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According to English language teaching worldwide teachers and learners nowadays are part of a contemporary discourse in which the traditional educational features and purposes are united by communication. Communication is a part of the modern society which is influenced by new technologies, especially by computers. The situation in the society reflects on education, not only in foreign, but in Bulgarian schools as well, and teaching reading skills depends on this fact.
The problem of teaching reading skills at school is very broad and needs to be discussed from various points of view. It is not possible all of them to be researched profoundly in only one written work. Therefore, this topic will focus only on a small part of this huge scientific area: namely, the current trends in teaching reading skills through computers, according to Bulgarian educational situation. It will try to show briefly the application of computers as a mediator between the classroom and the outside world, at one hand, and will mention some basic terms, which are thought to be relevant to teaching reading skills nowadays. The topic will show how computers can stimulate and motivate young learners to read and learn, according to the main features of the Net generation, how the teachers can collaborate with new technologies in order to present reading as a part of a real life communicative discourse, and a couple of problems which some ordinary Bulgarian school teachers meet in using new technologies in class. Some of the ideas of the topic will be illustrated by surveys, carried out at "Maksim Gorky" secondary school in Sofia.
Nowadays children grow up with computers and Internet. In the developed countries most of them have home computers and start using them very early, even before going to school. Diana Oblinger and James Oblinger explain: "over two million American children (ages 6-17) have their own Web site" (2010). The situation in Bulgaria is similar - during the last years computers and Internet have become more and more popular among young children. In fact, they are born with the computers and can not imagine the world without new technologies. Through computers children surf the Internet and explore popular web-sites like Skype, You tube, Facebook, Google. A survey at "Maksim Gorky" secondary school in Sofia was carried out and 350 students from 3rd to 12th grade were asked the following questions: "Do you use computers and for what", "How much time do you spend in front of the computer". All of the students answered that they have their own computer at home and use it every day. Most of them stay in front of the computers for three or more hours a day mainly to surf the Internet and play games. The most popular website for students from 5th, 6th, 7th grade is Facebook, because there they can read and write, can publish their own photos and clips. They prefer Facebook because it gives them a possibility to share their opinions, to create team web-pages, to make up invitations and events like: "A day for a bear hug", "A day for saving our environment", "A day for eating and drinking", "A day for loving somebody" and etc. Skype is also popular through students, but mostly through elder students - from 9th, 10th and 12th grade. They use this Web site for chatting and for exchanging information with different people for expressing their opinions and sharing ideas. Google is also used mostly by elder students, because there are huge amount of information which helps for school education: researches, presentations and projects. The students were asked the question if it is possible to live without computers and Internet. All of them answered "No", because they can not imagine life without new technologies.
From this questionnaire it becomes clear that younger and elder children prefer communicating with whole groups and are attracted by interacting together through new technologies. This is a new generation that creates their life from the position of "Now" and "Here". Young people are open to the world and react to different situations at once. They accept those who are different and are prepared to share their own opinion with others. Diana. and James. Oblinger describe the Net generation as "connected, immediate, experimental and social" (2010). It is clear nowadays that students would rather discover, explore and investigate various topics and situations. But more important feature about young learners is that they are technical by birth. And this fact is the most important for the contemporary teaching of reading skills at school.
It is common sense nowadays that computers are more important for young people than books and libraries, than cinema and theatre. They are used everywhere - at home, at school, at the library, at cinema. At one hand, their power reflects on the whole educational process, especially the foreign language methodology and education. At the other hand, in the new technical society it is becoming more and more difficult to stimulate young learners to read traditional books, because they have a lot of other sources of information. In recent research article by National Endowment Agency (NEA) Dana Gioia said: "Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years." (Thursday 7 February 2008). If reading process is viewed from the point of view of the modern society, it is possible to think that young learners do not give up reading as a whole, but they search new types and ways of reading. They prefer reading electronic books and using written texts in the Internet. Consequently, computes are becoming very important device for reading as a whole.
In view of mentioned notions above, computers can successfully be used for reading purposes at school. In fact more and more they are proved to be a very helpful facility for performing certain reading tasks in class. They have a stimulating power in reading activities and can unite the participants to work together as a team. Through them students can easily find information and examples of different reading texts. More over they can learn how to prepare their own school products - projects, surveys, school newspapers, cartoons, essays, presentations and even whole books. Claire Kramsch found: "â€¦computers seem to realize the dream of every language teacher - to bring the language and culture as close and as authentically as possible to students in the classroom." (1999 p 31) From this point of view students should be taught some authentic reading skills in order to be able to communicate successfully in the society and to realize their own role in the community. In this sense it is important to introduce the process of reading as a real life situation. The educational process at school can become more attractive with computers, because applying these technologies in classroom means giving authentic communicative prospects for developing reading skills.
