
Taking into account the existing theories we will try to come into a Greek primary EFL class and set the case of a pilot study.
The primary school I visited was chosen accidentally. This is: The
13 the Primary school of Volos (it is a provincial city of about 100.000
inhabitants in the center part of
The students in this particular class are all 9 years old. It is a class of 20 students , boys and girls. From these students there are 9 sts, who have been learning English in a frontistirio for one year, 7 sts who started English in a frontistirio last September, 1 is bilingual, and three sts who do not attend English out of school because of financial problems (one of them is an Alban).
They have three English sessions a week which last 45 minutes each.
The EFL teacher is 35 years old, female, with 8 years of experience in this primary school.
She has designed the following lesson from Fun way Book 1. (Part B), Unit 7.
The teacher has introduced this reading passage after about 4 months of teaching all four skills.
A sample Lesson
The lesson adapted from the students’ handbook
Time: 45 minutes
Aims: Linguistic: give orders, reading for gist.
Other: follow instructions
Description: Students read the instructions that a group of children have to follow in order to arrive at the treasure. They draw the itinerary on the map.
Preparation: 1. Prepare a handout with the map
2. Make copies of it for all the students in class.
3. Draw the map on the board.
Pre-reading activity: a
Teach students new vocabulary:
Verbs used to give orders and directions. This can be done with having students act out the movements in class. The teacher gives the orders and some students stand up in front of the class and follow them.
T: John, stand up. Come here. Go to the door. Mary, stand up and follow John: go to the door, too.
The procedure goes on until most (but not all) of the new verbs are taught.
Pre-reading activity: b
Introduce the subject.
T: You are going to read about some children who are looking for a treasure. It’s a game called “The treasure hunt”. I know that you also play it sometimes.
Set a purpose for reading.
T: Read and draw a line on the map in the handout to show the way the children must follow. You don’t have to understand everything. Just find the Way. You have 3 minutes.
While reading. Students read silently and draw the itinerary on the map.
The teacher goes around the class to monitor the activity and sort out any difficulties.
The teacher reads the text and asks one learner to draw the itinerary on the map on the board, so all the students can check their performance.
The teacher can ask several students to read aloud parts of the text.
a. Different students can give instructions to their peers who will act them out in front of the class.
b. The teacher or 1-2 students may pretend that they have hidden the treasure somewhere else on the map and give their own instructions to the rest of the class to find the new itineraries.
c. The teacher can divide the class in groups and give them instructions to find a “treasure” that the teacher has hidden somewhere in school.
d. They could also fill in passage where words had been left out, words taught and practiced in this lesson.
After observing this particular reading lesson I had a discussion with the teacher who explained to me in details the plan of the reading lesson she used the aim of the reading lesson and the methodology she followed.
The conclusions we ended up from the observation and discussions of this particular lesson are the followings.
-It is not clear either from the book itself or from the teacher’s book if this is supposed to be a reading lesson or just another way to introduce vocabulary and structures only.
-If it were to have been a lesson to practice the skill of reading, then it would at least require some kind of pre-reading phase or some post-reading tasks, even a few questions about the text. There are no such things. The post-reading tasks have no real connection to the reading the children have done.
Therefore what it should be done was to keep the text intact and insert tasks that cover all three stages in reading (as the particular teacher really did).
-I personally believe that because teachers are obliged to use this handbook they should not reject it as a whole; no book deserves this kind of treatment. They should keep its main guidelines and input material and adapt the tasks, at the same time skipping the activities that don’t seem to be purposeful for their students.
-What really impressed me during the teaching procedure was that the students could read for gist by inferring from the passage without being explained all the unknown words but only a few. (step 1). When the time came for them to check their performance (step 7) I was amazed to see that all of them had coped with it. Feedback was immediate and this was something the students welcomed as it gave them confidence for their performance and they were not being tested but rather given the chance to play the game themselves.
From my own point of view, the teacher followed a methodology that made the reading process acquire authenticity: the students read silently at the beginning to get the gist, something we normally do when we read instructions and then followed them to arrive at a purpose. At step 7, just before the post reading phase the teacher have to read the text aloud so that the students can judge their competence at reading and correct themselves without feeling embarrassed if this task had occurred in front of all their mates. Making students feel embarrassed about their performance is something the teacher should avoid at all costs as it might serve as a constraint in the future. Finally, at point 8 the students should be feeling confident enough to read the text aloud.
The post reading activities do not only integrate the different skills but are also enjoyable for the learners, a kind of welcome reward for their efforts.
From this particular teacher’s evidence as well as from my own experience, I ended in some conclusions about the Fun way reading program, which I believe will help all the primary school EFL teachers to better understand not only the role of reading but also to develop new teaching methodologies in their classes.
Reading is introduced very soon in Fun Way books; Students learn to spell the words and read them from the beginning lessons. About a month after this initial stage of learning words and simple sentences they are introduced to passages written in the form of dialogues, which are used as the input material for the teaching of all four skills. Reading passages are introduced later on, after about 4 months of teaching.
According to C.Nuttall’s theory (1996) there are three stages in teaching: pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading.
Pre-reading tasks rarely appear in Fun Way and, when they do, they are mostly used to give a rough account of what students are about to read. They could, however, serve more complex purposes: activate the learners’ schemata, provide information about new schemata to be created or older ones to be modified, inform about the situation, the characters, activate the process of prediction and, even more importantly, set a purpose for reading. Brown (1978: 283) believes that “…the spadework in teaching comprehension comes before the student is exposed to the text and not after it”.
While-reading activities do not appear in Fun Way. Whatever the activities, they appear after the reading was done. Reading is not devoted to developing the students’ skill of eliciting messages, so too many facts need to be stored in long term memory (LTM) and burden it. Students are again faced with a testing rather than teaching situation.
What are also left to the imagination of the teacher are post-reading tasks. If a teacher restricts to the instructions of the book then students will not have any chance to integrate different skills. This should be the major aim of post-reading tasks: provide a meaningful context for such integration. Reporting orally about their findings or exchanging information about what they read could practice speaking. Giving a written account of what was read or writing about something similar could be a welcome post-reading activity. The numerous post-reading activities that could be used will form a complete cycle for reading practice and this will reflect the way skills normally interact.
To sum up, Fun Way is a teacher-centered book. If a teacher is familiar with the new approach to teaching, not only the reading skill but all the other skills, where everything revolves around the learners and their needs, he/she will have to work a lot in order to apply this method in class. It will be necessary to constantly modify the materials in the handbook and be prompt to improvise.
This is not to duck the issue, however. The teaching of reading in a Greek primary school still remains neglected and students are mostly taught to read aloud passages and complete comprehension questions after the reading is done. The processes and skills that need to be developed in order for students to become active and autonomous readers are still left to the teachers to foster. It becomes evident that teachers must be informed about the new teaching methodologies and get trained to use them effectively in their classes.
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A POST READING ACTIVITY
From the adapted lesson
Fill in the passage with the missing words
F……..the instructions to find the t………
G……..to the big………
F………the red tree
F………the small p……near this tree
S………at the river
Find the K…….under the b………
O………the door with the k…….
The treasure is y……..
Byrne insists “ we should do whatever possible to help students with their tasks”
Byrne D, (undated)