the time the students arrive to the time they leave, literacy
lessons are an essential part of the daily programme at The
Hong Kong Institute of Education Jockey Club Primary School
(JCPS). They are in the morning messages that greet them each
day, in the songs they sing, the journals they write, the investigation
they conduct, the explorations they share to complete various
individual and group projects, the poems they chant and the
stories they read. At the foundation of such a literacy-based
environment is a curriculum, which underscores the critical
importance of reading and an understanding of the various levels
of development of the children.
key to reading success is the desire to read. In a school, there
should be many opportunities for children to discover the
joy of reading. Most children love stories. We need to capture
that desire and make it a powerful drive for them to read on their
own. We need to expose students to many different genres of text:
charts, poems, fairy tales, picture books, chapter books, magazines,
songs, non-fiction books, even shopping lists, advertisements,
posters and newspapers. Yet, what are the criteria for choosing
wisely for our students? How do we facilitate emergent readers
to become independent readers? Would assessment dampen children's
enthusiasm towards reading? This article will discuss reading and
the home-school connection, oral reading and fluency, book selection,
the development of reading skills and reading assessment.
Reading and the Home-school Connection
Many parents read to their children before
they are enrolled in schools. Unfortunately, once formal schooling
stories' tend to decrease. Dolores Durkin (1966) discovered that
the children who learned to read earliest were those from homes
where parents shared their books with the children as they read
aloud to them every day. If parents know that twenty minutes
of this natural parent-child activity can reap the benefit of
improved vocabulary, enhanced comprehension, increased fluency,
sustained motivation and a host of other achievements, they will
undoubtedly make reading to their children a priority. Keith
Topping (1987) suggests that even ten minutes a day of paired
reading between a parent and a child can bring about significant
improvement in reading by the child.
administrators ought to make concerted and continuous efforts
to educate parents
about the critical role they play in motivating
their children to read. They must invite parents to participate
and remain involved in the literacy development of their children
throughout their formative years by reading to the children, reading
with the children and listening to them read. In Hong Kong, where
some parents may not be able to read English books to their children,
it may be more realistic to suggest that they purchase 'talking
books' (i.e. books prerecorded on CDs or cassette tapes) for their
children, listen to the reading with their children and listen
to their children read. The ideal time may be the first ten minutes
in the morning or at the very end of the day when both parent and
child are relaxed in a quiet atmosphere conducive to listening.
Blessed are the children whose parents enjoy sharing a book with
them every day.
When parents have neither the time nor capacity to read to their
children at home, an alternative would be for school librarians
to recruit a team of volunteers to read to individual and small
groups of students at different times of the day. Primary schools
close to secondary schools might consider inviting the older students
of their neighbouring secondary schools to volunteer as a community
service to read books to the younger children at designated times
mutually convenient to both parties.
Oral Reading and Fluency
Experienced language teachers love reading
aloud to their students, especially the books which are beyond
the students' comfort zone
or of a genre unfamiliar to the class. Reading aloud is special
because the expressive voice of the teacher adds meaning to the
text. Remember, dramatic pauses adds to the expressiveness, and,
practice makes perfect! I often enjoy this literary experience
as much as my students, and pause deliberately from time to time
to think aloud as I negotiate the text and construct meaning.
At JCPS, students of all grades look forward to the few minutes
of oral reading by their teachers at the beginning of every English
class. The teachers agree that an expressive and meaning-filled
voice can draw children into the magic realm of reading. Hence,
it is imperative to practice beforehand and make these moments
memorable and enriching experiences for the students.
Oral reading can transform a self-conscious student into a star
performer because students who read well orally tend to see themselves
as confident learners and potentially successful people. While
oral reading is rarely practiced in Hong Kong classrooms, according
to a leading literacy researcher, Timothy Rasinski (2003), oral
reading is regaining its place of importance in the West. He
outlined the following key reasons why oral reading should be
an integral part of any programme.
|1. Oral reading
Even older students feel the emotional power of oral reading and become motivated
to read more on their own. When their teacher reads to them, students witness
fluent reading while they are exposed to multiple genres and more sophisticated
words and text structures.
Oral reading builds confidence for 'real' reading
In many authentic everyday situations, we are called on to read
orally, such as, giving a speech, making an announcement, offering
a toast, reporting a news, telling a joke, reading a story, reciting
a piece of poetry, performing a script, singing a song, shouting
a cheer, presenting a business proposal, and welcoming a distinguished
guest. It would be grossly remiss on our part not to prepare our
students for such occasions.
reading connects spoken and written language
Many teachers are aware that word recognition instruction is
more effective when studying words in isolation is balanced
them within the context of reading. In the Language Experience
Approach (Stauffer, 1980), students are taught how to encode
their discussion of life experiences, while in oral reading,
are shown how to decode what they have written into speech. This
organic process of encoding and decoding effectively shows students
the connection between reading and writing.
