by Thomas Parry
Mar 9, 2013
The use of an Authentic Reading Text to Design Pre-, While- and Post-Reading Activities for a Specific Group of Learners Based on Insights from Schema Theory and the Integration of Teaching Two or more Language Skills.
Abstract: The piece is divided three-fold. Initially the author investigates schematic theory, largely drawing upon secondary sources, and its necessity to the English language classroom. The literature search carried out is thorough and a conclusion, regarding the stipulation of schematic activation, is drawn within the context of Saudi tertiary education. The second part of the investigation centres around the text chosen, the reasons for choosing the text and its relevance to the previously stated context. Again the research carried out is largely secondary, though some primary research is carried out within the classroom. The final element of the research is entirely primary; using the text to develop a series of teaching exercises that examine the students’ reading and writing abilities in relation to necessity of schematic theory.
The class is an all male group of Arabic speakers who are learning English to gain entry to University. They are currently studying in a ‘preparatory year’ program at the University and are aged between nineteen and twenty. The students are a mix of elementary and lower-intermediate levels, though there are one or two complete beginners. As the class is located in Saudi Arabia; special considerations had to be made when selecting the authentic material, as it had to be culturally sensitive. Despite the English course being vitally important for the student’s entry to University; the majority of the class remain unmotivated and truancy can be a problem. Class size can vary from 10 to 25, depending on student absence.
Schema theory is vital to English language acquisition as it refers to the theory of how knowledge is learnt, processed, and then later retrieved. Schemata are vital to the selection of an authentic text as ‘According to Carrell (1981) the text must activate, in the reader, all of the appropriate cognitive schemata in order to be comprehended. When reading a story with a familiar theme, especially one from the native culture, L2 readers might more easily activate the appropriate background concepts and hence more efficiently process the text.’[i] For this reason, the text chosen for the reading and writing exercises refers to the start of a car race. Car racing is a popular Saudi past-time (most of the students taking their very expensive cars into the desert to race one another in their free time) and the text does not conflict with any Islamic taboos.
First, to get a good idea of the students’ background knowledge and to introduce the context to the students, the students would be instructed to write a few sentences about their favourite car. Reading comprehensions consist of three phases: pre-reading, the reading phase and post-reading. Of all these three phases ‘the most important for building background knowledge is the first, pre-reading phase wherein the instructor has the opportunity to use [multiple methods] to activate and build upon the students’ schema.’[ii] The activation of a student’s background knowledge is vital as it aids the student in developing their problem solving skills (for example: deducing the definition of a word without the aid of a dictionary, but instead using the context of the sentence to define it), therefore making them a better reader. This exercise is designed to focus the students on the task and to introduce any potentially problematic vocabulary.
An important part of any reading or writing exercise is to first introduce the context and to allow the students to ‘skim’ read. This will put the students at ease for future use of the text as they will be familiar with text being used. The easiest way to do this is to give the students a small number of comprehensive questions to complete in pairs or small groups, perhaps even turning the comprehension exercise into a competition (e.g. a race). The application of this task encourages the students to read intensively and can help to introduce new vocabulary. The comprehension questions for this exercise (see appendix: exercise 1) are designed to elicit vocabulary that the students certainly will not be familiar with (the answer to question one being ‘multi-coloured’ and question 3 being ‘revving’). This new vocabulary can now be defined without forcing a student to ask the teacher, which may cause embarrassment. Familiarising the students with the text is significant as it encourages fluency in later tasks.
While the first comprehension questions were important to encourage fluency, the second set of questions (see appendix) are designed to be much more thorough. ‘The questions here are different in that they do not quote verbatim from the text but paraphrase it, or request paraphrases, or invite some measure of interpretation and application of the reader’s background knowledge.’[iii]
The final question is relative (what they think happens during the race) and every student has the potential to answer it differently, providing an excellent opportunity to employ a Communicative Language Learning feedback technique. The students could undertake a role-play: a group of journalists reporting what occurred during the race. The students would have to vote amongst themselves to choose which answer they believe to be the best and then be given different roles within the group (one anchor man, one interviewer and one interviewee). They would then prepare briefly before presenting the report to the class as a whole, using whichever prediction of the race that they voted to use as the basis of their presentation. This task prescribes to the Schematic learning theory, that ‘every act of comprehension involves one’s knowledge of the world.’[iv]
One of the major criticisms of Schematic based exercises is that ‘The reading process has famously been described as a "psycholinguistic guessing game" (Goodman in Carrell and Eisterhold 1983:74) in which "efficient readers minimize dependence on visual detail" by utilising background knowledge to make predictions and checking these against the text.’[v]
The second set of questions minimise the student’s dependence on their background knowledge as adequate comprehension is required to answer them. The students would be unable to answer using paraphrases if they had depended solely on their background knowledge. In addition to this, the first set of questions adds to the students’ background knowledge by identifying vocabulary (multi-coloured, revving, etc.) that the students would be unfamiliar with. This reduces the possibility that a student will incorrectly presume the definitions of these words, hence reducing the use of background knowledge and increasing dependence on the text.
