The Importance of Reading in and out of School

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Reading serves a very important function within the schools system. This is not only for purposes of passing one's examinations, but it also helps the learner to form meaningful interpersonal relationships in and out of school. Good reading enables one to comprehend subjects taught in school and to be competitive in the job market. Poor readers are often below grade level, those with English as second language or dyslexia victims. A learner who cannot read confidently is at a major disadvantage (Fletch 1955:142).

The school where I teach has a big number of learners who cannot read, correctly enunciate English words or do not read at all. As a result, they score very poor grades and often get frustrated. They do not easily complete their assignments, suffer from low self-esteem and often exhibit delinquent behaviour patterns. A good number of them suffer from physical illnesses as a result of stress, dislike school, suffer from extreme shyness while in groups and ultimately, fail to develop and make use of their full potential. The impact on poor reading on the learner has motivated me to find out why this problem still exists, and hopefully, spur other researchers into exploring what could be done to alleviate the situation.

There has been an outcry from various stakeholders in the school system that the number of poor readers continues to increase in schools in Qatar. This scenario has had a big impact of the performance of these learners in other spheres of their lives, in and out of school. According to Logan, Rupley, & Erickson (1995:93), most poor readers lack the ability to pay attention to and manipulate the smallest sound units of spoken languages (phonemic awareness); fail to relate letters used in written language to sounds used in spoken language (phonics) and the storage of information regarding the meaning of words and their pronunciation (vocabulary development). They are also not able to read with accuracy, speed and with expression (reading fluency), and to gain meaning from what they read (reading comprehension). This research study of mine aimed at identifying reasons why learners with poor reading habits still exist in my school. My research study was exploratory and investigative in nature.

The Research Problem

I know a number of factors are likely to act as setbacks to this study. My study will be carried out in one school. My findings might not therefore be used as generalizations to other schools. Some respondents might misinterpret the intentions of the research and possibly shy away from volunteering the correct information, which is likely to yield inaccurate and unreliable data. Teachers in my school might for example feel that this research is meant to evaluate and audit their performance. Some of the learners, especially those who already have reading problems might not comprehend my interview questions thereby giving incorrect responses. There might be no sufficient time to carry out the investigation, therefore, I will limit the scope of my study to a small group of respondents including parents, pupils and teachers, but who are a fair representation of the whole school population.

The study of materials in my school library did not put forth any document that researched on the problem of poor reading in this school. There is definitely a gap in this area which can only be filled by a kind of research that I had set out to conduct. It would not be prudent to assume that the reasons for this poor state are similar to those in other schools in Qatar.

Research Questions

This research study is necessitated by the fact that in the school I teach, out of the close to 320 boys from Reception to year 6, a good number of them cannot read at grade level. I prepared the following questions and thought to be helpful in helping find out the reasons for this sorry state:

Does lack of adult support at home determine the learner's ability to read?

Does the type of reading materials in school determine the learner's ability to read?

Are there other facilities that can be used to enhance the learner's ability to read?

Does the availability or nature of teachers affect the learner's ability to read?

Are there medical conditions that impair the learner's ability to read?

Are the learners who have a good home environment and adult support are good readers?

Do poor or lack of appropriate reading contribute to poor reading in schools?

Do the learners who lack other materials such as the computers are likely to be poor readers?

Do medical conditions such as dyslexia, dumbness and deafness can affect the learner's ability to read?

The Importance of my Research

The findings of my study of course are important to a number of people around. The learners are the first beneficiary. When weaknesses in the system are identified and fixed, the improvements realized will help them read better, make good grades, improve their interpersonal relationships and possibly get better jobs. Their confidence and self-esteem will receive a major boost. The teachers will be able to develop better teaching methods which will enable them realize improved performance in their schools. The school administrators will similarly benefit from this research. They will for example be able to employ more qualified teachers and improve design appropriate teaching and learning materials that can better address problems associated with the learner's inability to read. Where possible, they will be able to request the owners and Supreme Education Council - Qatar to allocate more funds for this purpose. Employers too stand to benefit from the findings of this study. Fixing the problems associated with the learners' inability to read will make sure those who leave school for the job market are able to communicate effectively and build interpersonal relationships with the other employees. Researchers in the field of education will find this study quite invaluable in as it will form part of the literature available for reference. My findings of this study will similarly motivate more research work in areas related to education and learning.

