Reading ability has always been considered as a critical measurement in language education. It involves both reading behaviours and reading comprehension. Among all the different reading behaviours, there are many debates around whether oral reading has any influence on the reading comprehension performance or not. Hence, this study has been focused on the relationship between oral reading and the comprehension performance of second year students in Shandong Normal University, China. The grades of participants who participated in two reading comprehension tests, before and after a 6-week oral reading practice experiment had been measured and compared. Results had revealed a significant correlation between everyday oral reading practice and reading comprehension performance in late-teen and early-twenty EFL/ESL university students. The practice of oral reading showed significant influence on reading comprehension performance in the test. Most of groups showed that oral reading practice had positive influence on the reading comprehension performance. Feedback suggested that oral reading experiment was successful because it helps in improving the scores of the reading comprehension test. It is recommended that English as foreign language or second language (EFL/ESL) teachers and students use oral reading as a practicing method and reading method during English learning. And also employ it as a reading method in reading comprehension outside examination. Beside the benefits of the oral reading method on reading comprehension performance, a clear “bottleneck” was also observed in this method during the investigation. As a consequence, to improve reading comprehension performance in EFL/ESL study, more factors such as vocabulary capacity, analysis ability of sentences and the understanding of the background culture would need to be taken into consideration, apart from the oral reading practice.
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Reading methodologies take an important part in both first language and second/foreign language learning (Alshumaimeri, 2005; Grabe, 1991; Jackson & Coltheart, 2001; McCallum, Sharp, Bell, & George, 2004; Prior & Welling, 2001). In general, there are three reading methods used in language learning and teaching, oral reading, silent reading and subvocalization. Oral reading usually refers to the act of reading aloud, either to oneself or to audience. Silent reading, as stated in the phrase itself, it is the act of reading to oneself without pronouncing words out aloud. Subvocalization, which is similar to silent reading, however, is defined as the internal speech made when reading word, thus allowing the reader to imagine the sound of the word while reading (Carver, 1990). The term refers to the movement of muscles associated with speaking originally. But most subvocalization is undetectable even by the person using it (Carver, 1990; Rayner, et al, 1994).
Reading comprehension refers to the ability of understanding of a written text or message (Keith, et al, 2001). This understanding of the writing comes from the words themselves, and the knowledge outside the written text can be triggered (Keith, et al, 2001). Reading comprehension performance is one of the essential criteria in language education (Bernhardt, 1991). There are many different methodologies of teaching reading comprehension throughout the centuries (Adams, 1994; Keith, et al, 2001). Modern methodologies usually stressed on using model strategies to analyse or interpret the passages (Pressley, 2006). There is no definitive set of strategies, but general ones include summarizing what you have read, monitoring your reading paragraphs, and analysing the structure of the text (Pressley, 2006). Some programmes teach students how to self monitor whether they are understanding and provide students with tools for fixing comprehension problems. These kinds of methods have also been highly used in English education in China, in order for students to target high reading comprehension scores in the examination. This study was focused on the influence of reading behaviour on reading comprehension performance; hence, these technical strategies and their effects on the reading comprehension performance of EFL/ESL students would not be discussed further in this dissertation.
1.2 Previous literatures and researches on Oral Reading
Previous studies on the effects of reading methods on the comprehension performance had shown significant differences between the different reading methodologies. Oral reading had the best effect on comprehension performance among the three reading methods (Alshumaimeri, 2011). In Alshumaimeri’s research, all groups stated that oral reading was the most preferred reading method with the most of students reporting it was the best method to support reading comprehension. Feedback suggested that this method was preferred “because it helps in memorizing words and texts, concentration, and practicing and pronouncing words for real world encounters” (Alshumaimeri, 2011).
