Lack of English Language Reading Engagement in Middle Grades: Causes and Remedies

By Rifat Syed

The importance of reading skill cannot be denied in a rapidly changing world. Literature in this regard shows that it is a fundamental skill among the four skills of English language to improve learner’s overall language proficiency. An Australian linguist David Nunan also confirmed that language proficiency contributes to cognitive development of a learner which fosters independent learning. In Pakistan, English is not the native language of learners; either it is spoken as a second (ESL) or foreign language (EFL). Researchers in Pakistan also highlights that learners are often reluctant to interact with reading due to the language barrier, which adversely affects the development of their reading skills. One challenge for ESL and EFL learners, specifically learners from Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) face is reading engagement. But the question is, what is reading engagement itself? According to literature it is the willingness to interact with the reading text, in which engaged readers are those who are interested in reading and enjoy reading. In my observation, as an English Language Teacher (ELT), I always felt that students were disengaged with reading; instead, they preferred engagement in sports and other indoor games. It is essential to maintain our physical health but for the maintenance of our cognitive health reading engagement is one of the healthy activities. Although there are many reading initiatives launched by the Government and private sector organizations in Pakistan, particularly in GB, still students’ engagement and motivation towards reading is disappointing. Parents also seem to be complaining about children’s disengagement with reading. Given the situation, I have conducted a study to explore the perspectives of students’ about reading engagement. The target population was grade eight students because the experts in English language believe that middle grade is a critical and complex transitional period for English Language students (ELs), where they generally show a decline in reading motivation and reading engagement. This decline can be due to multiple reasons such as learners’ lack of self-efficacy, lack of engaging teaching activities in class, lack of parents’ awareness about the importance of reading and teacher’ teaching. Moreover, students’ perspectives could help to open the ways for teachers and parents in reading engagement.

Teachers play a pivotal role in reading engagement of the students. Based on the study findings it is claimed that, teachers use of teaching-reading strategies impact the learners reading engagement because majority of the students agreed that teachers’ use of interesting reading strategies and materials spring their motivation towards reading. In addition, peer and siblings also influence students in reading engagement. Literature also emphasizes that when children spend more time with their peers with similar reading skills, they may further encourage one another, and this has an impact on the development of their reading skills. Furthermore, parents’ role is equally important to enhance the reading abilities in their children. In the light of findings of this study the students are expecting more from their parents to give them quality time at home and provide reading material.

Further the study findings suggests that reading materials along with pictures or images, praise words by teachers and parents boost motivation in reading which leads them towards

reading engagement. It was also identified that reading was the second most favourite skill of many students and they are also aware of the importance of reading skills for their future. Moreover, majority of the participants agree upon story reading as compared to other texts such as poetry and non-fiction. This indicates that teachers and parents need to carefully choose reading materials for teaching and reading and give them recreational reading materials at home in the form of stories. Parents and teacher are further suggested to create an open reading environment at home or school where the influence of peer or sibling’s reading make them a better engaged reader. Since one of the findings of the study highlighted that in the context of Ghizer, students preferred to read online than printed material. This might be possible due to the availability of 3G and 4G internet in the region which attracts students towards online reading. The finding clearly shows that students preferred online reading so; students should be provided internet and computer facility at schools. .

The study further identifies the correlation between reading engagement and socio economic status. Based on the findings, it is stated that the people of particular research site are not very rich nor poor and there is a weak positive correlation found. It means that they can easily provide reading material for their children at home. The study further recommends English language teachers to carefully choose teaching reading strategies in class to sustain the motivation of students for reading. Further they should get trainings for teaching reading.

Thus reading engagement in the class as well as outside the class is possible when teachers and parents pay attention towards the students’ needs and choices towards reading.

Rifat has completed her M.Ed degree from the Aga khan University -Institute for Educational Development. She is a teacher by profession, serving in Gilgit-Baltistan, an employee of the Aga Khan Education Service. The research on which this essay is based was supervised by Dr.Yuling Liu Smith,Co- Supervised by Mirat Al Fatima Ahsan and additionally facilitated by Dr.Dilshad Ashraf.

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