REDESIGNING TEACHING READING IN ESP CONTEXTS TO IMPROVE ACADEMIC READING ABILITY AND TO PROMOTE “LEARNING-HOW-TO-LEARN”

I Made Sujana  [English Education Department FKIP UNRAM]

Please Quote as

A Paper presented at TEFLIN International Conference at UKSW Salatiga, Central Java, September 2006

Abstract. The ultimate goal of teaching “MKDK” English at non-English departments is to prepare students to be able to understand textbooks written in English on their own field. To be able to do this, students must have various reading skills such as note-taking, evaluating, memorizing (retaining) information, summarizing, and other reading skills needed in academic contexts. The teaching and leaning process should, therefore, be directed to the proficiency of such skills. Through English subject the students are expected to be able to improve “learning how-to-learn” skills. It is necessary, then, to review the current practices of teaching reading at non-English departments. Have the materials and classroom activities represented the expectation of reading in academic contexts? Have the materials and classroom activities managed to improve students’ language skills and impart learning how-to-learn skills? This paper provides suggestion to redesign/re-orientate the materials and class activities to achieve both improvement of language skills and skills in learning-how-to-learn.

 Key words: teaching reading, academic reading, learning how-to-learn

 INTRODUCTION

 The teaching English at non-English Department (henceforth TENED) in Indonesia higher education has long been criticized due to unsatisfying results. After passing English course (sometimes with excellent mark “A”), the students are still incapable of using English to facilitate their study (i.e. reading English textbooks, journal, etc.) although they have spent most of their time in one semester discussing reading materials. It is necessary then to review the course design and its implementation. With its status as “MKDK” (Mata Kuliah Dasar Keahlian/ subject basic to major field of study), the TENED should be designed using an ESP (English for Specific Purposes) approach – an approach of ELT based on designing courses to meet learners’ needs (Hutchinson & Waters, 1993; see also Dudley-Evans & St. Jones, 1998). In this approach, the learners’ reasons for leaning English (learners’ needs) become the central issue in designing an English course program. However, the meaning of needs can be interpreted in many ways. Hutchinson & Waters (1993) see needs as necessities, wants, and lacks. Dudley-Evans & St Jones (1998) elaborate in more complex ways.

      Of the multi-interpretations of needs, they all agree that the target needs (necessities) – what learners need to know in order to function effectively in target situations can e used as starting pointing syllabus design. In relation to the course design for TENED, the target need must be analyzed first. A course designer should understand “where the language is going to be used”. Considering the status of English as “MKDK”, not as “MKU” in some study program curriculum, the TENED should be able to facilitate students to acquire ability to understand textbooks written in English on their own field. University students are demanded to have good ability in reading in order to access information and knowledge for their study.

      Most study programs at the University of Mataram (UNRAM) put the improvement of reading skills at certain levels (upper-intermediate – advanced) as competencies to be achieved at the end of the course. If the objective of the course is to be led to the achievement of ability to read English textbooks, the teaching of English (both materials and classroom activities) should be directed to the achievement of skills needed in academic settings. It means that to be able to read English textbooks, the students are demanded to have such academic reading skills as note-taking, summarizing, underlining, retaining information, arguing, presenting information, etc.

      At the level of application, the TENED face so many problems: the big gap between necessities and students’ lacks, class size, time allocation, teaching materials, teachers’ strategy, students’ motivation, weak role of English in our education system, etc. It is the duties of English practitioners to keep finding out the solutions so that the quality of TENED can be improved step-by-step. Due to the complexity of the problems, there must be involvement of various parties: lecturers, study program, faculty, and university with their own capacity. Lectures should take the portions of course design and its implementation in classroom so that the traditional way of teaching reading can gradually be replaced by more challenging and useful materials and activities for both the improvement of students’ English and students’ learning skills.