4. Oral reading
To build fluency, we must model good
oral reading, support students' oral reading through choral reading,
and the use of
recording materials, provide ample opportunities for practice
fluency through phrasing, as meanings in text often lie in
the phrases rather than in the individual words. Pinnell's
(1995) demonstrated that in every decline in oral reading fluency,
is a marked corresponding decline in silent reading comprehension.
By focusing on oral reading fluency, students see that apart
from words in the text, meaning is carried through intonation,
phrasing and pausing, which are essential to fluent oral reading.
Students with strong oral reading abilities can then free up
their cognitive resources (or attention) to focus more on comprehension.
5. Oral reading
allows us to assess the student's
When students read orally, we can assess their ability to decode
(e.g., Is the reader applying his or her phonics and other
word decoding skills?), analyze their reading errors to diagnose
reading problems (e.g., Are the mistakes syntactically or
grammatically acceptable within the passage?), determine their
(i.e. the number of words read correctly per minute), and
overall ability to comprehend the passage read by rating
their performance against a proficiency rubric scale for expression,
phrasing and pacing. More information on Reading Assessment
Print worth sharing and of value is available from a wide variety
of sources. But what books are wise choices for our students?
The answer really varies from one individual to another depending
on the purpose, the interest and developmental stage of the reader(s).
Whatever your choice, bear in mind that one of the main purposes
in teaching reading is to develop in students a love of reading
The reading process requires readers to construct meaning by bringing
what they know about the world and the language to help them predict
and make sense of the visual cues on the page. Beginner readers
find the task more arduous than experienced readers due to their
lack of knowledge about the world and the written language. To
sustain the interest of beginner readers and motivate readers,
of any age, to persist in the process, the texts presented to them
must make their effort seem worthwhile, rewarding and satisfying.
English language syllabus for primary schools published by the Hong
Kong Curriculum Development Council (1997) clearly articulated that
in selecting texts for intensive reading, teachers have to make sure
that the reading materials can pass scrutiny in the following ways:
reading materials are graded for systematic development of
language and skills (e.g. by using the Fry's Readability
|they are attractively
illustrated to motivate learners,
|they cover a wide
variety of topics appealing to learners of the target group,
| they allow room
for developing strategies to cope with new elements, e.g.,
unfamiliar vocabulary items or expressions,
| they include appropriate
authentic materials, and,
| they are of different
Emmitt, et al. (2003) declare that the children deserve to be
in classrooms where print is used to capture their imagination.
Beginner readers need texts where their rich and varied experiential
knowledge can be used to construct meaning from the texts. Texts
with predictable language patterns should be provided in order
to support the learners' development of visual processing and integration
of the different kinds of information necessary for making meaning.
Familiar stories, rhymes, chants, and songs should be used frequently.
The Development of Reading Skills
More time is spent on teaching reading than any other skills in
schools around the world, for being literate has been the mark
of an educated person for centuries. Alas, not everyone learns
to read and one of the most serious indictments of some education
systems is that some students are still illiterate after having
spent twelve years in school.
Broadly speaking, most teachers use either the bottom-up or the
top-down approach in teaching reading. The bottom-up approach sees
reading as a process of decoding written symbols into spoken words
and finally arriving at the meaning of the text. On the other hand,
the top-down approach, also known as the psycholinguistic approach,
views reading as a process of reconstructing meaning rather than
decoding form and the reader resorts to decoding only if all the
other means have been tried in vain.
using the bottom-up approach which is based on the principle
of sound-symbol correspondences,
many teachers teach reading using
the phonics approach (matching written symbols with their aural
equivalents) and the whole word approach (teaching words by their
overall shape or configuration). Cambourne (1979), who uses the
term "outside in" rather than bottom-up, offers the following
schematization of the approach: Print ─ Letter discrimination ─ phonemes and graphemes matched
─ blending ─ pronunciation ─ meaning
the complexity and relative unpredictability of sound-symbol
correspondences in English, Frank Smith (1978) argues that
the phonics approach is realistically illogical and de-emphasizes
meaning in the reading process. However, to ensure effectiveness,
teachers have taught phonics in context so that in actual
reading, readers can predict the meaning of an upcoming word
and negotiate the meaning of the whole text.