For decades, investigators have stressed the importance of oral reading to children in first language teaching situations in many cultures, not only as a method of encouraging children to read, but also of developing their reading comprehension ability (Alshumaimeri, 2005; Grabe, 1991; Jackson & Coltheart, 2001; Juel & Holmes, 1981; McCallum, Sharp, Bell, & George, 2004; Prior & Welling, 2001; Rowell, 1976, Yang, 2008).
Oral reading has been considered as an essential approach in teaching pronunciation, vocabulary recognition and memorisation, during the early stages of foreign or second language (EFL/ESL) learning. There are many debated around the topic for decades. With the fast-developing technologies involved in the teaching activities, traditional teaching and learning strategies like oral reading, had been considered as an out-dated methodology, and discouraged by some EFL/ESL teachers (Amer,1 997). Hill and Dobbyn pointed out in their research that oral reading could be a waste of class time in 1979 (Hill & Dobbyn, 1979). This situation is especially is especially critical in China’s education system, since the focus is generally on improving the examination grades, rather than using a language practically. Another reason for oral reading has been overlooked by many teachers is because of lacking scientific instructions; consequently, students could not use oral reading as an efficient method to practice a foreign language after class in a non-native speaking environment (Yang, 2008). On contrary, researches had demonstrated that oral reading with scientific techniques could be beneficial in proof-reading, pronunciation practice, and fluency of conversations (Cho & Choi, 2008; Gibson, 2008; Rennie, 2000; Reutzel, Hollingsworth, & Eldredge, 1994; White, 1982). A survey conducted by BBC on the influences of oral reading on EFL/ESL at the EFL/ESL forum (Gao Xia, 2006), in which 98% of the 314 EFL teachers thought that oral reading had essential functions on English learning (Gao Xia, 2006) The majority of EFL/ESL teachers suggested oral reading as an essential English learning method based on teaching experiences (Gao Xia, 2006; Yang, 2008)
1.2.1 Oral reading in English Learning
In China, or other countries where students learn English as a foreign language, the input of the target language is very low in daily life. The output of a language requires the understanding of large amount of the input first (Krashen, 2009). Oral reading is generally considered as an essential and effective way of the foreign language input. In China, the purpose of learning English as a second language has moved from understanding and using the language, to target high scores in various examinations in order to gain high grades, or get into and graduate from universities. As a consequence, the most of English teachers in China, especially the ones in secondary schools, colleges and universities, focus the English teaching and learning on the grammar, writing skills and reading comprehension test skills. Few teachers are actually taken oral reading or reading aloud as a regular teaching strategy during classes or as a regular practicing method for students. The lack of oral reading practice in long term could result in a lack of the language input in a non-native speaking environment. Therefore, many students in China who have learnt English for many years have a good amount of vocabulary and well understanding of the grammar, and had passed many examinations including CET-4 and CET-6, still have troubles to use English fluently when needed. The lack of the language input during foreign language learning would result in lack of the scenes of the target language. Therefore, as suggested by many educators, oral reading is an effective, concentrated, and enhanced input route for language information. It could help EFL/ESL students to enrich their information pool of the target language and also provide the base of imitating and expressing the language for students’ language output. From imitating the reading material, the information in the texts would be converted into their natural and fluent expression and communication.
Educators suggested that there are several reasons why oral reading takes an important part in English teaching and learning. Firstly, oral reading is a method to improve pronunciation and speaking ability. With the correct direction from English teachers, students could be benefit from oral reading practice for their pronunciation, voice tone. Additionally, during the oral reading behaviour, students’ eyes, mouths, and ears can all be involved. It can enhance the corresponding area in the brain to process the sound. So effective reading aloud practice is also a good foundation for listening. Thirdly, oral reading can improve the sense of phrase during foreign language learning in a non-native speaking environment. The process can also help student to concentrate on the text and memorise vocabulary (Alshumaimeri, 2011). With all the advantages of oral reading practice above, as suggested by Halliday in his “An introduction to Functional Grammar”, reading texts aloud would help the reader to understand complicated contents (Halliday, 1994). Moreover, it has also been suggested that oral reading to help foreign language learners to improve their written communication skills. By imitating the language during oral reading, students could overcome the effect of their first language on the writing skills.