Observing teaching materials and teaching activities in the implementation of TENED, we will soon realize that they are still far from what is demanded in academic reading. Both teaching materials and activities still fall into traditional ways of teaching reading: the class are assigned to read a passage and answer questions that follow, followed by discussion to check the correct answers based on the passage. The activities are then extended to vocabulary and related grammar discussions. These activities do not represent the ability the students in doing academic reading. In academic settings they need to have abilities in note-taking, summarizing, underlining, presenting opinion. This can be achieved only by practicing directly to these academic reading skills.

      From the issues mentioned above, it is necessary to redesign, at least re-orientate, the current practices of TENED (and also the teaching reading in general). In addition to the appropriate selection of teaching materials and activities to improve students’ language skills in academic setting, the English class at the same time can be used as a means of improving learning skills needed to support their study. The paper is, therefore, intended to provide suggestion for reorientation of TENED for both improving language and learning skills.

REORIENTATION OF TEACHING READING TO IMPROVE READING ABILITY AND LEARNING SKILLS IN TENED

 Reading skills receive a special focus in teaching English as a second or foreign language. There are many factors that make the reading become focus: (1) Many ESL/EFL students often have reading as one of their most important goals. They want to be able to read in English for information and pleasure, for their career and for study purposes; (2) written texts serve various pedagogical purposes (Richards & Renandya 2002). In addition, in Indonesia context, the teaching of reading is due to some considerations: class size makes it impossible to teach other skills than reading; as university students, they are demanded to have adequate reading ability. However, although the TENED in Indoensia has devoted most of the time to reading comprehension, the result is still unsatisfactory. There are many contributing factors to this failure. Some of those may relate to the design of the materials and the classroom application. As mentioned above, most reading materials for teaching English at non-English departments currently available fall into traditional ways of teaching reading, that is to say, the reading passage followed by comprehension questions. The lecturer tends to follow steps presented in the materials; he/she assigns the students to read the passage, answer the questions that follow and then discuss the correct answer for each question. Then, the materials are usually extended to the discussion of related grammar and vocabulary exercises. Such kinds of reading materials will influence students’ learning styles and tend to have negative washback effect on students’ learning. Reading for them is not more than finding the correct answer from the passage and follow the instructions prescribed in the book. They don’t have creativity in using language because they tend to copy the answers from the passage directly.

Grabe (2002: 282) doubts the generalization of students’ ability in the intensive reading activities to the ability in extensive reading (in content-based instructions). The students need to make transition from learning to read to reading to learn other information. Furthermore, he suggest that content-based instruction (CBI) should be included in reading instruction for a number of reasons: (i) it is useful for language skills development in many L2 contexts; (ii) it has potential to motivate students strongly, to develop strategic readers, to provide contexts for reading extensively; (iii) it provided a natural framework for incorporating text-structure awareness and formal knowledge of language structure, demonstrating how language serves useful functions for communicating and achieving goals.

How should the reading materials be designed? And how should the materials be presented in the class? To answer these questions, we have to look at Nunan’s (1991) notes on the target of language programs, saying that language programs should be directed to achieve twin goals – one set related to the improvement of the language skills and the other set related to the improvement of learning skills and skills in learning-how to learn. What does this mean then to the design of teaching reading in TENED? Have the language programs been directed to the achievement of those two goals?

The ultimate goal of teaching reading at higher education should be to make the students be fluent in reading. Grabe (1994), summarizing from various results of reading research, defines fluent reading as rapid, purposeful, interactive, comprehending, flexible and gradually developing.

  • Rapid: the reader needs to maintain the flow of information at a sufficient rate;
  • Purposeful: the reader has a purpose for reading (entertainment, information, etc.);
  • Interactive: the reader makes use of information from his background knowledge to support the printed texts;
  • Comprehending: the reader typically expects to understand what he is reading.
  • Flexible: the reader employs a range of strategies to read efficiently;
  • Reading develops gradually: fluent reading is the product of long-term effort and gradually improvement.

