Mon. Oct 21st, 2019

Delving into reading skills

By Karim Muhammad Khan

Reading is a receptive skill but it propels thinking, listening, speaking and writing skills as well which are essential in paving the way for brighter career ahead. To make reading skill easier, researchers have divided it into certain components such as print concept; phonological and phonemic awareness; lexicons, fluency with accuracy along with reading comprehension. This paper attempts to investigate each of the above mentioned reading components in detail along with ways and means to overcome reading deficiencies.

Several survey reports in the country reveal that nearly half of the primary school children are weak in understanding each of the above mentioned reading segments. If not provide early scaffolding , these reading deficits grow with children up to higher grade level, which also cripple them in comprehending other disciplines and themes resulting poor performance in their exams. It has also been observed that repeated failures in exams compel children to get dropped out early or in the middle of their studies making their remaining life more dismal.

Prior to embarking on reading in early grades, it is vital for teachers to make children aware of print concepts and how it works and convey its messages in a text i.e. title page with author and publication; the concept of directionality like reading from left to right and up to down in English. Recognition of letters, words, sentences, spacing between words, lower and upper cases of alphabets are also important part of print concept. Teachers and parents should make children aware of print concept of their textbooks and other reading materials.

Once the understanding of print concept established, the next vital component, according to linguists are phonological and phonemic awareness as the former is to understanding broader unit of sounds and the latter is about the smallest sub-unit of sounds. For instance, phonological awareness is syllabification of words like ‘ele-ph-ant’ (elephant) and ‘Is-la-ma-bad’ (Islamabad). In addition, alliteration of sounds (repetition of same sound or tongue twister) i.e. he sells sea shells on the shallow sea shore. Rhyming words (similar sound in words) like pat, cat,sat,rat are also some of the examples of phonological awareness.

Under the umbrella of phonological awareness (broader unit of sound) comes phonemic awareness (sub units of sounds) that focuses on phonemes the smallest unit of a sound like ‘e’ in wet ‘i’ in sit, ‘oo’ in mute are recognized as vowel phonemes and /b/ for bell, ball, sh for ship, fish; ch for chain, church are consonant phonemes. Whereas the ‘o i’ in oil ‘oy’ in toy and ‘ay’ in stay, bay are called diphthong or gliding vowel phoneme (two vowel sound in a single syllable). It is all auditory and can assist students to manipulate sounds and skills of segmenting, blending and maneuvering sounds.

After getting acquainted with phonological awareness, (concept of broader sounds) phonemes (smallest unit of sound) and graphemes (letters or cluster of letters), it is critical for children to know ‘morpheme’ (the meaning associated with the sound) and how it conveys its message in a text and context.

Studies confirm that children who get more exposed to word- meaning and learn more lexicons are generally successful in their studies. Therefore, multiple strategies should be devised to enrich children’s word power and keep them activated in their working memory by engaging them in interesting hands on and minds on oral and written activities in the class.

Teaching lexicons by using various techniques such as using synonym, antonym, flashcards, real objects, models and pictures is productive in learning. Parents could also provide story books and exciting puzzles and appealing reading materials to their children. Project work like developing glossary book and updating them on weekly basis can indeed increase students’ word power. In addition, learning environment in school i.e. decorating walls with charts, various print concepts and glossary is also helpful in word building.

After getting familiar with print concepts, phonemes, graphemes and morphemes, children start reading text fluently with appropriate expression. However, their level of understandings may vary as some children are quick to learn while some are struggling readers and a few could even face more difficulties in reading with fluency and accuracy. To diagnose such cases, assessment rubric is used to record that how many words are read in a minute fluently, accurately and with suitable expression.

Based on the strengths and drawbacks in reading, there is dire need to re-plan the lesson and pay individual attention on each child in which fast learners can be assigned additional reading and slow learners are to be guided and facilitated in addressing their difficulties in the aforementioned components.  Some other techniques to improve reading fluency and accuracy are loud reading by the teacher and reading repeatedly by the students. Adding to that, pairing fast readers with less fluent readers is yet another important strategy in removing reading deficiency in slow learners.

Nevertheless, reading is not confined with fluency and accuracy only, rather comprehension is also critical as it is the ability to process information; know its meaning and to associate it with prior knowledge. The level of processing information in a text varies from superficial to deep learning depending upon the reader’s effort, understanding, background knowledge, lexical recognition; working memory and attention span. Indeed, those who are more exposed to reading could have better comprehension of the text as compared to those who spare little time for reading.

Further, some text are simple to understand and are self explanatory whereas some others are difficult to grasp due to complex vocabularies like homonyms (words with multiple meanings) and those with figurative meanings i.e. idioms, similes, collocations and metaphors. This type of intricate text is required more effort and more insight on the part of the reader under the guidance of the teacher.

However, by using some of the effective reading comprehension strategies i.e. using inferences and clues; asking questions; highlighting main points within the text; visualization of ideas, analyzing and synthesizing information and making connections between existing and prior knowledge would be helpful for students’ comprehension.

Teachers and parents should also create conducive learning environment for the children by providing exciting books and encourage them to develop reading habits. In school, each student should be assigned certain reading task and to share summary or some basic information from the book in the class or in the morning assembly on daily basis.

Succinctly, reading is a very crucial skill which expedites thinking, listening, speaking and writing skills which are instrumental in attaining bright career. In early grade level, children need to understand components of reading such as print concept; phonological and phonemic awareness (recognition of broader and smaller units of sound and associating them with letters and words) and getting to know the meaning of words by using multiple strategies. The more a child exposed to vocabulary, the better s/he reads with fluency, accuracy and appropriate expression. Fluent reading with correct expression assists in comprehending the abstract text and message of the author.

However, the level of comprehension may vary from student to student depending upon the level of readers’ effort, prior knowledge, word recognition; working memory and attention. Making inferences, asking questions, scanning important points, analyzing and synthesizing ideas; making connections with prior knowledge are said to be some of the common effective reading comprehension strategies as it is like a conversation between the reader and the text.

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