A final exercise would be employed to introduce the concept of writing (the secondary skill that will be explored in further writing tasks) and to test the student’s reading skills further. This would begin with the introduction of a secondary text (see appendix) that is consistent with the context and very relevant to driving in Saudi Arabia. The passage is a news report about a car crash in Saudi Arabia that killed a number of passengers, a frequent occurrence in a country where a large portion of the youth population use public roads to race one another. The passage, though written from a neutral perspective, is rather sobering and initiates an emotive response. Many of the students within the class have strong opinions concerning the car racing culture and would be eager to defend it. ‘Thus an appropriate response might be a reasoned, critical expression of a counter-opinion on the part of the reader’[vi] that defends the unique culture that has evolved in Saudi Arabia. The feedback for this exercise could vary from a written paragraph to a repetition of the previously used role-play. However, as this exercise also serves as an introduction to the writing tasks that are to come later, it would be pertinent to employ a written task as feedback. The students would be divided into two teams; one who believes that the car racing culture should be allowed to continue, the other arguing that is should be stopped. Each team member would then write a short paragraph expressing their beliefs before presenting their opinions to the opposing team. A small debate should follow each presentation, facilitated by the teacher.
In skills classes, speaking tasks usually accompany listening tasks. Similarly, reading classes are accompanied by written tasks. The previous task was designed to test a student’s ability to write a journalistic correspondence: the students were writing for the sake of improving their writing skills. However, new vocabulary was identified during the first set of comprehension questions and it is necessary to test that the student’s fully grasped the definitions that they were presented with. ‘Writing for learning is the kind of writing we do to help students learn language or test them on that language’[vii] and, in this case, it is necessary to test their understanding of the vocabulary to increase their schematic learning and to add to their background knowledge. This can be done by simply organising the class into pairs and asking them to compile three sentences between them using the target language. The target language would include ‘revving’ and ‘multi-coloured’, as well as any other lexis that was identified during the exercise. For feedback, the students would be required to change partner, one taking the sentences with them, the other having a blank page and a pencil, and interview their new partners. The students with the blank page would have to guess what their new partner had written (within reason and context) and, if they guessed correctly, write down the sentence that they had ascertained. The first person to guess all of the sentences correctly would be the winner. This manner of feedback is designed to commit the new lexis to the students’ memory as ‘Schemata are created through experience with people, objects, and events in the world.’[viii]
Having concentrated on new lexis and comprehension, the students would require an exercise that focuses more on cohesion, particularly cohesive devices in writing. The object of this exercise is to get the students to focus on ‘writing more coherently, using cohesive devices appropriately.’[ix] This is an important schemata for students to learn (particularly this specific group) as there is a large written element to the final exam. To complete the exercise, the students are given a number of cards (see appendix) and instructed to re-order the cards and complete to complete the short sentence. The students ‘need to look out for clues, such as the use of pronouns, repetition of lexical items and a coherent order of events.’[x] Cohesion is vital to schema theory as it helps to bring meaning to paragraphs and adds to the student’s background knowledge.
Again, feedback could be varied for this exercise. A simple and unimaginative method would be to make use of lockstep feedback. However, lockstep, though occasionally useful, is neither motivational nor communicative. As the object of this lesson is to add to a student’s schemata, a much more productive method would be to use a student as the teacher. This way the students could discuss their answers amongst themselves and they could add to one another’s findings.
Schema theory has been utilised in the tasks designed for this class, firstly drawing upon the students’ background knowledge to ignite their previously learnt schemata. The second and third exercises added to the students’ schemata with exercises intended to facilitate schemata transfer between the students in the class. The final exercise is devised to improve the students’ cohesion and the manner in which they use their already acquired schemata.
[i] Ahmad Al-Issa, ‘ Schema Theory And L2 Reading Comprehension: Implications For Teaching’, Journal of College Teaching & Learning – July 2006 Volume 3, Number 7. Page 3
[ii] Ahmad Al-Issa, ‘ Schema Theory And L2 Reading Comprehension: Implications For Teaching’, Journal of College Teaching & Learning – July 2006 Volume 3, Number 7. Page 4
[iii] Ur, Penny, ‘A course in Language Teaching’, Cambridge University Press, 1991. Page 144.
[iv] Anderson et al. 1977, cited in Carrell, P.L. & Eisterhold, J.C. ‘Schema theory and ESL reading pedagogy’, TESOL Quarterly, 17, n4, December 1983. Page 73.
