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The Importance of Reading Skills on Students

“Reading is important and motivates students to communicate and think critically and empowers them to learn a variety of lessons. Students in primary schools are still weak and not interested in reading either English or Malay books. They fall short in exams as they have not mastered reading skills and if this weakness is not rectified early, it will be disastrous for a student at secondary level”.

Reading is a complicated process more accurately described as a number of cognitive processes happening at the same time

Hjh. Hasnah Kula , the Senior District Education Officer ( Brunei III ) emphasized how important reading ability in Brunei is and this ability needs to be cultivated from the early years (Primary school) . Reading is about understanding written texts. It is a complex activity that involves both perception and thought. Reading consists of two related processes: word recognition and comprehension. Word recognition refers to the process of perceiving how written symbols correspond to one’s spoken language. Comprehension is the process of making sense of words, sentences and connected text. Readers typically make use of background knowledge, vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, experience with text and other strategies to help them understand written text.

Teaching struggling readers to read takes time and patience. Many teachers are concerned about the numbers of elementary children who struggle with reading. Such concerns are warranted. Studies indicate that when students get off to a poor start in reading, they rarely catch up.

Struggling readers encounter negative consequences such as an assignment to special education classrooms or participation in long-term remedial services. Further, as they progress through the grade levels, the academic distance from those who read well grows more pronounced (The Learning First Alliance, 1998; Rashotte, Toregesen, & Wagner, 1997; National Reading Panel, 1999; Torgesen, 1998). Why do some students struggle with reading and what can be done to increase their success? These questions plague teachers and parents and are ones that compelled them to search for answers.

1.1 Background of the study

Decoding is the ability to apply the knowledge of letter-sound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, to correctly pronounce written words. Understanding these relationships gives children the ability to recognize familiar words quickly and to figure out words they have not seen before. Although children may sometimes figure out some of these relationships on their own, most children benefit from explicit instruction in this area. Phonics is one approach to reading instruction that teaches students the principles of letter-sound relationships, how to sound out words, and exceptions to the principles.

Therefore, appropriate early direct instruction seems to be the best medicine for reading problems. Reading is not developmental or natural, but is learned. Reading disabilities reflect a persistent deficit, rather than a developmental lag in linguistic (phonological) skills and basic reading skills. Children who fall behind at an early age (K and grade 1) fall further and further behind over time. Longitudinal studies show that of the children who are diagnosed as reading disabled in third grade, 74% remain disabled in ninth grade (Fletcher, et al., 1994; Shaywitz, Escobar, Shaywitz, Fletcher, & Makuch, 1992; Stanovich, 1986; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994). Lack of phonemic awareness seems to be a major obstacle to learning to read (Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987a; Wagner & Torgeson, 1987).

However,in Brunei , it was only in Year 2009 that the phonics approach for teaching reading was introduced . It is one of the approaches that is included in the new educational system,known as the SPN21, where the phonics approach needs to be implemented in teaching reading and writing to Preschool and Year 1 students . The action was also taken in response to a national report which indicates that about 76 percent of students in Year four and 44 percent of students in Year six had not learnt the basic literacy skills in Brunei ( National Study of Student Competencies in Mathematics and English , 2008).

In an effort to introduce teachers to the phonics approach, the Ministry of Education had conducted workshops especially for the English language teachers which aims to provide them with the phonics approach knowledge and how it is taught .

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Having an effective teaching instruction such as the phonics approach to teach reading in a classroom would be a relief for any teachers who face problems with students who are unable to read . However, not all students could achieve the same level of reading in a classroom even though the same approach was used and was found to be effective with others. While most students are ready to read on a higher level, effective classroom teachers might recognize that some students are lagging in reading skills. Those students who are not strong readers often are not as successful as they could be in a given content area. Their progress is slow without the help of an observant and effective teacher. This is where a remedial reading program is needed to help these struggling readers to read . In most schools in Brunei, children who have problems in reading are placed in a remedial program through a pull-out system (students are taken to a special room during a particular lesson for a remedial session ) which is run by a special education teacher . However, the remedial lessons were usually implemented for teaching reading in Bahasa Melayu and as a result the reading problem in the English language remains .

As for the school in this study,the remedial reading session was run on the initiative of the English language teacher during the English lesson itself. This was seen to be ineffective because this respective teacher found it difficult to provide extra time during the lessons to help these difficult readers because the teacher would also need to deal with some other average students who might need help during the lesson . Therefore,the remedial reading sessions were not consistently done with these difficult readers.

