Monday, March 24, 2014

Emery & Moore (eds.) Teaching, Learning and Researching Reading in EFL

Published by TESOL Arabia in 2014, "Teaching, Learning and Researching Reading in EFL" has produced a number of well-researched papers on reading, many of which were produced in the Arab world. The images here show the cover and the contents pages.
Here is the introduction, written by myself and my co-editor Helen Emery, for the volume to give a flavour of what is included, and an indication of some of the significant insights the book provides.
This volume presents the reader with a thorough discussion of a wide range of issues all related to the teaching of reading in contexts where English is taught as a foreign or second language. The majority of papers present original research while others provide an overview of key topics. While the majority of contexts are located in the Arab-speaking world, a good proportion of other countries and contexts are also presented. This introduction aims to provide the reader with a general guide to the papers and attempts to highlight some of the key themes and significant contributions.
The papers in section one focus on the language learner as a reader. The approach taken by Helen Donaghue and Jason Thompson in the first paper is to elicit from students what they do to practice and improve their reading skills, as part of an evaluation into the innovative reading programme implemented in a college of higher education in the U.A.E. As interesting as the results is Donaghue and Thompson's assertion that by taking the time to listen to our students and respond more directly to their needs, preferences and practices, we can significantly improve the way we teach reading. Tariq Alkhaleefah and Nilüfer Demirkan-Jones look at how the type of text affects the use of reading strategies by university undergraduates in Saudi Arabia through a carefully controlled study. In doing so, they construct an impressive range of reading strategies that will be of great value to students, teachers and researchers alike. Victoria Tuzlukova, Fawzia Al-Seyabi, Ahlam Al-Rawahi and Abeer Al-Owasi also investigate the reading strategies of their students in an Omani university foundation programme, as well as their attitudes towards reading, and are consequently able to offer clear directions for syllabus planners. In the final paper in this section, Sasan Baleghizadeh and Mohammad Dehghan use two instruments to investigate the issue of reading anxiety in university students in Iran. Both instruments help to reveal the importance of reading anxiety and how it can significantly impact students' reading performance through their selection of reading strategy.
The papers in section two take the classroom as the focus of research and investigation. In the case of Helen Emery and Halima A'Thehli this involves investigating students' attitudes twoards the reading component of the Omani national curriculum and resulting issues connected to the teaching of reading using the course book English For Me. Their survey of teachers' attitudes, beliefs and practices highlights the central role that appropriate reading materials take in producing a successful reading programme. In an innovative study, Marwa Hegazy and Muhammad Abdelatif show how the practice of repeated reading in Egyptian prep schools can make a significant difference to students' ability to read fluently. Selma Deneme's paper reports on a research project that compared students' experiences of learning how to write summaries in universities in Jordan, Spain and Turkey. Across all three countries, it is evident that students recognise that they do not receive enough training in how to read for summary-writing or in how to prepare summaries. Based on a project in Indonesia, Handoyo Puji Widodo provides suggestions on how to plan and prepare materials for Vocational Education using a social semiotic approach. The next two papers, by Melanie Gobert and by Salma Al-Humaidi and Abdullah A'Riyami, both look into the use of graded readers in U.A.E. and Oman, respectively. While Gobert's study indicates significant gains made by students who were provided with relevant titles, the study in Oman offers interpretations as to why the graded reading materials offered by the Ministry of Education did not make a lot of difference to student progress or motivation. The final two papers in this section examine the assessment of reading. The very practical paper by Beth Wiens, Christine Coombe and Peter Davidson offers step-by-step guidance on how to prepare a reading test. In the final paper in section two, Nick Moore, Gillian Knight and Claudia Kiburz describe an assessment tool for reading that, despite the many changes that they describe, continues to develop a wide range of reading habits, particularly for students that start below the required standard of reading to gain entry into undergraduate studies in a U.A.E. university.
The aim of the final section is to take the attention of our readers to issues related to reading that are situated outside the classroom walls. The topic of leisure reading in both English and Arabic is investigated in a study by Melanie van den Hoven, Gillian Westera and Samia El Bassiouny that uses multiple perspectives to seriously challenge the notion that young Arab students are not readers. The data they gathered on the reading habits and attitudes of trainee teachers at a college in the U.A.E. reveals a complex picture of biliteracy that enables effective action to be taken. In a second study that looks into reading habits in both English and Arabic, Josephine O’Brien and Jill Cook examine in detail the reading abilities of their students in both languages to discover that there are, in fact, significant similarities across languages. That is, their Emirati students' reading strategies show considerable consistency across English and Arabic reading tests. In the next paper, Amanda Howard provides a detailed overview of research into reading from across the Middle East. The survey highlights that common themes in research into reading include discourse analysis, vocabulary and the use of the first language. The innovative programme Reading to Learn is described by Claire Acevedo in the next paper. The paper focuses on the repeated success that the programme has had in closing the performance gap between the stronger and weaker readers, detailing the results in Sweden where a large proportion of the previously-underperforming students were foreign language learners. The final paper in this collection questions the traditional notion of literacy. In describing some recent research into multiliteracies, Guy Merchant provides a valuable framework to interpret the role of different technologies in the teaching and learning of literacy in its more traditional guise and in other modes of meaning-making enabled by easy access to digital tools.
The majority of papers in this volume address the relatively un-researched notion that students in the Arab world do not appear to be good readers, especially by the time that they reach tertiary education. What all of the papers also show, however, is that there are many approaches to understanding this notion, to challenging the attitude that Arab students can not or do not read, and that for students that are struggling with reading in English, there are many solutions to guide them towards fluent reading. It is the hope of the editors and contributors to this book that, through the papers presented here, teachers and students will discover ways to bring more success in reading to all EFL learners.
The editors would like to thank all of the people involved in this project, including the TESOL Arabia Executive and the publications officers (past) Peter Davidson and (present) Peter Maclaren. They are especially grateful to all of the contributors whose hard work, kind nature and dedication to this book project have been inspiring.

The book should soon be made available to order online from TESOL Arabia publications. There are also plans to make the book available online, but these are likely to take some time.

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