Dr. David Jolliffe
Seminar Reading Theory
28 April 2009
Reading and the Teaching of English.
The Teaching of English is a very broad and diverse field. At its broadest definition, the teaching of English means the passing along of information, direction, goals, methods, ideas, and theories in the English language. There are several different areas within the teaching of English that it would be helpful to first explore.
There are many reasons why a student might seek to study English. Teachers must first define what kind of student they wish to teach. Teaching native learners is the most common kind of English taught in the world (McArthur). Native learners are expected to grow to become highly adept at reading and writing in English. Most native students spend at least twelve years learning many different aspects of English.
In primary school, or elementary school, students are taught different ways to begin reading. They are taught basic aspects of grammar, phonetic awareness, spelling structures, and some composition methods. This area of schooling is used to lay a foundation for the rest of a child’s education. Students will be expected to be able to read and comprehend many different types of texts by the time they finish primary school. They will also be expected to engage with these texts on a basic level through the use of writing.
In secondary school, students engage texts at a much deeper level. By this time, students have been taught how to understand texts at their face value. English courses in secondary schools usually focus more on literature and composition. It is very common for a student to explore books that are part of the canon of English literature. Typically, students will read a text, and then they will write papers discussing the plot or themes of the text. The use of creative writing has also been a popular tool used over the past twenty years. It allows the student to explore their own understanding of the world unencumbered by the words of those that have come before them.
Higher Education, or tertiary education, teaches students to make the most out of their English. It is in college that students are allowed the chance to engage with texts, largely unfiltered by the approach of teachers that try to define meaning. Students are expected to be able to use English to compose their own writings on subjects appropriate to the courses they are taking. Many schools offer composition courses that seek to explain to students how to approach these writing assignments correctly, without relying on the traditional form of five-paragraph essays. Students that seek to make English their primary course are expected to intelligently approach and engage every text that they read. An accumulation of previous methods in English studies help to define the limits the student will experience as a part of their journey through the educational system for Native speakers. It is very important that English teachers realize the cumulative effect their instruction will have upon their pupils.
This is also true for students that are learning English as a foreign, or secondary, language. There are many different reasons a non-native speaker might seek training in English, and teachers should be aware of the goal these students have in mind. Some students are expected to learn the language as a part of their country’s heritage. Their country may have been a former colony of an English-speaking country and English has become one of the languages spoken in their country. Other students studying English as a Second Language might seek to learn English because they wish to use it. These students might move to an English speaking country later in their life, or they might expect to interact with English speakers in their intended occupation. Academic curiosity is another common reason students will seek to gain a better understanding of English. English is also frequently used as a sort of universal language. Many industries use English words as a part of their everyday dealings, which in turn creates a need for it to be learned, if only in a very limited capacity, by the people in that industry. All of these areas require different procedures and approaches from the English Teacher. One of the most difficult areas of teaching English is the teaching of reading.
Reading is the exploration of the intangible through the use of a tangible medium. The Teaching of Reading is an attempt to pass along the process the teacher uses to explore. This nearly impossible feat has been broken down in the educational system into smaller compartmentalized parts so that each reader can use these parts to explore in a standardized and controlled way. It is important that the teacher remembers the end goal of the teaching of reading so the student will have the skills necessary for their own explorations. It is also important for the teacher to be aware of the development of Reading and the Teaching of English.
The teaching of reading in English is an old area of study that has continued to rapidly evolve, especially throughout the last one hundred years. There are many different approaches and methods that teachers use when reading is at hand, but there are some areas that are more commonly accepted and explored than others. It will be helpful to explore these methods in the same areas of teaching English that were previously mentioned.
The teaching of reading in English for native speakers is the most important job that teachers face. If a person can read and apprehend a text, they will be able to study or comprehend almost anything. To aid the very beginning stages of native and secondary learning, the teacher may use one of several different teaching methods.
There are basically two different methods for teaching the beginning reader how to find the meaning in a text. The first is phonics. Phonics use letters and letter groups to approximate phonemes, or specified sounds, common to the language of English. There are over 45 phonemes at use in the English Language. Teachers of the beginning English student can teach these phonemes as they relate to letters and letter groups. The students will then be able to sound out any word that they come across, and they will eventually adapt to the written English language and grow to understand how the sounds match up to the written words. There are several inherent problems in this system of teaching. Many students will not be able to understand harder words, even if they are able to pronounce it correctly. There is also a danger of students not understanding grammar, spelling, and syntax if they are used to working with phonics, especially if they use a dialect of English that is not in keeping with standardized English.
The second method beginning English students are often taught is the “whole word” method. Associations are utilized to connect words, phrases, or sentences with pictures and actions. These are drilled over and over until students have been able to recognize the texts and begin combining them in different ways. They are then expected to be able to build upon this basis as they continue their exploration of English. There are many problems with this method as well, such as a limited number of associations that are possible before the students have to work on their own; and there is a difficulty students often face when they try to connect their spoken language with the written one.
Proponents on both sides of this “war” claim that the problems that lie in the other are insurmountable. What both sides fail to realize is that both of these methods rely on a combination of external forces to create a reading experience in the beginning students, whereas all advanced students have this reading experience internally. Most teachers use an assimilation of the two methods in order to create a foundation for their students (Wilson 1).
It is upon this foundation that a great deal of time is required to improve the reader. It is difficult to truly teach a student real methods of improvement at this period of development in reading. The best method of strengthening reading skills after an appropriate foundation has been laid is through reading. Students must read a great deal, and they must read widely. Teachers of different subjects give reading assignments to students so they will be exposed to forms of literature, technical writing, essays, poetry, novels, and scientific writings. The more a student is able to comprehend about what he has read, the more he will be able to comprehend in future readings. This period of strengthening reading is very important in an English reader’s life, but it is the most elusive, and the hardest to teach by far.
The third area of a reader’s life that a teacher helps to develop is critical reading. This is the time in which a reader takes what he has read and looks at the deeper meaning. The teacher is expected to discuss the meaning of a text with the student. The English teacher will explore meaning, theories of how to approach meaning, different ways to explore meaning, and different methods of interpreting meaning in a text. Some of the most common theories are Reader-response, Feminism, Structuralism, New Criticism, and Historical Criticism. All of these methods of criticism seek to explain the meaning and appropriate criticisms to texts through the use of educated approaches. Teachers of English must guide the student through these, until the student has finally found an approach to reading that is unique. It is through these unique readings that humans are able to continually evolve in their understanding of English; and the application of their understandings changes the English language in turn.
Huey, Edmund Burke. The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading. New York: MacMillan, 1921.
“IPA Chart for English Dialects.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 27 April 2009