Baseball is Back!
Originally uploaded by WisDoc
Sometimes a second-language teacher gets so caught up in the question “What is reading?” the person forgets that the sentence “I read it but I don’t understand it” is not only correct but said all too often by native speakers. Anyone whoever signed divorce papers, a rental agreement, or bought a used car may have used the phrase about a document. But why start from the question, “What is reading?” Let us inquire from a different direction.
Consider the following two writing samples with accompanying questions:
1. A snapling teetered the roset to the doblet. The doblet beshmekled the roset. The crackomet was wundergant.
a. What did the snapling do?
b. What did the doblet do?
c. What was the crackomet?
You can certainly answer these questions. How is your reading comprehension?
2. A shortstop threw the ball to the second baseman. The second baseman dropped the ball. The runner was safe.
a. What are they playing?
b. What does the second baseman have to do to get the runner out?
c. Why is it possible to have an argument on this play?
You may not be able to answer these questions unless you know something about baseball and perhaps the larger context of the story.
At least one thing is very clear: If I transformed question 1.a. to read “What did the shortstop do?” I would not be asking a reading comprehension question because just as I can say “The snapling teetered the roset to the doblet,” I can also answer “The shortstop threw the ball to the second baseman.” So I may be testing eyesight or the ability to manipulate symbols, but I am certainly not testing reading comprehension. Sadly, many people who make up standardized reading tests believe that it is a comprehension question. That is an issue for another day.
From the little example we can, as second language instructors or learners, conclude a few factors about a fairly decent native language reader.
A. She picks out the most important points of the piece fairly easily if she has some background knowledge.
B. She predicts what is going to be read on the basis of syntactic and semantic information.
C. She can make predictions and test them.
Let us assume that our second language learner is a beginner and cannot begin to satisfy characteristic A. because she doesn’t know the sound of some letters or how to pronounce them. We have to keep in mind that our goal is to have a reader who can satisfy qualities A., B. and C. Each quality takes multiple steps. So at the moment we have a student in front of us who has limitations as she does not know all the sounds, but we may not wish to entirely separate those sounds from a context or we may never advance our student from quality A. all the way to quality C. What could a teacher possibly do? I have tried the following type of an example which still allows me to keep my eyes on the prize.
Consider the sentence, “A tan toy is on top of the table. It is taking too much space.”
At the beginning I can make use of sight and sound recognition. I read the word “tan” and focus in on the letter (and sound) of “t.” We work on this a little and then I ask the student if he recognizes other words which begin with “t.” We arrive at “tan,” “toy,” “top,” “table,” “taking,” and “too.” These are also fairly common sight words and I have put them in a context which I can use realia to demonstrate. In other words I am attempting to utilize a variety of material at my disposal to integrate and engage the prospective reader with the material to be read. There are many ways to success as long as a teacher realizes that reading is an ongoing process and the instructor doesn’t lose sight of where he/she wishes to help create a competent, independent, reader.
– Dr. Paul Schneider, Director of Teacher Education Programs, WAL