Literature Review

I have been observing during my career, as an educator, that students with poor reading habits often score poor grades in examinations, fail to form meaningful interpersonal relationships, eventually fail to impress on the job market and their opportunities are mostly grabbed by the expats. This is because inability to read invariably leads to one's inability to communicate, yet communication is very important in forming and sustaining meaningful interpersonal relationships necessary in job situations. Suffice it to say that the same learner will already have failed his examinations. James et al explain, a study carried out established that at the national level, 44% of children in Grade were could not read at or above the basic level. Their level of content mastery in the National Assessment of Education Progress test was below was quite inadequate. Some states such as Maine, Louisiana and California recorded 27%, 62% and 59% deficiency levels respectively. Such learners mostly become delinquent (James et al 2008:107-109).

A number of writers have written on the issues that deal with the learners' ability to read. Smagorinsky & Whiting, (1995:72) argue that learners who have difficulties reading aloud confidently and clearly have a major disadvantage. Their inability to read puts them at a major disadvantage in their future career. I have been put forward number of reasons through my interviews in an effort to explain the causes of poor reading among primary school learners. In the first place, it is haled that the learner's background has the greatest effect. Few parents said homes which are located in crowded places are likely to negatively affect the learner's reading ability. This is especially the case when such homes happen to be found in noisy environments. A noisy environment is definitely not conducive to reading. It is also a fact that crowded households are often poor, hence parents of such learners cannot afford to buy reading materials that motivate the learners to read. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to reading and speaking in class.

Lack of support from parents has also been cited when I interviewed a number of parents of Year-1 pupils as a major cause of poor reading among primary school learners. Most poor readers fail to get the support of their parents in their reading assignments. Some parents are either too busy to help their children with their reading assignments, or they are just disinterested. One of the mothers disclosed that all adult members in her family were poor at reading when they were at school and the history of difficulties in reading still exist in other families too. Good readers are often motivated by their parents who could help them read through some story books, correct their pronunciation errors and make the whole reading experience fun-filled. Where this support is missing, learners could easily give up or continue making errors which will eventually lower their grades. Some parents usually scold their children when they make reading errors, and this demotivates and discourages them from attempting to read. They consider themselves good for nothing and eventually stop trying to improve their reading abilities (Socash 2006:142-144).

There is also the problem of inadequate qualified language teachers in my school. In spite of the large number of students in the school, the authorities have failed to employ enough teachers to address the increasing number of students with reading problems. The small number of teachers cannot give individual attention to individual students. Their unique reading problems are therefore left unnoticed, leaving the learner at a disadvantage. Sometimes, the teachers who are hired to teach language are not well-trained and therefore lack the requisite expertise necessary in handling reading problems (Texas Reading Initiative 2002:75-77, Butin, 2004:26-28).

Poor reading among primary school learners is also attributable to lack of proper functioning libraries in most schools. My school similarly lacks a qualified librarian or teacher librarian. It is devastating to know that the learners consequently fail to get professionals who can help them with reading when they get to the library. The library in my school is fully stocked, full of reading materials and other equipment but, are they suitable for our children who speak English as a second language? We need a skilful person to decide this and add more books to the library.

Jones explains, most libraries do not have motivating texts, and rely on old books which the learners consider archaic and out of touch with their situation. School libraries have many books, but these are basically content or school texts which do not motivate reading (Jones 2001:23-30).

In my school students would be more motivated to read if there was a variety of reading materials such as newspapers, periodicals, novels and so on. There are no many computers that could help the learners read well with the direction of speech recognition programs. When the class teachers were questioned they said a system that seeks to promote reading must have a provision for library periods on the timetable. This would make the learners take reading seriously; while the teachers assigned these lessons would prepare for them the way they prepare for any other lesson. I think this would infuse a sense of seriousness in both learners and teachers on how these lessons are conducted. A number of learners in this and other schools are non English speakers. The school however lacks appropriate programs tailored for this category of learners. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to reading English and speaking the language (Heilman, Blair & Rupley 2002:150).

One of the Year-1 teachers said that poor reading in our school is also caused by lack of effective reading instruction. She is right, as it has been established that the best way of teaching reading starts with phonics. The school, just like many others, does not have an intensified approach to teaching phonics. Their instruction involves use of whole word approach where seeing accompanies saying, or a superficial application of phonics where whole word methods are involved. This is not the best way as it teaches by picture memorization and guessing. Unlike languages such as Chinese which are picture based, English is highly phonic (Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force 2002).

