One day, in the morning class, I was teaching in B.Ed. first-year students in a community campus. I asked a student to read a text given in the coursebook. She felt odd and did not get up to read the text. I encouraged her to just read the text the way she could, but was shy and showed no willingness to read. After a brief silence, she told me that she would read the text the following day. I did not force her more as I thought that she did not want to lose her face in front of her friends. I also asked other students to read. Some of them were reluctant to read. Those who tried reading lack clear pronunciation and fluency in reading. They could not even produce the simple words correctly.
Likewise, the same day, in the afternoon, I was teaching the students of the first semester of Diploma in Civil Engineering in a community technical institute. I asked some students to read a text from their English course. A boy read the text and pronounced the words as /kəmɪment/ for ‘commitment’, /mæzestɪfɪkesən/ to ‘mystification’, /skɪberd/ to ‘discovered’, /ɔ:skərd/ for ‘obscured’, /sərvɪs/ to ‘serves’, /pɪjrs/ to ‘preyers’ etc. Moreover, I also taught the students of Diploma in Agriculture (Animal Science) on that day and I asked the students to read a text of their course because it was interesting to me that the students who were studying at the Diploma level could not read the text fluently with the correct pronunciation. A girl stood up and pronounced the word ‘fidelity’ as /fɪlɪtɪ/, ‘reminiscence’ as /rɪmkens/, ‘anything’ as /enðɪs/, ‘eye’ as /ɔɪ/, ‘anthropology’ as /entolozi/, ‘spectacle’ as /spekʊlər/, ‘glorious’ as /glɪsɪrɪjs/ etc. while she was reading the text. I am shocked to see the reading proficiency of the students of B. Ed. and Diploma in a technical institute. It is found that they are too weak in reading. Thus, in this write-up, I try to explore some problems regarding this issue in my effort to improve students’ reading.
Reading is the process of decoding a message from the given text. Going through a written text in order to understand and comprehend its message can be called reading. Eye movement and word recognition are the essential factors in the reading process. Reading is the main source of information and a means of consolidating and extending our knowledge. It is a kind of practice of using text to create meaning. If there is no meaning being created, there is no reading taking place. Teachers should engage students in reading activities to develop their reading skills.
Munby (1979, as cited in Khaniya, 2005) argues that reading skill incorporates different sub-skills such as recognition of the script of a language, deducing the meaning and use of unfamiliar lexical items, understanding explicitly stated information, understanding conceptual meaning, understanding relations within the sentences, understanding relations between parts of a text through lexical and grammatical cohesion devices, identifying the main points or important information in a piece of discourse, skimming, Scanning, and transcoding information to diagrammatic display that should be internalized and learned by the students for their proper development in reading. My experience in teaching shows that the students have not developed these sub-skills of reading even if they are studying at the Bachelor’s level. It is essential that the students have to develop all these sub-skills while reading the text appropriately.
Causes of Students’ Poor Reading Proficiency
To explore this issue, I discussed it with students in the class and observed their reading practice and found the following main causes:
Effect of COVID-19 Lockdown
The COVID-19 pandemic affected all sectors of life. Education is one of the highly affected sectors. To safeguard the people from coronavirus, the government declared the lockdown. As a result, schools remained closed. The schools could not continue the teaching and learning activities smoothly. Students could not take their regular classes and reading activities halted for several months. Teachers could not engage their students in reading practice either in the face to face or online mode because most of the community schools also could conduct their classes neither physically nor on online mode. The students missed the opportunity of the practice of reading in their class. Students who I have been teaching said that they did not take part in reading activities because of the lockdown, and their teachers completed their courses in a rush without giving attention to developing their reading skills.
No exam: No Reading
Because of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government could not run the School Education Examination (SEE) and the schools also did not take terminal and annual examinations. Students were promoted to the next class without attending any formal examinations. On the one hand, students did not attend regular classes; on the other hand, they passed without giving an examination. Our students do not study hard if they do not have to take part in the exam. One of the students asserted that ‘neither we give exams nor we study hard’ because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He further mentioned that pariksha dinu parne bhae po padhnu. hamile padhne abhyas garenau ni! (If we have to take an exam, we used to read. We have not practised reading). In this context, neither they read effectively in the class nor did they sit in the exam. As a result, they became weak in their reading.