Correct guidance of oral reading is essential in English learning. Reading aloud without wise strategies would not have any positive input in the learning process, which is a great waste of time and energy. As suggested by researchers, ESL/EFL teachers should pay attention to oral reading during the class to inspire students’ interests in oral reading. Teachers should also provide clear demonstration of the correct pronunciation and tone. And also explain the differences between the first language and foreign language. In addition, students are encouraged to practice oral reading regularly outside the class spontaneously. Furthermore, the reading materials should be well-selected. Articles, passages or books written by the native speakers of the target language with approximately 5% of new vocabulary are suggested to be suitable reading materials.
To sum up, oral reading is an essential methodology that can improve many skills in English learning, including pronunciation, vocabulary, intonation, voice tone, and the sense of the language. Many researchers and educator believe that oral reading can improve the reading comprehension performance. Therefore, this study would like to investigate the relationship between oral reading practice and the reading comprehension performance of Chinese university students, through a series of designed oral reading practicing experiment.
1.3 Previous literatures and researches Reading Comprehension
The research of reading comprehension has begun to increase rapidly in 1970s (Thorndike, 1973). It has then increasingly become the main standard in language understanding. As mentioned above, reading comprehension is described as the level of understanding of a content or text. In this thesis, the word “text” is used to refer to the written materials, which have specific meanings in semantics, informative in pragmatics, coherent in logic and cohesive in linguistics; it carries out the communication functions and conveys the interactive purposes between the writer and the reader; it depends on context, linguistic or non-linguistic, in which the textural meaning can be perceived by the reader.
1.3.1 Reading Comprehension of Text
Reading comprehension is generally a fundamental mean for people to get information. Readers integrate and comprehend the text information on the basis of al parts of information. They complete their comprehension according to part and whole understanding of the text. Therefore, reading comprehension relies on the interaction of meaning between local and whole information.
Text theory has become central to contemporary linguistic sciences. Text is considered as central to the construction of reality as entities are brought into existence, given meaning and significance. The purpose of reading is to uncover the meaning underlying in texts, and to examine the pattern of text and to link them to social backgrounds. Through the past few decades, the research on reading comprehension of text has been made more progress through the efforts of many text linguists (Gao, 2010).
Reading comprehension of the text requires perceiving auditory and visual inputs, process these inputs in their highly complex cognitive systems (Anderson and Pearson, 1984). Reading comprehension began with the studies on memory and representation. The current researches of reading comprehension involve in the study on the retrieval of central concepts, different dimensions of situational models and different processing of text information. English reading comprehension theories developed from the earliest Grammar-Translation theory to current situational model theory. Through the empirical researches and English reading teaching theories, the above two research fields tend to draw together. Both fields had developed from linguistic micro aspect to semantic macro aspect.
In the field of psycholinguistics, reading comprehension of text refers to the capacity to construct new knowledge from the written text (Anderson and Pearson, 1984) and apply the acquired information to new situations (Kinstch, 1998). The Propositional Theory, the Schema Theory and the Mental Models are considered as the three most influential psycholinguistic theories of reading comprehension of text (Gunning, 1996).
1.3.2 Brief Comparison between Reading Comprehension Theories
The three main reading comprehension theories identified by Gunning in 1996 will be described and compared briefly in this section.
According to Gunning, the Propositional Theory engages the reader constructing a central idea as they process the text. These central ideas are organised in a hierarchical pattern with the most important factors given the highest priority to be memorised (Gunning, 1996).