More over, teaching reading is a part of the whole process of teaching English language, which is united by communicative purposes. In order to be authentic communication has to represent the real life. And according to the basic features of the modern technical society, without new technologies an English language classroom seems to be useless and unattractive, because it has little in common with the outside world. So it becomes not valuable for the learners. As a result, learners gradually become less and less motivated to participate in class. It is interesting how students themselves see the role of computers in class. Another survey was carried out in 36 Secondary School "Maksim Gorky", 250 students from 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 11th and 12th grade were asked following questions: "How do you prefer learning in English - with computer, with a teacher or both?", "Why?"
- 110 students prefer learning reading with computer because they think it is more interesting and challenging. They ignore the role of the teacher and say that computers can be more helpful than the teachers.
- 45 students prefer learning reading with a teacher because they think teachers are better than computers. They say that computers are harmful and often make mistakes.
- 120 students think that both - learning with computer and with a teacher simultaneously is better, because different tasks can be mixed together.
The opinion that the teacher can successfully collaborate with computers in order to make learning more attractive and challenging is leading. In this sense the teachers must take into consideration the needs and interests of their students and give a new meaning of their own role. At one hand, the teachers have to see themselves as a part of a modern educational discourse, in which computers are applied as an useful device, and at the other, they have to be prepared to deal successfully with these new technologies. As Domino Noemi explains "To exploit the computers' potential, we need language teaching specialists who can promote a complementary relationship between computer technology and appropriate pedagogic programs" (2004). It becomes clear more and more nowadays that the new educators should be different from the traditional ones. Firstly, they have to be motivated and aware of advantages of the new technologies in class. They should know what educational purposes, according to reading skills, can be achieved through computers. Secondly, they have to be well prepared and computer literate to be able to apply computers in class. And last but not least, they do not have to be afraid of losing their position in education. In fact, when certain reading tasks are performed by computers the role of the teacher in classroom is still very important. The modern educators have to encourage students in performing the given reading tasks, to conduct learners and to give feedback at the end. For example Stepp-Greany, Jonita expresses: "most students report preferring to do work in a lab with a teacher's or tutor's presence rather than completely on their own". (January 2002). Hence students rely on the teachers' help and encouragement. They have to be more facilitators and coordinators, than supervisors and directors. They have to help learners and give them directions. This position of the educators is very important for the students, who are not obedient and powerless any more. They are not passive receivers of knowledge but active participants in the lesson. And computers become a kind of mediator, a facilitator of the task performance. More over, computers give possibilities for weaker students to participate in the given tasks by a lot of drilling exercises.
At one hand, computers can help students to feel themselves independent, not threatened by the critical position of the teacher and classmates, and at the other, they can provide a unique connection with the world outside the classroom. This advantage is a very strong stimulus for the learners to search the new and the unknown and makes them curious and motivated to read. More over, the motivation is crucial for successful learning English as a whole. Through computers learners can be able to create own ideas and discover knowledge, which they will need in future. A broad number of software provide authentic texts for educational purposes, especially for developing reading skills: extracts from scientific journals (for example National Geographic), from different genre of literature like fiction, fairytales, novels. A lot of joyful texts for having fun can be used as well. In the reading exercises some activities such as games can be included. It is a common sense in pedagogy and in psychology that a child can easily learn through playing games. Playing is a process in which children create ideas and develop their personal abilities. Vygotsky found: "In play a child deals with things as having meaning. Word meanings replace objects, and thus an emancipation of word from object occursâ€¦Playing constitutes the first step towards abstract thinking" (1966). Computers give broad variety of reading exercises which include games (like Hidden Relics, Lost Treasures, plays and school theatres and etc.) They can be attractive and very useful simultaneously for the stronger and for the weaker students.
However, Bulgarian schools do not offer variety of technologies and possibilities for the language teachers in case they would like to use them. Computers have not a very broad application in the language lessons. Their use is reduced only to performing the listening tasks. Using computers at English language lessons is restricted and difficult. To achieve stable results with the new technologies, the teacher has to carry out lots of lessons in the lab - because there aren't any computers in the ordinary classrooms. The organization of using the lab at school is not easy and depends on many factors - the other teachers, timetables and etc. So the teachers are powerless, even they are motivated to integrate new technologies in the lessons. Although computers offer many facilities, possibilities, useful software tools and sources - (Netscape, PowerPoint, Book Cover Creator, Quia and etc.) and, it is almost impossible for the students to work with computers in class, because of the lack of these technologies. Modern systems for learning English as a foreign language (for example "Starter A" and "Starter B", "Upstream" - Express Publishing; "Solutions" - Oxford University Press and many others, provide software with variety of exercises and tasks, which can be performed by an interactive whiteboard. Nevertheless the teacher can not use them because of the high prizes of these devices. Last but not least some of the educators have a strong negative attitude towards computers and this is another obstacle for integrating new technologies in English language classroom in present.
Nevertheless, in the future computers surely will play more important and significant role in the educational process, because of their advantages. Un Bulgarian schools they will be seen as a helpful facility not only for performing the listening tasks, but in applying in various reading exercises. They will be appreciated as a helpful device through which students and teachers will overcome the difficulties in the current educational process. In the contemporary educational discourse computers can bring an attractive and productive working atmosphere and can help the educators to realize a lot of educational purposes, especially developing reading skills in a modern classroom communicative situation.