enjoying to read
top-down approach was ushered in by Smith and his contemporaries,
such as Goodman and Burke, who were pioneers of a technique
known as miscue analysis (i.e. the analysis
of errors made by the reader when reading aloud). This approach
begins with a set of hypotheses about the meaning of the
text to be read and then selectively samples the text to
determine whether the prediction is correct. Cambourne (1979)
provides the following illustration of how the process is
supposed to work:
Past experience, language intuitions ─ selective aspects of print ─ meaning
─ sound, pronunciation, if necessary, and expectations
This approach emphasizes the reconstruction of meaning rather
than the decoding of form. Nevertheless, in order to be able to
read fluently, readers have to recognize words on sight. This ability
closely resembles the function advocated by proponents of the whole-word
approach. It follows then that teachers ought to distinguish between
how the beginner readers and fluent readers should be taught. Consequently,
Stanovich (1980) in his exhaustive review of teaching models criticizes
the deficiencies of both bottom-up and top-down models. He proposes
a third approach, called the interactive-compensatory model, in
which the readers process text by using information provided simultaneously
from several different sources and compensate for deficiencies
at one level by drawing on knowledge at other levels, i.e. phonological,
lexical, syntactical, semantic and discoursal knowledge.
I daresay that Stanovich's
eclectic approach is effective because reading is an interactive
process wherein the reader shuttles constantly
between the bottom-up and top-down processes. The phonics approach
may be more efficient and effectively used to teach reading in
the early stages, but once past the beginning stage: the text type,
the cross-cultural aspects of reading comprehension (Steffensen
1981), the reader's past knowledge and the purpose of the task
would enable the proficient reader to make more sense of the
even go beyond to evaluate and critique what they have read. Research
has proven that different individuals learn to read in different
ways. So, teachers need to adapt different pedagogies to meet these
Furthermore, the Curriculum Development Council (1997) of the
Hong Kong Education and Manpower Bureau reminds us that in order
to ensure the language which the learners acquire is meaningful
and useful, it is essential that the teaching and learning of the
language is integrative. Careful planning of teaching and learning
is necessary to enable such integrative use of language.
Reading Assessment Strategies
There are a number of standardized tests available for the traditional
learning environment. These can even be administered through
quizzes and tests and graded by outside agencies. Often, the
drawback of these tests is that they do not reflect the actual
language use. On the other hand, teachers can design their own
reading assessments and evaluate their own teaching in order
to discover what the students can or cannot do as a result of
the instructional process. It is also important to collect from
time to time information that will inform us if the teaching
materials, procedures and other aspects of the instructional
process need to be changed.
plethora of assessment strategies is as plentiful as the assessment
objectives ─ teachers
can write anecdotal notes when observing children
engaged in reading, attempt miscue analyses to diagnose students'
reading problems, determine students'
overall reading levels by
accuracy or with an informal reading inventory (IRI), evaluate
reading responses to track comprehension progress, determine
reading rate or assess their word recognition using the
One Minute Reading Probe, and even train students to systematically
assess their own learning progress.
During the past twenty years, there has been a significant recognition
of reading as a sociocultural activity. The changing nature of
our understanding of literacy has also lead to further expansion
of reading assessment practices. The different uses of literacy
need to be acknowledged and therefore reflected in the range of
materials used for reading and reading assessments.
Learning to read begins with shared-reading at home and involves
learning to use the language to achieve authentic purposes in
particular contexts. The teacher and the librarian collaborate
to help students acquire the necessary skills for independent
reading, by enticing them to participate in both intensive (guided-reading)
and extensive reading (self-selected) sessions in the school.
Frequent opportunities to practice can instill good reading habits,
thus it is strongly recommended that we demonstrate good reading
to students and provide them with a print-rich environment to
stimulate their imagination.
readers concentrate on reading for meaning, interacting with
the text at hand and
comparing their reading responses with
other readers. Less proficient readers tend to be more concerned
with graphophonic cues. To track students'
reading progress, teachers
must make careful and continuous observations of students'
development, by using texts from a variety of genres and levels
of difficulty. Day-to-day teaching and learning situations will
provide teachers with ample opportunities to collect assessment
data, and over-time, a cumulative record of each student's progress
can be built up.
|Cambourne, B. 1979.
How important is theory to the reading teacher? Australian
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|Durkin, D. 1966.
Children Who Read Early. New York: Teachers College Press.
|Emmitt, M., Pollock,
J., and Komesaroff, L. 2003. Language and Learning: An Introduction
for Teaching (3rd edn.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
|Fry, E. 1977. Fry's
Readability Graph: Clarifications, validity and extension
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|Ivey, G. and Broaddus,
K. 2001. Just plain reading: A survey of what makes student
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|Smith, Fran. 1978.
Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading
and Learning to Read, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
|Stanovich, K. 1980.
Toward an interactive-compensatory model of individual differences
in the development of reading fluency. Reading Research Quarterly,
|Stauffer, R. 1980.
The Language-experience Approach to the Teaching of Reading
(2nd edn.). Cambridge, MA: Harper & Row.
1981. Register, Cohesion and Cross-cultural Reading Comprehension.
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|Topping, K. 1987.
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