Students’ perceived difficulties in reading comprehension with reference to New Tieng Anh 10 textbook at Nghi Loc IV High school: A survey interview study

1. Introduction Reading comprehension is one of the most important language skills that students of foreign language need to have. This is because the goal of most foreign language students is to get access to the knowledge they need through the medium of the foreign language they are learning. In addition, reading is a very important , even the most important source of linguistic input through which the students acquire the foreign language. Unfortunately there are many factors, both linguistic and non-linguistic, that makes reading comprehension a difficult skill for the students to acquire. This study is to investigate those difficulties as perceived by the students. This Chapter introduces the rationale, the aim, the research question, the research method, and the scope of the study. The Chapter concludes with a presentation of the organization of the study. 2. Rationale The ongoing process of regional and global intergration in Vietnam has resulted in an increasing demand for English language teaching across the country. Now, learning English is not only an interest but also a practical thing for many people. Learning English means learning four related skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. In teaching and learning English as a foreign language in Vietnam, reading has always received a great deal of attention. This is understandable, English is learnt and taught in non-English environment, so reading is not only one of the four language skills that students of English need to acquire but also a means of further study. According to Carrell (1981) “For many students, reading is by far the most important of the four skills in a second language, particularly in English as a second or foreign language”(p.1). What is more, when poor reading results are reported, one tends to blame the students for having poor ability or for making insufficient effort. Nevertheless, the students are not always at fault. There are other important factors in the process of teaching and learning reading that are worth considering. It could be unsuitable teaching materials. It could be the inappropriate attitude of the teachers and learners towards the subject. It could be the teachers’ inappropriate teaching methods and classroom techniques.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to express my deepest thanks to my beloved supervisor Mr. Le Van Canh, MA for his invaluable support, patient guidance, and encouragement he gave me throughout my research. I am truly grateful to him for his advice and suggestions right from the beginning when this study was only in its formative stage. I also wish to send my sincere thanks to the lecturers of Post Graduate Department, Foreign Language College of Vietnam National University, Hanoi for their interesting lessons and suggestions, which aroused the thesis for this study to be realized. I am indebted to my family members whose support and encouragements greatly contributed to the completion of my study. Last but not least, I wish to thank my readers for their interest and comments on this thesis. DECLARATION I certify that this thesis is the result of my own study and that it has not been submitted to any other university or institution wholly or partially. Hanoi, June, 2008 Student: Lª Minh Sao ABSTRACT The important role of reading comprehension is apparent for any student who has success in his command of foreign language in general, English in particular. For non-English major students in Nghi Loc IV Upper Secondary School, reading has been paid more attentions to as the students have to take the examinations which are grammar- and reading- based. However, they have encountered a lot of difficulties in reading skills even after the new textbook has been put to use. This study aims to investigate the reading difficulties perceived by the 10th grade students of Nghi Loc IV Upper Secondary School. The results of this study has shown that the 10th form students often have difficulties with vocabulary, grammar, reading skills and background knowledge when learning reading comprehension. This study has also given some suggestions to reduce their reading difficulties and helps students to obtain desirable results in learning reading. LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES TABLES Table 1: Students’ attitudes toward reading skills Table 2: Students’ reading habits Table 3: Students’ perspectives about easy reading texts Table 4: Students’ perspectives about difficult reading texts Table 5: Studens’ activities in Pre-reading Table 6: Studens’ activities in While-reading Table 7: Studens’ activities in Post-reading Table 8: Students’ areas of difficulties Table 9: Students’ difficulties in the area of vocabulary Table 10: Students’ difficulties in the area of grammar Table 11: Students’ difficulties in the area of reading skill FIGURES Figure 1: Students’ attitudes toward reading skills Figure 2: Students’ opinions of the easy reading texts in the textbook Figure 3: Students’ areas of difficulties Figure 4: Students’ difficulties in the area of grammar THE TABLE OF CONTENT ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I DECLARATION II ABSTRACT III CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION 1 1. Introduction 1 2. Rationale 1 3. Aims of the Study 2 4. Research Questions 2 5. Method of the Study 3 6. Scope of the Study 3 7. Organization of the Thesis 3 CHAPTER II: LITERATURE REVIEW 5 2.1. Introduction 5 2.2 Definition of Terminology 5 2.2.1. What is reading? 