All these must be considered in the design and application of teaching reading. The students, for example, should be trained to manage their time efficiently, to improve level of comprehension by using his background knowledge; and the more important thing is that they should be given constant practices in various activities. Since reading is a complex process, it takes serious effort to make students become fluent readers. Furthermore, Grabe (1994) tries to formulate component skills and knowledge needed in fluent reading. Summarizing various research results, the researchers in reading propose at least six general component skills and knowledge areas:

  • Automatic recognition skills – occurring when the reader is unaware of the process, not consciously controlling the process, and using little processing capacity.
  • Vocabulary and structural knowledge – both are critical features of reading ability. Fluent readers need a sound knowledge of language structure and a large recognition vocabulary.
  • Formal discourse structure knowledge – fluent readers need a good knowledge of formal discourse structure (formal schemata). Knowing how a text is organized influences the comprehension of the text.
  • Content/world background knowledge – prior knowledge of text related information strongly affects reading comprehension.
  • Synthesis and evaluation skills — fluent readers not only seek to comprehend a text when they read, they also evaluate the text information and compare and synthesize it with other sources of information/knowledge.
  • Meta-cognitive knowledge and skills monitoring – knowledge about cognition and the self regulation of cognition. Knowledge of cognition involves recognizing patterns of structure and organization, and using appropriate strategies to achieve specific goals (comprehending text, remembering information). Monitoring of cognition involves recognizing problems with information presented in the texts or an inability to achieve expected goals (Grabe, 1994).

From the explanation above, it is obvious that there are many things to be considered in order to train students to become fluent readers. It takes long process and needs constant practices by considering skills and knowledge mentioned above. A question arises “Have all of these been considered in the design (and the implementation) of Reading in TENED?”

Starting from the status of English as “MKDK”, the TENED should be directed to the improvements of reading skills needed in academic settings since the students are expected to access information and knowledge written in English in their own field. In academic settings, they are expected to take note, summarize, argue, underline, memorize, etc. the texts they are reading. They are expected to do prediction of the text and use their background knowledge to respond to the texts. All these cannot be achieved by answering comprehension questions following the text. They must be trained to do reading skills as needed in academic setting directly and gradually. The materials and classroom activities should closely represent what they do when they are faced with content-based instruction.

In addition to the improvement of academic reading skills directly, the teaching of reading should also be directed to the improvement of leaning skills and skills in learning-how-to learn. Skills in learning how-to-learn become an important aspect to be considered in language programs (see Nunan, 1991). The Australian Language Levels (ALL) Guidelines has also included “learning-how-to-learn as one of five goals of language learning, in addition to socio-cultural, language and culture awareness, general knowledge, and communication (Vale, et al., 1993). The inclusion of learning how-to-learn in a language program aims at students’ taking a growing responsibility for the management of their own learning so that they learn how to learn and how to learn a language. In more specific goals, learning-how-to-learn enables students to develop the (i) cognitive processing skills to understand and express values, attitudes, and feelings; process information; think and respond creatively; (ii) learning skills to take responsibility for their own learning; and (iii) communication strategies to sustain communication in the target language (p. 36). It is important to promote independency in learning since class meetings just provide stimuli. It is the job of the students to develop the stimuli on their own way outside the class. In order to do this, they need learning skills and skills in learning-how-to learn. This opinion is in line with Harmer’s (1991) statement stating that we teachers cannot teach students everything we have and they need so we have to train them to teach themselves.

Both the improvement of language skills for academic settings and the improvement of learning-how-to-learn should be accommodated in teaching program. Materials and classroom activities should be designed to provide practices for students to do note-taking, summarizing, predicting, underlining, outlining, reporting, etc. Thus, the tradition of material writing should also be redesigned to represent the activities needed in academic reading and to promote learning-how to learn. Following is the sample of the reorientation of materials and teaching activities in teaching English for Students of Economics:

WHY NATION TRADE?