During my interview with a Doctor father, he said a number of learners with medical conditions that inhibit speech have reading problems. Those suffering from dyslexia are especially known to have serious problems when their jaws fail to coordinate properly. They may also not be able to draw association between words and actions. Others who suffer from auditory problems as a result of chronic ear infections when they were young or those who were born with this disability also have difficulties with reading. It is true; learners with visual perception problems often reverse letters or words, and might not be able to match word images with those previously stored in their brain. Other learners are poor readers because of failure to develop language abilities, and suffer from language processing difficulties. Such learners have reading, comprehension and written and verbal expression difficulties. Another factor, pupils who lack confidence are also likely to be poor readers, especially when they know all the rest are listening to them. They are likely to falter, forget some words and lines and then stop speaking. The Year-4 teacher recalled Khalid's abilities of reading as he is shy and lacks confidence speaking in front of the class which caused failure in developing language skills.

Poor reading among children is also attributed to the fact that reading does not form part of the learner's leisure and social interaction activities. Our children prefer spending more of their time with friends or playing games on TV or computers than staying at home and reading. Similarly, the prices of books and other reading materials such as CD-ROMs are ever increasing, pushing them beyond the ability of most families.

Research Methodology

My study covered children, teachers, parents and other adults working with pupils. The study was exploratory and investigative, in which various people were interviewed in order to identify the causes of poor reading among pupils in my School. An exploratory research was deemed appropriate because of its flexibility and ability to gather preliminary information and definition of the existence of a problem, from which hypotheses could be formulated (Kotler 2006:154). A population of 30 pupils, 10 teachers, 30 parents and 10 other workers was purposively sampled in order to include presumably typical areas of the sample group (Kerlinger 1983:217).

I included a number of data collection which were,

The Questionnaire: This was prepared and given out to the teachers, and other adults who interact with pupils. These were self administered. I prepared another questionnaire as a guide to interviewing pupils who could not read. This instrument is usually appropriate because it is carefully prepared and easy to administer (Kothari 1990:195).

Interview Schedule: I met few parents at the time of Parent Teacher meeting, teachers and children during school hours and had face-to-face interview sessions with them. The parents' behaviour at home was also questioned.

Observation Schedule: I observed some of the children & teachers as they went about their activities. The pupils were for example observed in and out of class. The teachers were also observed during their lessons. Other adults such as ESL teachers & TA too were observed in their interaction with the pupils in school. Secondary data was gathered by perusing the pupils' school progress reports of three terms and reading records and written school reading policy document.

As I read and understood BERA research policies, a number of ethical issues were considered while carrying out this study since it involved human subjects. In the first place, I sought for and was granted permission by the CEO of Iqra Educational Projects to access the respondents such as the pupils, teachers, parents and other workers; and the documents relating this study. The respondents were selected on voluntary basis, and none was forced to participate. The reasons for the study were outlined to respondents and they were promised strict confidentiality in terms of the information they gave plus their names. As much as possible, the respondents' point of was respected without coercing them to look at issues from my position.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

From the data I collected I can say 75 % of the children interviewed said that their inability to read was occasioned by lack of an enabling environment at home. They claimed the noisy background and lack of parental support often discourages them from practicing reading. The same respondents said that their parents do not give them motivating reading materials. They also said that they prefer to go out and have fun with friends instead of staying and reading at home and their parents do not control them. 65% said that they lack support from other adult members such as librarian of the school system. This was attributed to the fact that most of those who offer support services in areas such as the library are not competent speakers of English in fact the librarian in our school is an Arabic speaker.

80% of the learners said there is lack of other equipment such as speech recognition computer software that could help them improve their speech abilities. A small number of learners (20%) said they lack enough qualified teachers of English, hence depriving them of close interaction with the available few. 5% of the learners were reported to have medical complications such as dyslexia, prior auditory infections leading to their hearing impairment, stammering and so on. These conditions interfered with their ability to speak.

60% of the parents interviewed said that the cost of good reading books has escalated, making them difficult for them to purchase them for their children. A similar number could not afford quality CD-ROMs and other gadgets. 50% reported that their children would rather go out and play with their friends than remain at home and read. 45% of the teachers admitted that they had problems teaching reading because of phonetic complexity. They also blamed lack of support from a qualified teacher librarian.

Conclusion and Recommendations

From my study I was able to draw a number of conclusions. Since the home environment plays an important role in developing a learner's reading ability, it should be made as conducive as possible, away from noise and equipped with good reading materials. Parents' and adult support in reading is equally desirable. Our school should have a well-stocked library with a variety of reading resources and other equipment. They could also consider employing a qualified librarian with the ability to guide learners in their reading activities. Library periods could be formally included on the school timetable as a way of emphasizing the seriousness with which reading must be taken. Adequate and qualified teachers play a big role in teaching reading, and the school could consider employing enough of them. Learners with medical conditions that inhibit their ability to read could be given special reading instruction and guided slowly with their reading assignments. I hope and strongly believe that if these measures are implemented, learners will be assisted to overcome their reading difficulties.

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