Schema, came from Greek which means “shape” or “plan”. The term has been introduced into education by Bartlett in 1932 (Bartlett, 1932). According to Bartlett, a schema was defined as a complex knowledge structure which groups all the information an individual knows about or associates with a particular concept. The term was linked with reconstructive memory by a series of experiments demonstrated in Bartlett’s work (Bartlett,1932). By presenting participants with information that was unfamiliar to their cultural backgrounds and expectations and then monitoring how they recalled these different items of information (stories, etc.), Bartlett was able to establish that individuals’ existing schemata and stereotypes influence not only how they interpret “schema-foreign” new information but also how they recall the information over time.(Wikipedia) The Schema Theory in had been studied and developed by many researcher ever since. In 1980, Rumelhart had taken an important breakthrough of the schema theory in reading comprehension, by portraying individuals’ understanding of tales and stories (Rumelhart, 1980). Later, the schema in text theory refers to content schema, where the the readers’ understanding of the text might depend on having a clearly established context for the text. Gunning (1996) defines a schema as the organized knowledge that one already has about people, places, things, and events. Kitao (1990) says the schema theory involves an interaction between the reader’s own knowledge and the text, which results in comprehension. This schema, as Gunning defined, can be very broad, such a schema for natural disasters, or more narrow, such as a schema for a hurricane. Each schema is “filed” in an individual compartment and stored there. In attempting to comprehend reading materials, students can relate this new information to the existing information they have compartmentalized in their minds, adding it to these “files” for future use. Based on the Schema Theory, depending on how extensive their “files” become, their degree of reading comprehension may vary. (website) For instance, the researches of reading comprehension sometimes term as formal schemata, which reveal previous experience of a certain text type. For instance, readers usually expect to see an abstract, a background review, a methodology and analysis and discussion of data in a scientific paper. This kind of schema provides the expectation about the style of the text.
Schema could also be used to represent the meaning representation built up by a reader during processing a particular piece of text. People begin to read texts with expectations about the content, which can be derived from the title or from the purpose of the texts. These enable people to develop a text-specific schema even before reading. More information might be added to the original schema, or the initial schema might be revised during the reading. (Sample Paper)
Schema is different between languages. There are three possible changes of schemata. The change is involved when small adjustment is made temporarily in order to confront immediate needs. Accretion modifies a schema gradually but when new information is acquired or repeated examples of contrary evidence are accumulated, the schema may be changed. Restructuring occurs when a sudden insight or new piece of knowledge leads to radical reorganisation of existing knowledge structures. (Sample Paper)
To sum up, the schema theory, as the mental representations of typical situations, are used in text processing to predict the contents of the particular situation which the text describes. The idea is that the mind which is stimulated by key words or phrases in the text, or by the context, activates a schema of knowledge, and uses this schema to understand the text.
Mental Model Theory (Dominican.edu website)
Another major theory we would like to discuss is the Mental Model. This model can be thought of as a mind movie created in one’s head, based on the reading content. Gunning gives a detailed description of this process, stating that a mental model is constructed most often when a student is reading fiction. The reader focuses in on the main character and creates a mental model of the circumstances in which the character finds him or herself. The mental model is re-constructed or updated to reflect the new circumstances as the situation changes, but the items important to the main character are kept in the foreground according to Gunning, (1996).
Perkins (1991) identifies that sometimes misconceptions about important concepts reflect misleading mental models of the topic itself or the subject matter within which it sits. There are, however, interventions the teacher can do to help the reader to stay on track and create a more accurate picture. One suggestion is for the teachers to ask the students to disclose their mental models of the topics in question, through analogy, discussion, picturing, and other ways. This information gives the teacher insight on the student’s knowledge gaps and misconceptions, therefore allowing them to help students reconstruct a more accurate picture.
1.3.3 Reading Comprehension in Foreign Language Study
Reading comprehension is one of the critical teaching objectives in all foreign languages education. The ability of reading comprehension is also an important factor to evaluate the learners’ language competence.