 Steps in Teaching this Material:

  1. Look at the quotation of the first paragraph of “Why Nation Trade” and then find out the idea of this paragraph. Write them in the “Introduction” box.
  2. Look at the last sentence of the paragraph. What do you expect to read in the following paragraphs?
  3. Read the complete paragraph on the following page, write down the main point of each paragraph in the box provided from paragraph 2, 3, 4 and 5. Read those paragraphs again to find the detail of each paragraph.
  4. Use your notes in the diagram below to complete the “Outline”. (You are not allowed to look at the passage again to test whether your note works or not)
  5. Now, without looking at the passage, answer the “Comprehension Questions” in Bahasa Indonesia to test your memory and your translation ability).


 

 

 Lines

(5)

 

 

 

 

(10)

 

 

 

 

(15)

 

 

 

 

(20)

 

 

 

 

(25)

 


 WHY NATION TRADE?

The sale of goods and services is not restricted to local, regional, or national markets; it often takes place on an international basis. Nations import goods that they lack or cannot produce as efficiently as other nations, and they export goods that they can produce more efficiently. This exchange of goods and services in the world, or global, market is known as international trade. There are three main benefits to be gained from this type of exchange.

First international trade makes scarce goods available to nations that need or desire them. When a nation lacks the resources needed to produce goods domestically, it may import them from another country. For example, Saudi Arabia imports automobiles; the United States, bananas; and Japan, oil.

Second, international trade allows a nation to specialize in the production of these goods for which it is particularly suited. This often results in increased out put, decreased costs, and a higher national standard of living. Natural, human, and technical resources help determined which products a nation will specialize in. Saudi Arabia is able to specialize in petroleum because it has the necessary natural resource; Japan is able to specialize in production of television because it has the human resources required to assemble the numerous components by hands; and the United States is able to specialize in the computer industry because it has the technical expertise necessary for design and production.

There are two economic principles that help explain how and when specialization is advantageous. According the theory of absolute advantage, a nation ought to specialize in the goods that it can produce more cheaply than its competitors or in the goods that no other nation is able to produce. According to the theory of comparative advantage, a nation ought to concentrate on the products that it can produce most efficiently and profitably. For example, a nation might produce both grain and wine cheaply, but it specializes in the one which will be more profitable.

The third benefit, of international trade is its political effects. Nations that trade together develop common interests which may help them overcome political differences. Economic cooperation has been the foundation for many political alliances such as European Economic Community (Common Market) founded in 1957.

International trade has done much to improve global conditions. It enables countries to import goods they lack or cannot produce domestically. It allows countries to specialize in certain goods with increased production and decreased prices. Finally, it opens the channels of communication between nations.

Adapted from:

Dowling, BT &  McDougal, M., 1982. Business Concepts for English Practice.

Tokyo: New bury House Publisher, Inc

 OUTLINE

 Complete the outline below based on information from paragraphs 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the passage.

 BENEFITS OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE

  1. Makes scarce goods available to nations that need or desire them
    1. Example
      1. Saudi Arabia imports automobile
      2. _____________________________________________________________
      3. _____________________________________________________________
    2. Allow the nation to ___________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________
      1. Results in:
        1. increased input
        2. _____________________________________________________________
        3. _____________________________________________________________
      2. Determined by resources:
        1. ___________________________ Example: Saudi Arabia/oil
        2. human                                 Example: ______________
        3. __________________________ Example: _____________________
      3. How and when specialization will be advantageous is explained by two economic principles
        1. absolute advantage — a nation ought to _____________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________
        2. _____________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________
      4. Influences political relationship because of common ________________ ___________________________________________________________________
        1. Economic cooperation foundation __________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
          1. European Economic Community

TASK. Answer the following question

  1. What are the various markets in which the sale of goods and services takes place?  __________________________________________________________________________________
  2. What is international trade? __________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________
  3. What are the benefits of international trade? ____________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  4. What resources help determine which products a nation will specialize in?  __________________________________________________________________________________
  5. According to the theory of comparative advantage, what should a nation do? __________________________________________________________________________________
  6. According to the theory of absolute advantage, what needs to be considered in order to be specialists in the goods? _________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________

You can use your background knowledge to answer the following questions.