5 2.2.2. Reading Comprehension 6 2.3. The difficulties of the second language reading comprehension process 7 2.3.1. Reading skill problem 7 2.3. 2. Language problems 8 2.3.3. Cultural background knowledge 9 2.4. Learner-centeredness in foreign language education 10 2.5. Summary 11 CHAPTER III: THE STUDY 12 3.1. Introduction 12 3.2. The rationale of using survey interviews 12 3.3. The context of the study 13 3.3.1.The students, their background and their learning conditions 13 3.3.2. Teachers and methods of teaching 14 3.4. Reading Comprehension in the New TIENG ANH 10 14 3.5. The participants 15 3.6. Instrumentation 15 3.7. The Interviews and Data Analysis 16 3.7.1. Students’ attitudes toward learning English 16 3.7.2. Students’ attitudes towards learning reading skill 16 3.7.3. How much do the students read? 18 3.7.4. Students’ perspectives about reading texts in New Tieng Anh 10. 19 3.7.4.1. Students’ perspectives about easy reading texts 19 3.7.4.2. Students’ perspectives about difficult reading texts 21 3.7.5. Students’ activities in the reading lessons 22 3.7.5.1. Pre-reading activities 22 3.7.5.2. While-reading activities 24 3.7.5.3. Post-reading activities 25 3.7.6. Students’ reading difficulties 26 3.7.6.1. In the area of vocabulary 27 3.7.6.2. In the area of grammar 28 3.7.6.3. In the area of background knowledge 30 3.7.6.4. In the area of reading skills 31 3.7.6.5. In the area of reading tasks 32 3.7.7. Students’ remarks about teaching reading and their recommendation for improving reading skill 33 CHAPTER IV: FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION 35 4.1. What are students’ attitudes toward reading skill? 35 4.2. What do they really think of the reading texts in the text book: New Tieng Anh 10 ? 35 4.3. What do students do when they read a reading text? 35 4.4. What difficulties do students encounter in learning reading skill? 36 4.5. What do the students want their teachers to do to help them read more effectively ? 37 4.6. Suggestions to improve reading skill to students at Nghi Loc IV High school 37 4.6.1. Techniques for reading interest and motivation 38 4.6. 1. 1. Making English reading fun 38 4.6. 1.2. Making English reading useful 38 4.6.2.Training students to become efficient readers 39 4.6.3 Making students fully aware of their purpose of reading 39 4.6.4. Encouraging students to have extensive reading habit 39 CHAPTER V: CONCLUSION 40 5.1. Conclusions 40 5.2. Limitations of the study and Suggestions for Further study 40 REFERENCES 41 APPENDIX CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION 1. Introduction Reading comprehension is one of the most important language skills that students of foreign language need to have. This is because the goal of most foreign language students is to get access to the knowledge they need through the medium of the foreign language they are learning. In addition, reading is a very important , even the most important source of linguistic input through which the students acquire the foreign language. Unfortunately there are many factors, both linguistic and non-linguistic, that makes reading comprehension a difficult skill for the students to acquire. This study is to investigate those difficulties as perceived by the students. This Chapter introduces the rationale, the aim, the research question, the research method, and the scope of the study. The Chapter concludes with a presentation of the organization of the study. 2. Rationale The ongoing process of regional and global intergration in Vietnam has resulted in an increasing demand for English language teaching across the country. Now, learning English is not only an interest but also a practical thing for many people. Learning English means learning four related skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. In teaching and learning English as a foreign language in Vietnam, reading has always received a great deal of attention. This is understandable, English is learnt and taught in non-English environment, so reading is not only one of the four language skills that students of English need to acquire but also a means of further study. According to Carrell (1981) “For many students, reading is by far the most important of the four skills in a second language, particularly in English as a second or foreign language”(p.1). What is more, when poor reading results are reported, one tends to blame the students for having poor ability or for making insufficient effort. Nevertheless, the students are not always at fault. There are other important factors in the process of teaching and learning reading that are worth considering. It could be unsuitable teaching materials. It could be the inappropriate attitude of the teachers and learners towards the subject. It could be the teachers’ inappropriate teaching methods and classroom techniques. In the context of the upper secondary school, reading even more important than other three skills of speaking, listening, and