Studies on first language learning showed that the comprehension performance is better when reading silently (Bernhardt, 1983; Leinhardt, Zigmond, & Cooley, 1981; Wilkinson & Anderson, 1995). Nevertheless, recently study from Teng suggested that reading comprehension results had no significant difference between oran and silent reading (Teng, 2009). In EFL/ESL learning, Al-Qurashi et al had proposed that oral reading was only beneficial in acquisition; for reading comprehension, silent reading is better strengthened (Al-Qurashi, Watson, Hafseth, Hickman, & Pond, 1995). While researchers continue to explore the effectiveness of oral reading on both language acquisition and comprehension, many questions remain unanswered. Further research on the relationship between oral reading s and reading comprehension is needed in order to enhance EFL teaching methodologies and to improve learning outcomes. This research furthers understanding of the relationship between oral reading and comprehension performance at later stage of EFL/ESL learning. As such, findings would assist colleges or universities, the EFL/ESL researchers, educators and students.
1.3.4 The Previous Research on the Correlation between Oral Reading and Reading Comprehension
Oral reading and reading comprehension are different reading activities that are related and interact to each other. Research had been done on the two aspects from various perspectives, including psychological linguistics, neurological linguistics, cognition and the functions in foreign language education.
Oral reading is a reading activity that expresses the emotions using reading skills, such as stress, rhythm or tone, in the linguistic materials. It involves reading out aloud the words, sentences or passages, with eye sight focusing on the texts. It is different from a mechanical word-to-word articulating process. Oral reading is a more complex and cognitive process which engages not only pronouncing, reading, and listening, also language perception, comprehension and production of the reader. Previous research suggested that oral reading represented a complicated and dynamic performance that indicate the individual’s sensorial skill at automatically recognising orthographical representations, unitising those components into recognisable wholes and automatically accessing lexical representations, processing meaningful connections within and between sentences, relating text meaning to prior information, making inferences to supply missing information, and his production skill— the formulation and execution of speech plan, the performance on which characterises the reader’s overall language proficiency (Gao, 2006). The psychological process of oral reading had also been investigated. During the activity of oral reading, the reader could formulate the phonetic plan and convert it into vocal sound after comprehending the text (Gao, 2007). Then the input of information could activate the lemma in the mental lexicon ¼ˆYang, 2008¼‰.
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Text is a language phenomenon based on psychological activites and also a product of psychological process. Reading comprehension of the text involves how people recognise auditory and visual inputs, process and understand the input information in the highly complex cognitive systems. In the field of psycholinguistics, reading comprehension of the text refers to the capacity to construct new knowledge from the written text (Anderson and Pearson, 1984) and apply the acquired information to new situations (Kinstch, 1998).]
Furthermore, the performance of reading comprehension is an indicator of the foreign language students’ competence. If one has difficulty in the comprehension of reading, his or her execution of phonetic plan, mechanisms of articulation and monitor cannot work together simultaneously and effectively. His or her oral reading performance could be stumbled and mistaken as well. Thus, the process of both oral reading and reading comprehension are relevant to cognition and psychology of human.
1.4 Significance and Aims of the Study
The main aim of this study is to analyse the relationship between oral reading and comprehension performance. Previous literatures suggested that the oral reading method is correlated to the comprehension performance during language studies among young children and teenagers (Alshumaimeri, 2005; Rowell, E.H. (1976).). Alshumaimeri ‘s research on “the effects of different reading methods on the comprehension performance” in 10th grade Saudi male students indicated that, reading comprehension performance could be benefited from oral reading method because it could help students to concentrate on the passages and memorise new vocabulary (Alshumaimeri, 2011). The research from Alshumaimeri was conducted among teenagers. Additionally, the experiment was designed to investigate the reading comprehension performance after oral reading the passages (Alshumaimeri, 2011), i.e. the immediate effect of oral reading on comprehension performance. However, the experiment was designed differently in this study to investigate the “long-term” effect of oral reading on reading comprehension performance.
