English Assessment – Good Strategy Makes Light Work of Heavy Reading

With the increased use of computers comes the increased need to train language learners how to read online.

– Scrolling, Clicking, and Reading English: Online Reading Strategies in a Second/Foreign Language

Online materials are usually composed of hypertext which is non-linear information, differing from traditional reading and resulting in difficulties for learners.

– Taiwanese EFL Learners’ Perceived Use of Online Reading Strategies

One component in the primary school English Language Use paper is the Open-ended Comprehension. This component is worth twenty marks at the upper primary levels and is a comprehensive assessment of how well students understand a text. By looking at the types of questions in Open-ended Comprehension, we can know what it means to understand a text.

There are questions which require students to look for information directly present in the text. This type of question is based on the premise that understanding a text means being able to identify specific details in a text.

There are questions which require students to state what a word refers to in a text. This type of question informs us that words take on different meanings in different sentences and contexts. To understand a text, students will have to understand that words are used in specific ways in specific contexts.

There are questions which ask if a statement based on the passage is true or false. Students also have to give a reason to support their classification. This type of question informs us we make inferences based on what we read. Some of these inferences go unchecked if we do not subject our understanding to testing. By stating whether a statement is true or false and giving a reason, students show that they are able to draw the right conclusions from the information presented in a text.

There are questions which test vocabulary. Students have to quote a word, phrase, or sentence. To understand a text is to understand the meaning of the vocabulary in the text.

There are questions for which the answer is not directly present in the text. These are inference questions. Like true/false with reason questions, there will be clues in the passage which point to the correct inference. Again, this suggests that to understand a text is to make the correct inference.

One other question type requires interpretation of quotations from the text. A quotation is given and students are asked what it means considering the overall context of the passage. Students do find this type of question challenging. This question type tells us understanding a text means being able to recognise meaning when it is not presented in a plain and obvious way.

To sum up, reading to understand a text involves the following: being able to (a) understand the meanings of words in their own right – the plain and ordinary meaning; (b) identify specific details; (c) understand what a word means in its context; (d) make the right inferences based on the information presented and (e) understand a statement which is metaphorical/idiomatic or otherwise in some way elliptical.

Given the above, reading is no simple act of merely moving the eyes from left to right and top to bottom, pronouncing the written words internally. It requires cognitive processing which in turn requires skills and strategies.

In 2002, two researchers, Mokhtari and Sheorey, complied a list of reading strategies. Their stated purpose was to help “students increase metacognitive awareness and become thoughtful, constructively responsive, and strategic readers.”

According to Anderson (2003), students with metacognitive awareness would be able to do the following when they have to read and understand a text. They would plan and prepare for effective reading. They would be aware of strategies they can use and be able to decide when to use which strategy. They would know how to ensure they are using a strategy the correct way and be able to combine different strategies to effect specific reading purposes. Lastly, they would know how to check if the strategy they are using is effective for the reading purpose they have in mind.

Mokhtari and Sheorey (2002) grouped their strategies in 3 broad categories. The first category of strategies is known as global strategies, the second, as problem-solving strategies and the last as support strategies.

While comprehending words on a piece of paper is a complex enough endeavour, students may have to, some time in the future, demonstrate comprehension of online text which has additional features compared to traditional text.

According to Chen (2015), online text differs from traditional text in the following ways. There may be hyperlinks embedded in online text. When clicked, these hyperlinks may lead to a different section on the same page or to a different page altogether. This makes reading online text a non-linear process – to understand the article or its subject matter to a great extent, it is not enough to move from the top to the bottom of a page. Consider for example, online news articles. Online text might also include videos, pictures, and music. Chen (2015) refers to these as hyper media. These too, make reading online text a non-linear process. For these reasons, online reading requires additional strategies.

It has been observed that it is easier to train students in following certain procedures than to enable them to use strategies autonomously and appropriately. The latter requires training the metacognitive ability. For example, while students might find handy a tool like story mountain for composition writing and be able to use it frequently, it would be harder for them to have in mind a list of strategies they can apply when they don’t know what to write next.

Researchers who have studied strategy use by students have found that students who do well differ from those who can do better in their strategy use. The former uses the right strategies more frequently.

One obstacle to students using strategies more often could be their beliefs about their own ability in relation to the reading task before them. This is known as self-efficacy. Students who believe they can handle the task, provided they use the right strategies; the right way, may be more willing to persist in strategy use. Students who believe that for one reason or another the reading problem is intractable would be less motivated to consider and try using strategies.

Given how important reading is and how easy it is to misperceive what has been written, students must learn how to use reading strategies to understand what they read.

With the right strategy, even a whale can leap.

The Brain Dojo

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