Sunday, January 22, 2012

The use of authentic materials to foster learners reading competence

The ideas in here exposed are a summary of the article Carry on reading! by Britt Jepsen    -Issue 70 September 2010- English teaching Professional.

         Although the use of authentic materials in EFL classes has been a very debatable topic, many teachers still insist on avoiding the benefits of such a practice.
Some teachers justify this avoidance by using the following beliefs:
-          They argue that the exam syllabus need to be covered , what normally leaves them with no extra time;
-          The students prefer to follow the course book because they see it as a concrete progress measurement tool;
-         Teachers encounter countless difficulties in finding suitable materials for their lessons.

Britt Jepsen tells us her experience in Denmark, where the general aim when it comes to get students reading  is to provide them with the chance of producing language based on what they have read.
The Communicative Approach has provided Danish schools with the theorical background they need to foster the ability to understand texts in English since the very early stages.
The Danish curriculum is based on the five major elements of the Communicative Approach:
-          Linguistic competence;
-          Pragmatic competence;
-          Discourse competence;
-          Strategic competence ;
-          Fluency

Based on this elements and how successfully the readers can interact with a text, a set of general goals where created. Some of them include:
-The acquisition of knowledge about the language such as vocabulary and structures that would enable learning in a bottom- up reading perspective;
-The ability to read a range of texts in English;
-The building of schematic knowledge so as to interpret texts meaningfully;
-The development of reading strategies such as scanning and skimming;
-The building of awareness of the structure of written texts in English as a comprehension facilitator.
           In spite of the difficulties previously mentioned, the author believes it is possible to use authentic materials since the very first stages .She suggests the use of simple and short texts such as cartoons, recipes and postcards for kids and elementary levels and she also highlights that these levels are not so difficult to please because the foreign language is still new to them. On the other hand, she emphasizes the importance of a clear focus on extensive reading practices with higher –level students. She claims that valid reading purposes might be the key to motivating students to read even what does not get them interested.
Jepsen says that to engage and motivate students , teachers should be able to find material which match the following purposes:
1-      To get information;
2-      To respond to curiosity about a topic;
3-      To follow instructions;
4-      For pleasure and enjoyment;
5-      To know what is happening in the world.
              Intensive reading activities are intended to have students become successful readers whereas extensive reading practices are based upon the assumption that long term exposition to the language will provide students with independence in their studies , cultural knowledge, language proficiency  as well as motivation to carry on reading .
              An interesting example of a useful procedure to support extensive reading are the “reading Syndicates” where members read different books and get together to discuss about them.
            To put it all in a nut shell, the use of authentic materials can clearly provide students with a real memorable and meaningful  experience , and so teachers as well as schools need to be aware of the necessity of coming up with a teaching programme based on authentic reading materials . It will certainly elevate students’ level of confidence, autonomy and motivation to read outside the class.

This is the link for the presentation  I used at the opportunity.


Sharon said...

I saw that you referred to the Danish curriculum. Do you have any idea how it compares to the Finnish one? I've heard that Finland has some of the best education in the world.

Leandra Dias said...

Hey Sharon, I've heard the same about those schools, but I cannot provide you with any further info about this, I'm afraid.
What about doing a research together on the topic? How can I contact you?

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