пятница, 30 августа 2013 г.

Reflections on Reading Fiction in the Second Language Program

So Many Choices—Even to Abandon

The language teacher recognizes that the language learner will not understand all of the text in which he/she is engaged.  Even when the teacher previews the story to provide background and context, and introduces critical vocabulary, the learner can expect to experience gaps in comprehension. 

But this should not be seen as a failure on the part of the student, nor of the selection.  In the school setting these are addressed in literature circles or reading conferences, so that discussions might fill in where comprehension left off. 

In fact, the experienced teacher of language selects pieces which are slightly beyond the conversational level of the student, so that exposure to unfamiliar words and structures is built into the story.   It is important to provide the learner with the opportunity to experience literature just above the level of mastery.  Passive listening (or reading) is often easier for the learner than active speaking, so the reader may comprehend more of the piece than he/she will be willing to talk about. 

In any case, often the goal of the teacher—or of the adult learner—is exposure to language even more than to the story itself.

The language teacher who is selecting works of literature to incorporate in his program will be concerned with topics of interest, students’ level of proficiency, and appropriateness to the learner’s culture and background.  Ideally this teacher works with the media specialist who will aid in the choices of materials. 

But sometimes books will appear not to be a good match for the intended reader/s.  As mentioned above, it is not necessary for the reader to enjoy full comprehension of the text.  Furthermore, in the case of too little interest or too much difficulty, discontinuing a book is always an option.  Few are the passionate readers who have not done this, even without the barrier of an unfamiliar language.  Students should know this.  They should identify themselves as readers, no matter their level of proficiency in the target language or fluency in reading.   And they should realize that abandoning a book that’s not working for them is perfectly acceptable.  The wise teacher will be sure to conference with a student on this decision.

At all ages and levels of fluency in the target language, main sources of books will be a lending library—in the classroom, the school, or in the community.  In the classroom library of younger children, trade books might be supplemented with student-authored work.  What an incentive it can be for older students to perfect and publish their original work, knowing that they are contributing to the resources for other learners!  At the same time, the younger learners recognize that someday they will likewise be writing for other readers.

Literature in the Academic Setting

While literature should be enjoyed for its own sake, there is a place in language and literacy development for elements of study.  All readers in the language program, whether adults who may be reading mostly independently, or very young children whose choices are mostly guided, will keep a Reading Log which lists titles, the date that each was begun and finished, and include a space for a comment.  The Reading Log must be simple, user-friendly, and kept by the individual reader.

The program will include time for occasional conferencing about reading, not necessarily about every selection, but providing opportunity for pairs of learners, or one student with the teacher, to reflect on the work.  This brief conference will allow the student to comment on a character or a situation.  The date of the conference can be noted in the Reading Log.

Literature circles are opportunities for reader-learners of the same book to share ideas and impressions.  Book clubs which adults might join, likewise foster discussions that stimulate language based on the common experience of the literary piece.

Reflections, not Research

These reflections are based on my professional years in the field of biliteracy and second language education.  They draw also on my passion for language study and literature.

If I were to have cited scholarly research here, I could have referred often to the work of Stephen Krashen, who has been for decades a champion of language development through reading.  Language teachers will know of his theories of language learning, which are not without their detractors.  But the case that Dr. Krashen has made for reading in the language program must be acknowledged.  And a good place to start is http://www.sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=2.

What this website is lacking in bells and whistles, is more than compensated by its depth and richness.  I wouldn’t dare to recommend one title from the many, to direct attention toward one essay (or several) for fear of causing a reader to miss another.

I am pleased, however, to close with these words, confident that they will be an irresistible invitation to more of Stephen Krashen’s extensive research and writing.

Recreational reading or reading for pleasure is the major source of our reading competence, our vocabulary, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions. The evidence for FVR [free voluntary reading] comes from correlational studies, showing that those who read more show superior literacy development, case histories of those whose growth in literacy and language is clearly attributable to free reading, and studies of in-school recreational reading, such as sustained silent reading (SSR).