We acknowledge that reading is important. But why is this so? Ms Jeyalaxmy Ayaduray and Dr Paul Doyle from the English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS) share their views on the importance of learning to read and reading to learn.
Q: What is reading and why is it important?
Paul: From my perspective as a researcher, the first question I would want to consider is what do we mean by reading? Reading ability is not a single construct. There are many diverse ways of reading and these are characteristically different across different disciplines. Increasingly, we see more emphasis being given on disciplinary literacies, in terms of trying to understand what reading in Science or reading in Math entails.
As educators, we should also be aware that our young children and adolescents may be reading in ways that are very different from how we experienced printed texts, and design instruction using that knowledge. I think we need to ask ourselves, what counts as reading for our students outside school? What are they reading, and where do they read? We need to explore this more, I feel, rather than accepting alarmist views that our young “do not read”.
Jeya: For me, reading involves problem solving processes. It is a fundamental skill for academic achievement. It’s so important that students are able to read and make sense of texts, to be able to interact with texts and eventually make use of that information they have in their hands. So, it is also critical that they are able to manage that information and make meaning from what they have read. And this is something that we have to consider deeply in our classrooms today.
Q: Is there a relationship between reading and academic learning?
Jeya: In a classroom, students encounter many different kinds of reading materials across different subjects. Reading is a thinking process that brings forth your schema – organized patterns of thought or behaviours – and helps to connect what you see on the page and to extend it across different subjects.
The ability to read facilitates learning and as a result, students who love reading would be able to progress more quickly. When you are not able to read very well, it inhibits your understanding of content and slows down the process of learning.
Paul: Reading is one of the skills an English Language (EL) teacher aims to develop in their students. In learning EL, there’s a focus on reading as something to learn, whereas in subjects such as Science or Math, reading may be a useful part of that learning, but your focus as a teacher is not on teaching reading.
Reading is a vehicle for engaging with disciplinary thinking, ideas and concepts. So when you read in the context of Science, you’re developing scientific inquiry skills through the process of reading. Science literacy is more than just reading and writing – it is The Habits of Mind or disciplinary practices that define science.
It is therefore important to see the distinctions between disciplines, the different contexts and purposes for reading and the practice of knowledge construction in any given discipline.
“Reading is a vehicle for engaging with disciplinary thinking, ideas and concepts.”
– Paul Doyle, English Language Institute of Singapore
Q: In what ways has reading evolved over time?
Paul: While the amount of language in print we are reading is probably decreasing, and many text forms are becoming shorter, the visual representation of information is increasing. Reading today does not just involve language; it also involves information visualization and other forms of multimodal representation. And this requires a different set of literacy skills: being able to read something linguistically and interpret accompanying images, to pull together different meanings in order to make sense of the whole.
Jeya: Visuals comprising moving or static images are an important part of learning and this is being recognized in classrooms. Visual texts communicate ideas through both their visual and verbal features. Such resources have also been included in assessments, for example there is a video element in the Normal (Technical) oral exams. We acknowledge that these are fast becoming an integral part of a student’s life and we need to teach those skills.
Paul: Yes, I agree with Jeya, students today have to deal with a combination of language, visual representations and even video in the process of reading to learn.
Q: How should teachers approach reading in class?
“As long as a student is reading, we should encourage him or her, gradually moving on to something different over time – even reading a food label is fine to begin with!”
– Jeyalaxmy Ayaduray, English Language Institute of Singapore
Jeya: I think that whatever teachers do, it should first begin with students’ needs. Teachers also need to take into account their students’ abilities and interests to determine what needs to be done in the classroom to develop students’ reading skills.
We need to raise our students’ awareness of what effective readers do and make visible the invisible comprehension strategies that are used to make meaning of texts read. We must consciously teach our students the skills and strategies explicitly to help them understand what they need to do when facing texts. It is important for teachers to provide students the tools to help them get a better understanding of these texts.
Students should be given choices about what to read. As long as a student is reading, we should encourage him or her, gradually moving on to something different over time – even reading a food label is fine to begin with! When students are engaged with resources that are interesting and meaningful they grow to love reading and also develop their reading skills.
Paul: Our goal must be to help students become autonomous and independent readers through scaffolding their literacy development. As a subject teacher, there are three steps in helping your students cope with reading in your discipline: think about your own assumptions of your students’ reading ability, be aware of what is required in reading your subject-specific texts, and think about what you might need to do to help your students.