Reading in the Gulf: Is it time for a re-focus?

Abstract

In this article I would like make the case that many Gulf Arab college students have a significant ‘deficit’ in their English language reading skills. I will argue that the reasons for this shortfall are many and the interplay among different factors is complex. In order to take something of an ‘Occam’s Razor’ to the thorny and complicated question of how we can improve our students’ English reading competence, I am going to propose that we need to focus the major part of our efforts on improving two elements of our students’ reading development: the so called ‘bottom-up’ reading elements; and the acquisition and development of vocabulary. I do this as I feel there have been a multitude of diverse initiatives and responses to our students’ reading issues over the years. From my own personal experience I can cite a plethora of efforts I have been involved in including: extended reading programmes, reading in the community, reading portfolios, reading competitions, reading speed software, intensive online reading, and sustained silent reading. The wide variety of programmes and schemes can certainly point to some success. I fully acknowledge the pedagogic and motivational desirability of varied and diverse reading activities for students yet I would also argue that in tandem with such efforts to assist our learners develop their English reading skills we should also urgently examine the apparent need to address many of our students’ fundamental problems with English reading skills.

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