Empowering Iranian Efl Students Through Critical Reading Strategies

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Traditional notion of the literacy has been focused on the adequate level of proficiency of the reading and writing ability. Rubin(1993:3) states "A literate person is one who can read and write". Since the beginning of the twentieth Century literacy concept has taken on several meanings. Mckenna and Robinson(2002) Literacy are a concept that has changed considerably over the years. Entering the modern society with complicated and competitive technology and the ability to get and give information need to use the new form of literacy that Multicultural, Technological, Media, Computer, Visual and Critical literary are just a few examples. As an instructional approach, critical literacy has emerged in recent years, particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Stevens and Bean (2007) critical literacy is an active questioning of the stance found within, behind, and among text. Wink ( 2005:3) agrees to this "critical literacy is reading and writing, but it is much, much more. Critical literacy involves knowing, lots of knowing. It also involves seeing, lots of seeing. It enables the reader to read the social practices of the world all too clearly." Critical literacy actually encourages readers to actively analyze texts and challenges to discover the meaning of the Word and the World. Analytical reading and reading between and beyond the lines are some of its highlighted roles. Richardson, Morgan, and Fleener (2009:142) are of the opinion that "Critical literacy is not to encourage skepticism but to give student tools for investigating and becoming informed, rather than gullible, readers." Cooper, Kiger and Au ( 2009:8) claim that from a critical literacy perspective, it is important to pay attention not just to how reading is taught, but also to what is being read. On that account teachers should focus on critical literacy and encourage the students to have a deeper look at texts; specifically examining the relationships among texts, language, power, social groups and social practices. One aspect of critical literacy is critical reading that is more than access to superficially meaning of the text. Critical reading occurs at a higher level of reading to empower students, through negotiating and reading critically the diverse forms of the text.

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The first serious researches and discussions of critical reading emerged during the 1967s by Willavence from Ohio State University Research Foundation under the U.S Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The study was largely based upon empirical studies that investigate "Critical Reading Ability of Elementary School Children." Critical Reading was identified as a part of reading comprehension and was defined as an analytical evaluative type of reading in which the reader analyzes and judges both the content of what was stated and the effectiveness of the way it was written.

In the past two decades, a number of researchers have sought to determine various dimensions of critical reading activities, skills, and strategies. Developing critical reading skills through whole language strategies an empirical study was done by Robin Combs in 1992 at Southern Nazarene University. In1998, Parviz Birjandi the famous Iranian policy maker and the author of English textbooks for high school and pre-university levels, in his study tried to investigate the effect of critical reading on the improvement of the reading comprehension ability of Iranian high school students. The finding of the study showed that critical reading as a post reading activity ,activated the students' background knowledge which , in return , affected the comprehension of the passage.

Around two decades working as an English language instructor in Iranian high schools and pre university center; touching and feeling directly the reading problems among the Iranian students particularly in the late 1992s and early 2008s; on the other side, the participating and cooperating of the researcher with The English Skills Department of Santa Barbara City College in a project that called "CAHSEE "which takes students through the subject matter of the Exit Exam in a way that challenges them to think actively about reading, writing, and word meaning, prompted the researcher of this study to consider the question of How does one read critically and actively? It was not a simple question and the answer needed more than a superficially investigation in reading area. Reading critically describes the attitudes or behaviors expected of a critical reader and offers strategies for uncovering underlying messages. Kern (2000:29) "reading requires more than perceptual and sensory-motor skills; it also demands the reader's active participation at a cognitive level."

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Over the five last decades variety of definitions of critical reading has highlighted that the most of the researchers, have been acknowledged that reading requires the reader's active participation at a cognitive level(Smith1963;Russell1963; Robinson1964; Wolf et al.1967; Hess et al.1975; Heilman & Holmes1978; Kayser1979;Rubin1982;James1984;Flynn1989;Paul1993;;Mather&McCarthy2005;Wall2005;Wallace&Wray2006; Gillet et al 2008). Several cognitive processes those are similar in essence to the Cognitive Domain of the Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives are suggested by these authors. Rubin(1993) believes most of the existing taxonomies are adaptations in one way or another of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives in the cognitive domain, which is concerned with the thinking that students should achieve in any discipline. Eisner (2000) is of the opinion Benjamin Bloom tries to reveal what students are thinking about when teachers are teaching.

