Reading is often viewed as an integral part of learning. One requires the ability to read to learn new things and through reading, one becomes a better learner. We speak to the guest editor for this issue, NIE’s English Language Senior Lecturer, Dr Willy Ardian Renandya, on why reading is important and how different kinds of reading have different learning benefits.
“It is my dream to write a book that uses simple language to explain complex ideas,” Willy, who is part of the English Language & Literature Academic Group shares.
Willy acknowledges that it is not as easy as it sounds. To be able to write using simple language, one has to be competent in both intensive and extensive reading. These are two different yet complementary reading approaches that he believes are important to have for learners to succeed academically, as they help
students become critical and fluent readers.
So what exactly is intensive and extensive reading?
Going deep into the texts; in a nutshell, this is what intensive reading is about.
“The goal of intensive reading in the school context is to equip learners with certain reading skills and strategies,” Willy explains. “These skills and strategies are valued in school situations because students often have to deal with demanding texts during examinations.”
These include inferencing and summarizing skills – skills that enable students to think critically about texts they have read. And these texts are typically short; about one or two pages long.
“Texts in intensive reading are challenging and usually slightly more difficult than what students can handle on their own,” Willy adds. “So teachers will have to design their lesson in such a way that students can process the content of the reading passage efficiently.”
Typically, intensive reading is also accompanied with a series of questions that students have to answer. These questions require students to step into the shoes of the character(s) in the story to be able to answer them effectively. Sometimes, students also write book summaries, which require quite a bit of thinking.
To do well in intensive reading, one also needs to be able to read extensively.
“The goal of extensive reading is very different from intensive reading,” Willy explains. “Extensive reading is basically reading widely for pleasure and not for academic purposes.” By reading widely, Willy is referring to a variety of books of different genres.
Simply put, the ultimate goal of extensive reading is to develop a good reading habit; one that enables students to continue reading their favourite books outside the classroom. This means that students are able to read independently with little or no help from their teachers because extensive reading materials are typically less complex and easier to digest.
“Extensive reading is pleasurable,” Willy explains, “and when things are pleasurable, you will want to repeat the experience again.” Before long, students will find themselves picking up the habit of reading.
And when students read extensively and widely, their vocabulary will also improve greatly.
Reading Widely for Vocabulary Knowledge
“Depth of vocabulary knowledge is extremely important. It shows how well you know a word. And if you know a word very well, you can use it creatively and in different situations.”
– Willy Ardian Renandya, on the importance of vocabulary
“Students learn a lot from reading extensively,” Willy shares. “When they read a variety of texts, they also learn about words as they are used in different contexts.”
For example, the word “table” can have various meanings depending on the context (i.e., sitting at the table and calculating data based on a table). The repeated exposure of the same words used in different situations allows students to develop a depth of vocabulary knowledge, not just breadth, or what is known as surface-level knowledge.
This is something that many schools recognize. To help students learn better, they have introduced various forms of extensive reading programmes.
“Depth of vocabulary knowledge is extremely important,” Willy explains. “It shows how well you know a word. And if you know a word very well, you can use it creatively and in different situations.” Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man in the Sea is an example of a book that uses simple language to describe complex ideas, Willy shares.
But most of the time, extensive reading programmes are not as straightforward because some students might not be familiar with selecting suitable books for themselves. The teachers then have an important role to play in helping them tackle this problem by providing additional support during the book selection process.
Supported Extensive Reading Programme
“Many schools look at extensive reading as self-directed or independent reading,” Willy explains. “But the reality is that many students do not know how to read on their own!”
To overcome this problem, Willy suggests that teachers help students to pick out suitable books. This refers to books that are within their reading competency level and that are also enjoyable to read (see box story below for the different levels of reading difficulty).
“Some books that students pick for themselves might either be too easy or too difficult,” Willy explains. “This is something that schools need to pay attention to when implementing an extensive reading programme.”
Willy also observes that teachers should read together with their students during the reading period to further support students in their extensive reading journey. “Teachers should send a strong and consistent message to students that they value reading and that they too enjoy reading widely.”
As fiction author John Green once said, “Ultimately, what I like about reading together is that we all make it happen together.” So, collective reading, and sharing thoughts and opinions about those books together with students is definitely one way to inculcate a love of reading in them.
“Students learn a lot from reading extensively. When they read a variety of texts, they also learn about words as they are used in different contexts.”
– Willy, on the benefits of extensive reading