A Successful remediation requires direct, intensive intervention with an effective program. Effective remediation is not teaching down to a lower level, helping the students learn ways to ‘manage’ his reading difficulties, or continuing practice of impaired reading. Effective remediation directly builds necessary skills so the students acquire the necessary skills and can advance. To read proficiently the student needs to convert print to sound and develop phonologic processing pathways.  After fundamental phonemic processing is established the student needs to build advanced skills. Effective reading remediation programs directly develop all skills necessary for proficient reading.

Phonics could be useful to teach reading to difficult readers in the Primary school, especially in terms of getting them familiar with the sounds of each letter. Moreover, they need a program which can help them to read in a short period of time so that they might not fall back too far from other students of their levels. Ignoring them and hoping that somehow they would catch up and be able to read like their fellow classmates is likely to create problems in the future.

1.3 Purpose of the study

This study aims at achieving the following objectives :

To explore the implementation of the remedial reading program using the phonics approach for difficult readers in a Year 4 class.

To measure the reading achievement of these difficult readers within 3 weeks of daily remedial sessions (30 minutes per day).

To promote a suitable time (outside the classroom lesson) for the teacher to run a remedial session with the difficult reading students.

1.4 Research Questions

How is the remedial reading session in the school being conducted?

How much is the phonics knowledge being included in the program?

What is the impact of a constant reading remedial session with difficult readers on their reading performance using a Synthetic phonics approach?

To what extent would a morning session hours (before the classroom lesson) and recess hours could be spent for remedial reading session .

- How much could the students improve from these sessions?

1.5 Significance of the study

One of the major struggles of the primary school teachers is how to identify the most effective ways to teach their students how to read, especially with all the different learning styles among children. Children come to school with varied reading abilities and literacy experiences. All children have the ability to learn to read but at different rates and in different ways (International Reading Association, 2000; Moore & Whitfield, 2009). It is essential for a teacher to have a comprehensive knowledge of the reading process, the ability to observe and assess a student’s strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to adapt one’s teaching in response to the learning needs of the students (International Reading Association, 2000).

It is the responsibility of the teachers to provide reading instruction that meets the needs of these diverse students. Teaching students to read is one of the most challenging things in teaching because teachers would need to be alert with their teaching approaches or instructions so that they meet each and every children needs in learning to read .And while many children follow a typical pattern while learning to read that allows their individual differences to be met with one program, those who do not follow that pattern often fall behind. Many remedial programs are simply a slower version of reading programs used for typical students, but these don't necessarily work for atypical learners. That's why it might be more effective to develop remedial programs for specific students.

Therefore, throughout this study, it was hoped that the result of the research can be beneficial for English teacher in structuring a remedial program for their difficult readers and to get them to reflect on their efforts in helping the these students to learn reading . It was also hoped that the results would be able to make the teachers, school administrator and the curriculum developers of the school under study to realize how important a synthetic phonic approach is to be included in the remedial program .

1.6 Limitations of the Study

This study however has its limitations . These include the length of research time , small samples used and also the different reading difficulties of the participants .

The sessions were conducted over a three-week period only where the participants were taught five times in a week ( 2.5 hours in total) . The study only involved two students from a Year 4 class in a selected school in Brunei Muara District (small sample size) . The reading difficulties of the participants might be different from others because difficult readers might have so much difficulty in applying the phonics skills and therefore this might vary the instructional approach used in this study with other settings. Thus , the findings of the study should be interpreted with these limitations in mind .

1.6 Definition of Terms

The terms below were used in this study:

Letter- sound relationship :

Skills associated with sound-letter knowledge:

the awareness of how spoken sound and written letters relate to each other in the English language

the names of letters and the sounds associated with them

the ability to recognize words previously seen

the ability to apply knowledge of how sounds and letters are related to each other to figure out the pronunciation of words not seen before, which is known as decoding

(Shedd, 2008)

Phonemic Awareness

This skill involves the ability to manipulate and understand sounds, and the relationship between sounds and words. For example, children learn to recognize that two words sound alike (or rhyme), and can identify the first or last sound in a word. They are able to manipulate sounds in words to make up new words (eg "might" without the /t/ sound is "my"), and recognize that sentences are made up of separate words.

(http://elr.com.au/phonological/design.htm#a03)

Difficult Readers

Students with the following reading problems :

- difficulty in matching sounds and letters

- has trouble in reading and spelling phonetically

- decode in a very laboured manner

Remedial Lessons

Lessons conducted especially to help low achieving students which is designed to help these students to improve and simplify their learning difficulties and to catch up with other fellows of the same levels.

Phonics

Teaching reading by training the students to associate letters with their sound values.

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