Tankersley (2003: 116) states, "When comprehension is deep and thorough, a reader is able to process text at higher levels of the thinking process. The reader is able to apply the levels of Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy (1956) and make meaning at more sophisticated levels. This thread is reading at the evaluation, synthesis, analysis, and interpretation levels. Good readers can monitor their own comprehension, interpret charts and graphs while reading, summarize as they read, make connections while reading, and process text after reading at sophisticated levels of thinking."

Learning to synthesize, evaluate, and process information in new ways is the key to preparing students for the world outside of school. It appears that some attention should be given to instruction in the skills of critical reading in today's schools if students are to be adequately prepared to serve as fully functioning citizens.

Goals of school curricula in Iran often include a statement of the desirability of critical reading skills; however, there is seldom a sequential plan for the development of these skills below Pre- university level. Reading and translation have central position in Iranian current EFL text books (Eslami-Rasekh & Fatahi 2008). Therefore, the highlighted methods in most schools are combination of grammar-translation and audio-lingual methods (Eslami-Rasekh 2004).

What motivated this research were the observed problems in EFL reading classes in Iranian high school and pre-university centers. Moreover, critical reading has not usually been a major focus of teaching and research in Iran and empirical research in critical reading has been limited mainly to university level. The researcher has considered the value of critical reading strategies and try to present, through sample reading lesson, alternative possibilities for reading activities which, besides being more interesting for students, can help them become more active, and more critical readers. The major benefit of the lesson on critical reading is the high level of enthusiastic student participation. This is attributable to some extent to the novelty of the task they will perform: coming up with questions ,they thought would be answered in the text, rather than trying to answer superficial comprehension questions or true-false statements prepared by the textbook writer.

1.2. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

The 21st century will require learners to use the four highest levels of thinking-application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation higher levels of comprehension would obviously include higher levels of thinking Tankersley (2005).

In EFL reading classes, students usually do not have the opportunity to perform higher order thinking tasks (e.g., applying, hypothesizing, analyzing, synthesizing, comparing, and evaluating what they read). Consequently, they do not learn to read critically, nor do they reach evaluative understanding of the text and develop their thinking ability. Oftentimes, students get frustrated and lose motivation for independent reading because they are used to listening to teachers' explanations (Wallace 2005 cited in Jun Zhang2009)

The similar situation can be found among Iranian EFL students. In Iran, English is taught as a foreign language and is practiced within a context-restricted environment, in which the textbook and classroom teacher plays the main role. Although the reading skill sounds to be of first priority in the design of the Iranian high school books, many Iranian EFL learners still seem to have serious problems with acquiring the ability to read critically. According to Koosha and Jafarpour (2006) this inefficiency seems to be, to some extent, due to the lack of definite reading strategies among Iranian EFL students.

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Birjandi & Noroozi (2008) states that in Iran; reading is relatively viewed as the aim of language teaching and language learning programs in secondary and tertiary levels of education. Thus, English teachers are expected to get familiar with efficient techniques that can boost the level of learners' reading comprehension. Higher-level thinking arises when students read between the lines, look beyond the surface of the text and they are reading to figure out an answer or to achieve comprehension. While there is not a recognized demand to have higher-order thinking practice in the Iranian EFL classroom, there is not also a recognized instructional struggle with bringing higher-order thinking to life in the classroom. This indicates a need to understand the various perspective of critical thinking that assists Iranian EFL students.

Tankersley(2003)states although most English language teachers learned about Bloom's Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956) during their preparation courses, many seldom challenge students beyond the first two levels of cognition: knowledge and comprehension . While Critical reading is at higher level of comprehension skills and it involves evaluation, the making of a personal judgment on Lie accuracy, value, and truthfulness of what is read Rubin(1993).In spite of Educators acknowledge that the cognitive benefits to all students of foreign language study, such as fostering higher-order thinking skills ,According to Dadvand & Foruzande(2007) the structural view of the nature of language and the behavioristic assumption among Iranian teachers about language learning which have led to an overemphasis of structural points as the skeleton of language and repetition/ memorization as the heart of a successful language learning experience.Thus,the reading passages in Iranian high school books are not accompanied by appropriate exercises. Most of the comprehension questions following the reading section ask display questions, which only require locating some pieces of information within the text, i.e. the first two lower levels of thinking and cognition: knowledge and comprehension.

