“Of course I can read!”, one might say defensively.
A lot of people take for granted the fact that they are able to read because in their view, practically everyone in the country has basic reading skills. However, if they knew how much of a multifaceted process reading actually is, I wonder if they would rethink the meaning of this word and be filled with awe about what their brains are faced with on a daily basis.
Reading is a complex process that requires our brain to take on many functions at once. Photo credit: A Health Blog via Visual Hunt
The Literacy Trust published statistics in the early 2010s which suggested that around 16% of adults in England (that is the equivalent of over 5 million over eighteens) were at that time ‘functionally illiterate’. This means that they would have had the literacy levels of a child in primary school and would therefore not have had the academic ability to pass GCSE English exams like those still in situ today (the primary exam boards for English being AQA, OCR, Edexcel, among others).
Adults possessing this poor level of literacy would have struggled to find employment which means that many of their choices in life would have been limited as a result. If they had gone on to have children, they may consequently have found it hard to support them financially and failed to be able to help them with everyday tasks like homework.
There are other benefits to reading well, too!
Although it is hard to distinguish just how many people would be classed as illiterate in today’s world, we can expect that this figure would have continued to increase. This is why it is so vital to introduce reading to children’s lives at an early age and to never stop encouraging them to read, no matter how their interests develop. Studies have shown that by learning to read from an early age, children will go on to become more fluent readers with improved attention spans.
Although those with extremely poor reading levels may need to go back to school or hire a private tutor to accelerate them through the basics of English reading, those who have already acquired a set of basic skills but wish to improve on these can benefit from evening classes or online courses to help them to become more advanced readers.
Simple tasks like story time can be a challenge for those with poor literacy. Photo credit: Neeta Lind via Visual Hunt
Reading is a complex, ‘cognitive’ process which involves our brains decoding symbols (usually letters of the alphabet for English readers) and deriving meaning from the order in which they are structured.
The act of reading requires a number of skills applied in combination – word recognition, comprehension, fluency and motivation – a lot of people don’t even realise they possess these attributes!
If all of the above come into play when reading a very basic text, it is hard to imagine just how active our brains become when they are faced with an action-packed story to interpret. While making sense of the words before you, your brain will additionally be taking into account any known context, grasping the style of the text and noticing all other sorts of minute details presented between the lines.
How can you get your children to read more?
As part of their Teaching English series, the British Council recommends a series of steps be taken when teaching beginners to read. Following along these lines, this article explores some of the different stages that teachers of English, particularly English Reading, can adopt to help learners explore different ways of developing improved reading skills.
Firstly, students are less likely to excel unless someone has faith in them. To build up their confidence and raise their own expectations of what they can achieve, teachers are advised to encourage students to read and write on a regular basis.
Some pupils, however, despite having good intentions, struggle with focus so course leaders would be wise to set reading tasks to be completed before the next class, yet ensuring that these targets are achievable for all. By keeping class activities fun and engaging, pupils will be more likely to want to keep up with their reading and be able to join in.
Poetry is a fantastic way to motivate reluctant readers!
In addition, you might like to ask members of your class to start or join a monthly book club, to make reading a much bigger part of their lives. The benefits of book clubs are that every reader offers their distinct take on a chapter and can help to make others realise how differently one person can interpret a book from another.
The pupils will also gain an insight into other people’s lives, read stories that they wouldn’t otherwise have chosen to read and perhaps even make new friends who share the same passions and likes. Also, some books just need to be discussed – have you ever read a book and been desperate to talk about it with someone who has read it, but can’t find anyone that has?!
Motivation is vital to encouraging students to be more active with their reading. While some are only passive readers, explaining what they can gain from being a skilled reader could influence the way they approach the task. For instance, talk passionately about a previous reading experience that has stayed with you could and this positive energy could rub off on your class.
Any keen reader will agree that there is no better feeling than reading a really amazing book, unable to put it down but equally not wanting it to ever end. A character in one of George R. R. Martin’s novels says “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies […]. The man who never reads lives only one.”. Your goal as a teacher is to make your pupils want to experience this fondness for reading themselves.
You may find kinship with characters in literary works!
An important stage in the process of learning to read better is knowing how to prepare to read. Scientists have proven that we are much more perceptive if we take the time to prepare before reading a text. Just like with physical tasks, such as running a race, we must do warm up exercises.
First of all, ask your students to ask themselves why they are about to read the text, as the reason that we read has a big effect on how we read.
Being clear on the purpose of reading, whether it is to find details or to be entertained, can be surprisingly helpful in understanding the text and remembering details in what you read. After all, active reading means reading that involves thinking, engaging and retaining as a direct result of having a particular purpose.
Moving on, you should instruct your readers to enter the ideal state for reading, to allow them to relax and maintain alertness during the task at hand. For most people, this means eliminating any distractions like mobile phones, background noise or music. Then, it is important for the reader to become aware of themselves and mentally remind themselves of their purpose before setting about the task.
Get ready for your reading adventure with this helpful guide!
Dyslexic readers are said to have difficulty focusing on a point of attention, while skilled readers are quite the opposite. Training oneself to redirect his or her attention, whether suffering from dyslexia or not, could raise the pupil’s reading level. Visualisation techniques, one of which is known as the ‘tangerine technique’ can help these passive readers to be more aware of certain points in space.
Finding a place of inner peace can help you to prepare for reading. Photo via VisualHunt
Reading is often taught alongside writing, as the two skills are very closely linked for obvious reasons. Getting learners to face writing tasks and learn how to follow processes required for writing can change the way they think about both how they read and write.
For instance, ask your class to come up with short stories for different audiences or with different themes to help raise their awareness of the details required in writing. If they have never attempted to write before then they may develop a renewed respect for how writers present information to readers.
Giving them writing prompts may additionally help them to delve deeper into their imaginations, and further understand what it means to try to illustrate a meaning using only words. Being on the other side is one of the best ways to get them be more perceptive and thus become more skilled as they themselves read content.
Finally, introducing learners to a wide range of genres and writing styles can help as they practice their reading, as it will let them see that different types of texts engage with their audiences in different ways. For example, the experience of reading instructions is very different to that of reading a romance novel.
If your learners have preconceptions about the types of texts they would like to read, attempt to take them out of their comfort zone and ask them to give a wide spectrum of writing a try. After all, inexperienced readers can’t possibly know what they like and dislike.
On the other hand, don’t be too harsh on your learners as if a novice begins to feel disheartened during the learning process, then they could lose their determination and willpower altogether.
Follow these suggestions for becoming an active reader!