Therefore, this study has been carried out among second year students in Shandong Normal University in China, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. This study has aimed to investigate the influence of oral reading practice on reading comprehension performance, in ESL/EFL students with relatively long English learning history and who already have relatively higher ability in English. Because with the development of English teaching and learning strategies, and the ability of self-learning and gaining resources by students, oral reading is more neglected with the age increasing as well, especially for college and university students, who despise oral reading as a leaning method because it is time consuming, childish and shows no immediate improvements in examination grades. Therefore, the ability of reading comprehension would be measured by two designed multiple-choice tests, before and after a 6-week oral reading practice experiment. The scores from both tests would be analysed to investigate the relationship between oral reading practice and the reading comprehension performance.
Besides the quantitative data comparison from the reading comprehension tests, the opinions from both students and English teachers participated in this research on oral reading and reading comprehension would be collected by questionnaires. This aimed to investigate the attitude of oral reading and reading comprehension from both learners and teachers’ point of views during EFL/ESL education. These results would be valuable for future English as a foreign language education.
Theoretical exploration and quantitative analysis would be illustrated in the thesis; experimental data would be processed with SPSS to support the theory as well.
The study mainly focused on discovering whether the students’ performance of oral reading would have any positive influence on student’s reading comprehension performance. Additionally, the work of EFL/ESL teacher in China put in teaching correct oral reading techniques to improve their ability in reading comprehension performance. In order to get reliability and validity data and results, both quantitative and qualitative approaches were used in this research. In the foreign language education field, quantitative research is objective, noticeable, and outcome-oriented, which can be generalised. On contrary, qualitative research is more subjective, contextual and process-oriented, during which the process is based on systematic methods. In this section, the key questions involved in this study would be discussed, followed by research subjects (university teachers and students), research procedures (experimental design, implement process and data collection), and measurements (pre-test, post-test, questionnaires and teaching experiments).
2.1 Research Questions
The study was designed to investigate the influence of oral reading practice on reading comprehension performance, and the relationship between the two. The key questions in this study are as follows:
How to use oral reading as an effective teaching method in English classes regularly?
How often do students use oral reading as an exercise technique in their self-study time?
What is the relationship between oral reading and reading comprehension performance?
Would the oral reading experiment have positive influence on the reading habit of students?
The research of these questions would be illustrated in the “Results” section, and the answers to these key questions would be discussed further in the “Discussion” section.
2.2 Research Subjects
The experiment around the topic was carried out in second year student in Shangdong Normal University, China. A full-time university could be used to represent the majority of universities in China. A group of 120 non-English department students were chosen as the research subject in this study. They could represent most of the English learning students in China. As second year university students, they usually have a good understanding in English by passing the National Entrance Examination of China, and had leant English for approximately 9 years since the fourth grade in primary schools. The average age of the chosen students was around 19 to 21; and participants were selected from both genders. More importantly, they have similar education background and English level in the reading comprehension. The non-English-specialised College English Test “Band 4” (CET-4), which is a national English as a Foreign Language test in China, could be used as a standard to measure the ability of the participants in the reading comprehension study. The purpose of the CET is to examine the English proficiency of undergraduate students in China and ensure that Chinese undergraduates reach the required English levels specified in the National College English Teaching Syllabuses (NCETS). The level of CET-4 could be considered as around 5.5 to 6 in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
The 120 participants were selected from 300 non-English-specialised students from different departments who join the research on their own will. Their scores were fall between 25% and 40% in the pre-experimental reading comprehension test (details in the next section). This score range represents a group of students who have certain understanding in English but with lower level in the reading comprehension. As a consequence, there is a big gap to see the improvements in this study. After the selection, there were 79 female students and 41 male students were chosen for the next step experiment. The reason for the difference in genders was due to that the female student proportion was naturally higher in this University. However, since the purpose of this study was not focus on the effect of oral reading on reading comprehension performance between genders, this big difference could be accepted in this research. The gender proportion information is illustrated in Tabe.1 below.
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