Although extensive research has been carried out on reading area in Iranian EFL classroom, no single study exists, which have investigated the reading from cognitive dimension and perspective. The results of those studies also show the lack of definite cognitive reading strategies within Iranian high school classrooms. Consequently, Students do not have adequate background skills, they understand the text at some superficial level, and the act of reading is difficult and troublesome for them. (Tankersley2003:2&91) "Poor readers do not understand that they should take any action when comprehension is lost. Many simply give up since they have no strategies to use to deal with difficult text."

1.3. Purpose of the study

The objectives of this research are as follow:

1. To identify the critical reading strategies employed by Iranian EFL students.

2. To investigate the Iranian EFL students' reactions and responses to the process of

teaching critical reading.

3. To prepare a model to teach critical reading strategies to Iranian EFL students.

1.4. The research questions of the study formulated as:

1. What are the critical reading strategies employed by Iranian EFL students?

2. How do the Iranian EFL students react and respond to the process of teaching

critical reading?

3. How to prepare a model to teach critical reading strategies to Iranian EFL students?

1.5. Significance of the study

The significant of this study is to bridge the gap between the concept of critical reading and actual reading practice available to teachers and students. In particular, the study focused on the highlighted critical reading strategies as a medium to prepare Iranian EFL students for critical reading-the ability to read with analysis and judgment and to encourage them to participate actively in reading process .The critical reading development will motivate the students to find purpose in reading and evaluate the purpose of the authors and even a touch of excitement or challenge to reading . Reading without purpose can be frustrating and may reduce motivation, comprehension, and efficiency

This study maintains that students are having difficulty in reading because they are not receiving the right reading experiences in school. Most of the time students are asked to answer end-of chapter comprehension questions or fill in endless worksheet spaces. In addition, most reading that is done in class is oral reading with one student reading the text aloud and all other students listening.. Motivation does not happen for students as they are reading or doing dull exercises. The student has to be motivated prior to reading. Students have to be taught to think about a topic in various ways before they start to before they start to read.

Teaching reading based on critical reading strategies provides many opportunities for EFL students to engage in the upper levels of Bloom's taxonomy. Therefore, the major categories: recall, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of the cognitive domain of Bloom's Taxonomy encourage EFL students to play active roles in learning critical reading in EFL classes.

1.6. OPERATIONAL DEFINITION

The following are the definition of terms used in current study:

1.6.1. CRITICAL LITERACY

Alagozlu (2007) Critical literacy is a new perspective in teaching English as a foreign language, which trains students to think critically and then transforms their thinking into some practical action to make a better society. Critical literacy aims at exploring a new perspective, making pedagogy synchronize with the changed society. Therefore, critical literacy in EFL teaching is highly significant

.

1.6.2. CRITICAL READING

Wall and Wall (2005) Critical reading is a way of reading that will allow you to take a deeper look at text. You will develop an acquired skill with some knowledge and experience. To read critically means to read analytically, this means to question and to think about the written material in front of you. When you question something, it usually leads to finding answers. There are no right answers when you read-there are only the author's intentions and your interpretations. Critical reading is a way of looking at a book and analyzing what the author is saying and the methods the author is using to communicate a message or idea. Your analysis is complete when you have formed your own interpretations of the author's intentions. Learning to read in depth, with comprehension, and being open to new ways of thinking an understanding can only start with an itch to want to know more, whether it's for your own personal knowledge or for a class.

1.6.3CRITICAL READING STRATEGIES

A variety of strategies that help students read with better understanding of the material. Mastering these strategies will help students handle difficult material with confidence. 

1.6.4. BLOOM'S TAXONOMY OF EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES

Krathwohl (2002) The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is a framework for classifying statements of what teachers expect or intend students to learn due to instruction. Bloom (1956: 26) educational objectives mean explicit formulations of the ways in which students are expected to be changed by the educative process. That is, the ways in which they will change in their thinking, their feelings, and their actions. Bloom's Taxonomy is the most common model for describing thinking. A list of six thinking skills arranged from the most basic to the most advanced level. These descriptions are used to help teachers and students focus on higher-order thinking. Bloom lists a hierarchy of skills: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

1.7. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK OF THE STUDY

Having now introduced and motivated the topic, defined the research questions, and looked at some of the research germane to the proposed study, this section is devoted to establishing the theoretical framework within which the study will take place. Eisenhart (1991: 205) described a theoretical framework as "a structure that guides research by relying on a formal theory…constructed by using an established, coherent explanation of certain phenomena and relationships".

