Reading skills are difficult to develop and students’ problems vary. Here is a list of factors that create some problems for many students and a few aspects to consider in order to tackle them:
Many students are accustomed to providing in their response the information required using the same words as in the questions. This is a problem that they carry from L1 reading, which often causes a great deal of confusion, especially as the difficulty of texts and questions increases. Therefore, it is necessary to train learners, from the beginning, to recognise information given through different words or structures so that they focus on the meaning of the text, rather than only the words appearing in a text. Comparison of question text and reading passage is a good way to encourage this understanding of meaning.
Wanting to Know Every Word
Some students look up every word they do not understand from a text, presumably because this is going to help them understand the entire text. This bad habit is time-consuming and shifts the focus to words that might be irrelevant to the overall meaning of the reading passage, or even a specific section. Teachers have a key role to play in order to avoid this. Pre-teaching some important vocabulary may help students focus on relevant words only, as could also benefit building up skills for deducing meaning from context.
Lack of Strategies
Different types of questions will need application of different strategies. Many students are not aware of how to deal with reading texts, so intervention may be necessary. Introducing the concepts of strategies such as skimming or scanning is important to improve reading speed, and underlining/highlighting relevant sections of the passage can also help check that students have identified the words or phrases providing the correct answer.
Little Time to Answer
Learners facing reading comprehension examinations often find it difficult to answer questions confidently when time is very limited. Here, knowledge of the above-mentioned strategies and overall test technique training may help enormously reduce the time spent looking for answers. Encouraging extensive reading and working with small tasks with very strict timing may help students become familiar with such time constraints.
A factor that must not be overlooked is that of lesson planning. Sometimes, effective comprehension is hindered by factors such as irrelevant activities to engage students, poor timing or inadequate task choice. In consequence, teachers need to provide activities that will ease the reading process by quickly activating prior knowledge, language or create expectations about the text. In addition, suitable strategy work and careful timing will probably create much better conditions for learning how to deal with texts.
Now, it’s YOUR turn
What other challenges do you face when teaching reading?