Developing Young Learners’ Reading Skills in an EFL classroom

Abstract

In the history of education, the teaching of reading has been a principal focus for many years. Numerous research efforts are evidence of widespread interest in all aspects of the reading process, especially in the beginning stages of learning to read. My own interest in this area was sparked while working with young learners and conducting classroom-based action research during my teaching practice placement in a school for girls in the final semester of my B.Ed degree.

Mills (2003) states that action research aims to gather information in order to gain insight, and develop positive change in schools. Thus, this research was designed to investigate a suitable reading approach that develops and promotes students’ reading skill in the EFL classroom. This report describes my classroom-based action research which was carried out over the course of sixteen weeks during my final year teaching practice. This research began in the first semester when a preliminary investigation was carried out into the current situation regarding the teaching of reading in English in a Grade Three classroom.

At that point, I observed that the teaching of reading could be described mainly as follows:

  • Reading activities are restricted to the teacher reading everything, including instructions, short stories, and rereading what was written on the board.
  • Students’ reading is confined to imitating flash cards and reading very simple sentences after the teacher.
  • Students begin every day with a new letter, learning the shape and memorizing words that start with the same letter
  • Students decode unfamiliar words using letter names instead of sounds.
  • Activities are all teacher-centered, and students memorize letter shapes and words.

Based on these observations, and because of the limitations that I could see in this approach, I decided to implement, investigate, and develop a strategy to improve students’ reading skills using a balanced reading approach where phonics is taught combined with whole language.

On the surface, reading has not been much favoured either by teachers or students in the English classroom in Emirati government schools, and consequently, students do not seem interested in reading, and often find difficulties with this skill. The reason behind this lack of interest could be related to the challenges for Arabic learners of learning to read in the different script of English. Besides, other factors limit students’ interest in reading, such as limited access to English texts at home, lack of parental support, the lack of community support for English, and, most importantly, the inappropriate teaching approaches that are often used by teachers. Specifically, I observed that students used letter names instead of sounds when decoding print, and I thought that this might limit their ability to decode new words, Therefore, I decided to focus on developing reading using phonics as a basis for improving students’ reading ability, combining it with the whole language approach to increase students’ motivation and comprehension.

My preliminary research findings, based on observation of the teaching of reading in the Grade Three classroom where I was practising teaching, revealed the limitations with regard to the teaching of reading in our government schools. I found that there was a need for different reading approaches to enhance students’ reading ability, and I therefore decided to try to implement a more balanced reading approach: phonics combined with the whole language approach.

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