1.7.1. COGNITIVE DOMAIN OF THE BLOOM'S TAXONOMY OF EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVE

Krathwohl, Bloom and Masia (1964:7) Cognitive objectives emphasize remembering or reproducing something, which has presumably been learned, as well as objectives, which involve the solving of some intellective task for which the individual has to determine the essential problem and then reorder given material or combine it with ideas, methods, or procedures previously learned. Cognitive objectives vary from simple recall of material learned to highly original and creative ways of combining and synthesizing new ideas and materials.

Bloom (1956: 20) in the cognitive domain, especially, it appears that as the behaviors become more complex, the individual is more aware of their existence. Students are able to give more complete reports of their attack on a problem as the problem becomes more complex, that is, as the problem is classified in the more complex classes of intellectual abilities and skills.

1.7.2. COGNITIVE LANGUAGE LEARNING STRATEGIES

Grenfell and Harris (1999:44) Cognitive strategies are mental engagement with language in materials or tasks in order to develop understanding and hence learning. Cognitive strategies act on language in the acquisition process and may be specifically involved in production of language. Cognitive strategies also include many academic and study or learning skills, for example, translation, deduction, working on keywords, using available resources, mnemonics, taking notes.

1.7.3 HIGHER-ORDER THINKING STRATEGIES

Duke and Pearson (2002:118) six strategies that higher-level readers should use to make meaning of text as they read. (1) prediction/activation of prior knowledge, (2) using think-aloud strategies to monitor comprehension, (3) using text structures, (4) using and constructing visual models such as graphic organizers and imagery, (5) summarizing, and (6) questioning and answering questions while reading.

1.7.4. CRITICAL READING STRATEGIES

Singh, Chirgwin and Elliott's (1997) critical reading strategies encourage learners to use each of the cognitive processes described in the three upper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, those commonly associated with critical thinking skills. Singh et al. (1997) modified Bloom's order slightly, included some processes more than once, omitted one type of process and included a pretest of existing knowledge. This unique strategy engaged students in a metacogitive consideration of their own thinking processes by asking them to compare their initial and final conceptions, justify why their initial and final conceptions changed, and finally to draw conclusions about the accuracy of their thinking.

Table 1: Comparison of Singh, Chirgwin and Elliott's critical reading strategy with Bloom's Taxonomy

Singh, Chirgwin &Elliott's Processes

Bloom's Lev el's of Cognitive Learning

Identify and record their initial conceptions

Pretest of existing knowledge

Obtain information through reading

Obtaining new knowledge

Compare initial and final conceptions

Comprehension - looking for similarities and differences

State how and why conceptions changed

Analysis - comparing and contrasting, drawing conclusions and supporting the argument

Produce a report on differences between initial and final conceptions

Synthesis

Give their opinions on how and why

Evaluation

Let learners draw conclusions on the accuracy of their conceptions about text.

Analysis

Chapter Two

Review of Related Literature

2-1.Background of the study

Habsah Hussin (1998) who investigated the effects of selected critical reading strategies on critical reading performance of selected Malaysian ESL Secondary School students. In 2006, Ainon Jariah Muhamad at Institute of Education International Islamic University Malaysia studied Critical reading strategies in English as a second language it was a case study of Malaysian law undergraduates. The results of the study revealed that students' attitudes to reading and to reading critically, did have some influence on the number and the types of strategies used. The activation of background knowledge and related experience were also helpful in generating the critical responses to academic texts. Veeravagu, Jeyamahla(2010) at Univesiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) enquired "Using Bloom's Taxonomy to Gauge Students' Reading Comprehension Performance" The findings indicated that the level of thinking processes advocated by Bloom taxonomy had influenced the performance of the students in the reading comprehension paper.

Wallace 2005 cited in zhang : Again, as Wallace has stated, students have developed only one strong "reading strategy" over the years: that of listening to the teacher explaining the text word by word, sentence by sentence. Because reading classrooms lack class interaction, students are not actively engaged in the meaning-making process or, at best, the process involves readers' decoding of text. Therefore, the existing knowledge of students is not effectively drawn out for the benefit of the whole class. There is a lack of richness and diversity in classroom activity."