Declining Reading Culture
The main cause of students being weak in reading is the poor reading culture. Students do not want to read themselves. They want to listen to their teachers reading out the text for them. They do not like to read since reading is difficult for them because it demands the enactment of several subskills at the same time. Reading is a time-consuming and challenging task. One of my students shared her experiences of reading as ‘reading takes much time because I have to search for pronunciation and meaning of the difficult words in the dictionary which is alchhilagdo (lazily) and jhanjhatilo (troublesome) task for me’. She further said that it is also boring to read alone at home. When they are poor at reading, they lack interest in it. We can also say that when they lack interest in reading, they become poor at it. If they read regularly at home, they can develop their reading skill.
Teacher-Centred Reading Practice
Generally, English teachers in community schools just read out the text and explain its meaning to students. They do not provide an opportunity for the students to read or to work out the exercises in the text on their own. Instead, the teachers encourage their students to recite the answer to the question which have been provided by them writing on the whiteboard. Consequently, many students fail to develop their reading skills. They adopt the teacher-centred method to teach reading. They themselves become active to read, interpret and convey the meaning through translation.
My Effort for Developing Reading Skill
As a reading teacher, I have used the following techniques to address the abovementioned reading problems faced by my students at the advanced level.:
Daily Reading Practice in the Class
Normally, advanced-level students are not asked to read in the class. They are expected to comprehend and take part in reasoning and thinking after self-reading practice. However, I ask them to read the text line by line in my class. In the beginning, they felt hesitant, shy and had the fear of losing face before their friends. When they realized that they can improve their reading if they involve in daily reading practice in the class from my counselling, they began taking part in reading activities actively. Although it is time-consuming and burdensome for me, I engage them in reading practice. Regular and continuous practice of daily reading even in B. Ed. class brought a noticeable change in the students that some of them can read the text with correct pronunciation at a slow pace. A few days ago, a new student came to my class. I asked her to read but she hesitated. Seeing her hesitation, another student encouraged her “Sir le hamrailagi padhna bhannubhaeko ho, padhana, yasari yaha ra gharama padhda mero peni padhaima sudhar bhayo [The teacher has told her to read for us. Read the text. I have also improved by reading here and at home]. It was quite satisfying for me to hear such positive feedback on my effort.
Reading at Home with Dictionary
I also motivate my students to read the text at home by using dictionaries. I tell them to underline difficult words and write their pronunciations and meanings with a pencil just above the words and read continuously to develop their reading. Some of them have followed this strategy and found it quite helpful. Those who read at home using dictionaries can read the text easily in the class, and those who come to class without reading at home find it difficult to understand.
Short Oral Question-based Reading
I ask students some short oral questions which are based on the reading text. I tell them that I will ask some short questions from the reading text so that they should read the text at home. The uses of short oral questions encourage students to read the text with a clear purpose. Such questions also give them direction, which ultimately contributes to their reading skill.
Reading in Pair
In my observation, there are two types of readers in the class. Some can read the text wholesome and can not even utter the words clearly. Keeping these two types in mind, I form reading pairs of ‘able’ and ‘ weak’ students. In a pair, they read together, talk and discuss. They read the text collectively. The able student helps his/her pair to read the text. If pairs are formed carefully, they do not hesitate to share their ideas with each other. This reading practice has become beneficial for the students in my classroom
Reading is a pivotal skill to develop students’ vocabulary and content knowledge. Students cannot develop their reading skills if they do not involve in reading activities themselves actively. Continuous, and active involvement of the students in reading texts supports them to develop their reading skills. They should read the text themselves without any hesitation no matter which level they are in. Daily practice of reading in the class with the support of the teachers, reading at home using dictionaries, reading to respond to short oral questions, and reading in pairs are some of the techniques for developing the reading skill of our students. At present, even advanced students are found grappling with reading texts in Nepal as stakeholders of ELT, we need to be aware of this problem and take some concerted effort to address it. For it, I think a long-term action research-based study is needed to explore in-depth the problems of reading students and to find out practical ways of overcoming them.
Khaniya, T.R. (2005). Examination for enhanced learning. Kathmandu: Author.
Author’s Bio: Nani Babu Ghimire is a Lecturer at Siddha Jyoti Education Campus Sindhuli, Nepal. He is currently a Ph. D. scholar in English Education at Tribhuvan University.