What goes on during reading lessons in our schools? What are the teachers’ beliefs and understanding of the reading process? How do teachers shape the reading practices of their pupils? Our CRPP project team seeks to find answers to these questions and more.
The last major attempt to describe and intervene in the teaching of reading in Singapore was the Reading Skills Project commissioned by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 1983 and reported by the National Institute of Education (NIE) reading expert Ng Seok Moi in 1987. Many of the more senior teachers may perhaps remember that based on these findings, the Reading and English Acquisition Programme (REAP) was introduced in lower primary classes in 1985. It has been almost two decades since REAP, and there has been no large-scale research since to find out what takes place in reading lessons in our classrooms.
Our students are doing well. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2001 and Trends in Reading Achievement 1991-2001 reported that, on average, Singapore pupils read better than those in comparable countries where English is not the first language. Adding to this, our pupils who speak English at home are better readers than those in English-speaking countries like Canada and New Zealand. Though these are statistics that we can be rightly proud of, we do not really know what happens in our reading lessons because there has been no empirical research done.
What we wanted to find out
So we set about looking into what goes on in reading lessons in our classrooms, trying to answer the following questions:
- What are the “foci” of reading lessons?
- What are the teachers’ beliefs and understanding of the reading process?
- How do we shape the “social practices of reading” – a term coined by Allan Luke in 1994 – in our everyday selection of materials, practices, skills and knowledges for kids to learn?
- Does early reading in Singapore schools focus only on decoding practices?
- Is there sufficient emphasis on comprehension and text-meaning activities; pragmatic, everyday, functional uses of text with real materials; and critical analysis and reader response?
Using the “four resources model” conceptualised by Luke and Freebody in 1998, we assembled a coding scheme and began documenting what goes on during the reading lessons, particularly in Primary 3 classrooms in Singapore.
We also wanted to document teachers’ beliefs and understanding of the reading process; and assess which suites of instructional activities appear to lead to reading success. We observed 23 reading lessons in 13 Primary 3 classes from 8 neighbourhood schools.
What we have found so far
- Teachers stick closely to the prescribed textbook.
- There is substantial student and teacher reading occurring during the lessons. Most of the reading is in the form of reading aloud, either by the teacher or by the pupils individually, in groups, or chorally as a class.
- Most of the interaction is in the form of Initiation-Response-Evaluation (IRE); that is, when the teacher nominates a pupil to answer a question, the pupil responds to the question, and the teacher either confirms or rejects the response.
- The majority of the pupils in the sample were observed as being able to read aloud and to answer (mostly literal) questions on the text read.
- Pupils who are still not able to read at the Primary 3 level do not seem to benefit from whole-class and/or group activities.
- The teachers’ understanding of the reading process includes “comprehension”, “reading aloud”, “phonics”, “doing worksheets”, and “group work”.
How this affects you and me
- Most of our pupils are able to recognise and decode words by the Primary 3 level.
- The IRE format is useful as a quick check for comprehension in big classes.
- Pupils who are still not able to read by Primary 3 need additional remedial lessons in reading and not in grammar.
- There is a substantial need to expand teaching foci in the areas of higher-order comprehension and critical literacy.
- There is a need to move beyond textbook and worksheet dependency and begin to use everyday print materials as a way of re-motivating and varying instruction, while attending to functional literacy needs of students.
Where we go from here
The findings of the study were shared with the participating schools in October 2004. The longer term goal is to work towards adding value to reading lessons in the in-service teacher training courses from 2005. We will also begin working with MOE and individual schools in developing in-service approaches to reading, basic new diagnostic tools and materials in 2005/2006.
To find out more about this project, please click here.
Luke, A. (1994). The social construction of literacy in the classroom. Melbourne: Macmillan.
Luke, A., & Freebody, P. (1998). The social practice of reading. In S. Muspratt, A. Luke, & P. Freebody (Eds.), Constructing critical literacies. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Ng, S. M. (Ed.). (1987). Research into children’s language and reading development (January 1983-December 1986). Singapore: Institute of Education.