Friday, April 25, 2008

Teaching Reading to Beginning Level English Language Learners

As a graduate student in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program at Brigham Young University (BYU), I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Neil J. Anderson, an expert in the field of second language reading and language learner strategies in the TESOL field. He recently published a reading book in the Practical English Language Teaching series of which David Nunan is the series editor. In his book, Dr. Anderson addresses an approach to teaching reading to beginning level readers that relates to the teaching of phonics, or bottom-up strategies, in context of an interactive reading approach. He even mentions the software that my company develops as a resource that can be used to contribute to accomplishing this objective.

Here are a few excerpts from his book, cited with permission:

“The approach [to teaching reading] that is accepted as the most comprehensive description of the reading process is an interactive approach. This…combines elements of both bottom-up and top-down approaches. [Bottom-up processes involve fundamental basics of letter and sound recognition. A top-down approach involves achieving comprehension by using background knowledge and making predictions.] The best readers in any language are those who combine elements of both. For example, most readers begin reading by using top-down reading strategies until there is a problem, and then they shift to bottom-up strategies. Have you ever read something quickly and suddenly come to several new words? You are required to slow down your reading to decode the new words. When you do this, you are using bottom-up strategies to understand the words” (p. 7).

“The best readers in any language are those who use interactive reading, which integrates elements of both bottom-up and top-down reading. In the development of a reading syllabus, it is important to consider the balance that you will give to these processes.

“Beginning level readers should be exposed to a strong bottom-up component. This is perhaps the greatest weakness in the development of many reading syllabi. Little or no attention is given to the explicit instruction of bottom-up reading. A guideline that you could follow in preparing a syllabus for beginning level readers is allocating 50 percent of your syllabus to teaching bottom-up skills, 30 percent to top-down skills, and 20 percent to interactive skills. With a strong foundation in bottom-up skills, beginning level readers will become more proficient readers more quickly.

“Systematic phonics instruction is a bottom-up approach to reading that should be integrated into reading materials for beginning proficiency level readers. However, the reality is that most textbooks do not deal with phonics instruction” (p. 28).

"There are…effective phonics programs that provide teacher instruction as well as online learning support. Since much of the learning necessary for successful phonics skills is individual, the computer-based learning environment is a particularly good resource for English language teachers. One such program is Reading Horizons: Discover Intensive Phonics for Yourself. Reading Horizons consists of 30 lessons. The lessons divide the 42 sounds of English into four consonant sounds and one vowel sound per lesson and systematically introduce the letters by name and sound. Students then learn how to blend the consonant and vowel sounds. They then are taught digraphs and diphthongs followed by special vowel sounds.
Reading Horizons teaches beginning readers five phonetic skills for effectively decoding sounds in English.

The five skills are:
1. When the vowel is followed by one guardian consonant and nothing more, the vowel will be short.
2. When the vowel is followed by two guardian consonants and nothing more, the vowel will be short.
3. When a vowel stands alone, it will be long.
4. Silent E makes the first vowel long.
5. When vowels are adjacent, the second vowel is silent and the first vowel is long.

In addition, Reading Horizons teaches two decoding skills:
1. If there is only one guardian consonant following the vowel, that consonant will move on to the next syllable.
2. When a vowel is followed by two guardian consonants, the consonants will split. The first consonant will stay in the first syllable and the second consonant will move on to the next syllable.

The program can be accomplished in the classroom with a trained teacher who understands the teaching methodology used by Reading Horizons. In addition to explicit classroom instruction, the lessons can be delivered via the computer. The computer program guides the students through the lessons and provides auditory as well as visual input for learning the phonics rules" (pp. 28-29).

Source: Anderson, N. J. (2008). Practical English Language Teaching: Reading. New York: McGraw-Hill.

NOTE: Learn more about the methodology employed by Reading Horizons.

1 comment:

  1. Quite inspiring,

    Nice info for teaching non english speakers,

    Thanks for sharing,

    Keep up the good work