[vi] Ur, Penny, ‘A course in Language Teaching’, Cambridge University Press, 1991. Page 156.
[vii] Harmer, Jeremy, ‘The Practice of English Language Teaching’, Longman (4th Edition) 2007. Page 330
[viii] Paviz Ajideh, ‘Schema Theory-Based Pre-Reading Tasks: A Neglected Essential in the ESL Reading Class’, The Reading Matrix, Vol.3. No.1, April 2003. Page 4
[ix] Harmer, Jeremy, ‘The Practice of English Language Teaching’, Longman (4th Edition) 2007. Page 332
[x] Harmer, Jeremy, ‘The Practice of English Language Teaching’, Longman (4th Edition) 2007. Page 332
· Ahmad Al-Issa, ‘ Schema Theory And L2 Reading Comprehension: Implications For Teaching’, Journal of College Teaching & Learning – July 2006 Volume 3, Number 7.
· Carrell, P.L. & Eisterhold, J.C. ‘Schema theory and ESL reading pedagogy’, TESOL Quarterly, 17, n4, December 1983.
· Cook, Vivian, ‘Second Language Learning and Language Teaching’, Hodder Education (4th Edition) 2008
· Harmer, Jeremy, ‘The Practice of English Language Teaching’, Longman (4th Edition) 2007.
· Paviz Ajideh, ‘Schema Theory-Based Pre-Reading Tasks: A Neglected Essential in the ESL Reading Class’, The Reading Matrix, Vol.3. No.1, April 2003.
· Tsui, Amy B. M., Introducing Classroom Interaction’, Penguin 1995.
· Ur, Penny, ‘A course in Language Teaching’, Cambridge University Press, 1991
Emotion of Speed
Rory felt the heat rising off the front of his car. A trickle of sweat ran down his face under his multi colored helmet. Thoughts of the other challengers passed through his head as he waited for the signal to start. He knew most of them from previous meetings. Chuck and Glen were both competitive although he was confident, he had the edge on them with his new motor. It was the new driver's from the country meetings that he was unsure of.
Concentration on faces, obvious as spectators and drivers alike waited for the starters' instructions. A speaker signaled imminent action. "Drivers start your Engines."
A loud sound of revving motors filled the air. Cars sped off, weaving from side to side in an effort to heat the tires during the warm up lap. Confident in his ability to beat this field, Rory charged forward as the starter's car moved off the track and the green light flashed for them to start. Rory for got everything as the thrill of speed and power from the V8 engine under his bonnet took over. The track had been watered to keep the dust down. Instead, it had now turned into mud. Red dirt caked on the wheels and flicked up onto his windscreen blurring his vision as he sped up beside Chuck, who had gone ahead of him. In an attempt to keep him out Rory turned. A sudden bash from the rear pushed him to the left.
"So you want to play rough! I'll show you what happens when you pick on me."
Within seconds he had pushed one of the new boys sideways.
1. What Colour is Rory’s Helmet?
2. Why was Rory confident?
3. What was the loud sound?
4. Why had the track been watered?
1. Does Rory think that he will beat Chuck and Glen?
2. Why was Rory sweating?
3. Why did Rory push one of the new boys?
4. What do you think happens next?
5 Filipinos die in road accident in Saudi Arabia
SAUDI ARABIA – Four members of a Filipino family, including a 5-year-old boy, and their driver died in a tragic vehicular accident in the dark highways of Al-Hassa, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday night.
The Philippine Overseas Labor Office-Eastern Region Operations (POLO-ERO) identified the fatalities as Robert Demetrio, who is employed in a workshop in Al-Hassa; his wife Elizabeth, a teacher; their daughter Joyce Hassan, a nurse at the National Guard Hospital in Hofuf; and their 5-year-old grandson, Hope.
The victims are from Kidapawan, North Cotabato.
The Filipino driver of their vehicle, Gener de Java also perished in the accident.
Pedro de Castro Ibañez, who was accompanying the group, was the lone survivor of the accident.
The Demetrios were on their way to the airport when the accident happened. They were supposed to fly back to the Philippines for a vacation.
Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the accident.
“Hey, get back you idiot!”
Another car was very close behind James, he could see it in his mirror.
The sound that replaced the revving was so loud that some fans had to cover their ears.
The other car backed off a little but then, suddenly, accelerated into the back of him again.
The lights flashed green, the revving that had previously filled the air ended.
James started well and the crowd cheered.
Other fans shouted in excitement as the cars accelerated away from the start.
This time it hit James’ car much harder. He knew that it was going to be like this for all of the race.
The other car gently hit the back of James’ . James shouted at the other car.
Article source: http://eslarticle.com/pub/lesson-planning/102397-language-skills-and-schema-theory.html