writing because students have to take the examinations which are grammar- and reading- based. However, the students’ reading proficiency is not satisfactory even after the new textbook has been put to use. The study is based on the assumption that unless teachers understand students’ difficulties, their teaching of reading comprehension will never be efficient and effective. In other words, teachers need to adopt a more learner-centred perspective in making their pedagogical decisions. Although it is important to understand students’ difficulties so as to provide them with needed support, not a single study on the upper secondary school students’ perceptions of the difficulties they have faced with in comprehending the reading texts in the textbook. Being a teacher of English, I myself think that it is essential to do a research on students’ reading difficulties so I decided on choosing the topic “ Students’ perceived difficulties in reading comprehension with reference to New Tieng Anh 10 textbook at Nghi Loc IV High school: A survey interview study”. 3. Aims of the Study This study aims to investigate students’ difficulties in reading texts in the new textbook for grade 10 according to their perceptions. Findings will be used to suggest appropriate instructional support to help students to improve their reading comprehension skills. To be more specific, the objectives of this study are: - to investigate the students’ attitudes towards English reading. - to find out the students’ areas of reading difficulty. - to suggest ways to reduce the difficulties and help students to improve their reading skills. It is hoped that the findings from this study will be some benefits to teachers and students in Nghi Loc IV upper secondary school. 4. Research Questions In order to achieve the aims mentioned above, the study concerntrated answering the research questions: - What are the students’ attitudes towards reading English ? - What do they perceive of the difficulties in the reading texts in New Tieng Anh 10 textbook ? - To what extent do the teacher’s teaching methods help them improve reading skills according to their perception ? 5. Method of the Study With the aim of finding out students’ perceived difficulties in comprehending reading texts in the new textbook, a survey interview approach is adopted for this study. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted on a group of 20 Grade 10 students. These students will be selected randomly among volunteers. All the interviews will be audio-taped and fully transcribed. Data will be analyzed qualitatively to identify common difficulties the students encounter in their reading comprenhension. 6. Scope of the Study This study limits itself to the investigation of a small sample of Grade 10 students at NL IV High school - a school located in the rural area of Nghe An province- to find out their difficulties in comprehending the reading texts in the textbook through semi-structured interviewing. 7. Organization of Thesis This minor thesis consists of four chapters. The first chapter includes a rationale for the study, the aims, method, scope of the study as well as the organization of the thesis. The second chapter “Literature Review” discusses the theoretical background relevant to the research topic including the definition of reading , reading difficulties, learner-centeredness in foreign language learning. Chapter three presents the research method, context of the study, the material and the participants. In addition, it deals with the findings and data analysis. The fourth chapter is about the discussion of findings giving some suggestions to reduce difficulties in learning English reading comprehension. The last part of the study “Conclusion” summarizes the findings, point out the limitations and suggests further researches CHAPTER II: LITERATURE REVIEW 2.1. Introduction In Chapter One, the rationale, the scope, the aim, the research questions and research methods were presented. This Chapter reviews the relevant literature on reading comprehension in foreign language as well as the commonly found difficulties readers of foreign language are faced with. The Chapter begins with a definition of reading comprehension, which is followed by a description of difficulties inherent in the reading comprehension process. The last section of the Chapter discusses the principles of learner-centered approaches to language teaching to highlight the importance of understanding students’ difficulties in the process of reading foreign language from their own perspectives. 