  1. Can you give example how the theory of comparative advantage has worked in Indonesian situations? __________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________
  2. Indonesia still imports sugar and rice from neighbor countries. Why?  __________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________
  3. In relation to question 4 above, which of these resources in most abundant in our country, Indonesia? ________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________
  4. How do the two economic principles influence our trade? _____________________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As you can see from the steps, the initial stage of the activity is not to assign to read the whole passage and answer questions (reading for testing). They are given an extract from the first paragraph of the passage and they are assigned to find the main point and prediction about the development of the following paragraph. Next, the students are assigned to check their prediction by looking at the following paragraph. The next step is the students are assigned to summarize/taking notes by completing the diagram. Using the summary /notes, they are assigned to complete the missing information in the outline provided. In this step, they are not allowed to look at the passage to check whether they have included the key words/information to retell the content of the passage. After discussing the outline, the students are assigned to answer the comprehension questions in Bahasa Indonesia (they are not allowed to look at the passage to test their memory). The use of Bahasa Indonesia is to train them to transfer information into another language (summary and translation).

The activities and material design can be extended to the development of other reading skills. The students can be assigned to take notes and do group presentation based on their notes. To avoid similar topics the students can be assigned to read more than one passage. In assigning writing summary and note taking the teacher should introduce various techniques (mind mapping/semantic mapping/spider web/diagram/ graphic organizer, etc.).

From the steps of teaching we learn that the students are demanded to be active to find information from the beginning of the course to summarize, predict, retain information. The note taking strategy needs to be developed for future use when they are faced with reading for content based instruction. For short term, this strategy is useful for creative learning, that is to say, the students do not just copy when they have to answer questions, but they have to create their own sentences using key words from the passage. Outlining strategy helps students improve their ability to follow the flows of information. In academic reading (reading in content based instruction) they are often faced with the organization of the text (main points and supporting points) and the relationship among parts in the text. Making prediction makes them more active in reading. Ability to maintain information is needed for both reading for testing and reading for information in order to be efficient readers.

These reading skills need to be improved in teaching and learning process. Gradual practices will make students get used to reading for information as needed in academic reading. In order to be able to teach in such ways, it is necessary to redesign the materials so that they are capable of generating more creative classroom activities. In addition, the materials need to be graded according students’ level of English to improve English proficiency.

 CONCLUDING REMARKS

Following Nunan’s (1991) notes regarding language program, the TENED should be directed to the improvement of students’ reading ability and the improvement of learning skills and skills in learning-how-to-learn. Since the necessities (target needs) of the English course at higher education are to be able to read English textbooks, journal, etc. in their own field, the material design and classroom activities should be closely related to reading skills needed in academic contexts. The teaching reading needs to be away from spending time to find the answers of the comprehension questions based on a passage. Academic reading needs more complex activities. The students should be trained to do note-taking, summarizing, evaluating the text using background knowledge, etc. because those tasks will be found in academic reading (content-based instruction). Gradually practices on these skills will improve both students’ language ability in academic reading and students’ learning skills (learning how to learn).

 REFERENCE

 Vale, D, et al., 1993. Pocket ALL. Victoria: Curriculum Corporation.

Harmer, J., 1991. The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman.

Grabe, W., 1994. “Current developments in second language reading research.” in H. Patricia, et al (eds). Foundation for language Teaching: Reader. Australia: Deakin University.

Grabe, W. 2002. “Dillemas for the development of second language reading abilities”, in J.C. Richards & WA. Renandya. Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology of Current Practice. Cambridge: CUP.

Nunan, D., 1991. Language Teaching Methodology: A Textbook for Teachers. London: Prentice Hall.

Richards, JC. & WA. Renandya, 2002. Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology of Current Practice. Cambridge: CUP.

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