2.2. Definition of Terminology 2.2.1. What is reading? In our daily life, we spend time reading books, newspapers, novels or stories because we find them interesting and useful. When reading, we understand the texts, we analyze and find its meaning, give out meaningful conclusion. But noone can define exactly what reading is. This question attracts much attention and researchers have defined reading in various ideas. According to Goodman (1971), reading is “a psycholinguistics process by which the reader, a language user, reconstructs, as best as he can, a message which has been encoded by a writer as a graphic display” (p.135). Goodman thought that this act of reconstruction is viewed as “a cyclical process of sampling, predicting, testing and confirming.” William (1984) had the same view on reading, especially on the act of reconstruction as Goodman. He argues that “ written texts, then, often contain more than we need to understand them. The efficient reader makes use of this to take what he needs, and no more, to obtain meaning”(p.3). His opinion is shared by Nuttall and Grellet. The former asserts that “reading is getting a message from a text.” Harmer (1989: 153) considers reading as a mechanical process that “ eyes receive the message and the brain then has to work out the significance of the message” (p. 153). He not only focuses on two actions that dominated by the eyes and the brain but also the speed of the process “ a reading text moves at a speed of the reader”, which means that the reader who decides how fast he wants to read the text. Sharing the same view, Smith (1985) defined “ reading is understanding the author’s thought” (p. 102). It means that the readers “read the author’s mind not the author’s words”. In fact, the meanings of a word depend much on the context in which it occurs so when we read we have to put the words into the context and not understand the words in isolation. We can see that the nature of reading is the interaction between readers and the authors. If readers do not understand the authors’ mind, their reading becomes usefuless. One more definition of reading is offered by Allen and Vallete (1977). They thought that “ reading is developmental process” (p. 249). We learn reading not only to know how to read, to master the symbols, the language, grammar, ect... used in the text but also to understand the ideas, the information expressed in that text or to develop the ability reconstructing its contents in our own words. In short, from these opinions above, it is clear that noone can give all the ideas and features of what reading is. Each definition reflects what reading means as seen from the scholar’s own view. However, all definitions reveal their common feature, that is the nature of reading. Morever, the definition “reading is understanding the author’s thought” seem to be preferable. We- the readers read the author’s mind not the author’s words. 2.2.2. Reading Comprehension Reading comprehension plays an important part in learning a foreign language. Reading comprehension can be understood as the ability to get the required information from the text as efficiently as possible. In the reading process, there are three elements appearing: the text being read, the background knowledge of the reader and the contextual aspects relevant for interpreting the text. Swam(1975) stated that when we say “ a student is good at comprehension we mean that he can read accurately and efficiently, so as to get the maximum information a text with the minimum of understanding” (p.1). In the same view, Richard and Thomas (1987) claim that “ Reading comprehension is best described as an understanding between the author and the reader” (p.9). Sharing these ideas, Grellet (1981) takes the point that “Reading comprehension or understanding a written text means extracting the required information from it as effectively as possible” (p.3). These above opinions are not exactly the same, but they all show that reading is much more than just pronouncing words correctly or simply knowing what the author intends. It is a process in which the readers (as they read) can recognize the graphic form and understand the relation between the writing and the meaning. In the other words, after reading, students can find the way to bettering their grammar, words, pronunciation and can understand the content of the text and use it in their real life as effectively as possible. Therefore, it is important for us to understand what reading comprehension is. For the teachers who teach reading, a profound understanding about the nature of reading comprehension may help them find out the students’ difficulties of learning reading. 2.3. The difficulties of the second language reading comprehension process Reading in a foreign language is very important to academic studies, personal success and personal development. However, reading in a language which is not the learner’s first language is also a source of difficulty. The problems with foreign language reading may be either in learner’s reading skill language problems or background knowledge. 2.3.1. Reading skill problem If the reading ability of a reader in his mother tongue is poor, he can not read well in a foreign language. According to Anderson (1984), the reason the students can not read adequately in English is that they cannot read adequately in the native language. The interaction between first language and second language reading ability is further clarified by several researchers. For example, Bernhardt and Kamil (1975) assume that “reading performance in a second language is largely shared with reading ability in a first language” (p. 17). While investigating the transferability of students’ L1 reading strategies to L2 reading, Sarig (1987) also asserts that “ the same reading strategies types account for success and failure in both languages to almost the same extent. It can be concluded, then, that reading process from the first language appear to transfer to the foreign language” (p. 118). Reading is an active skill, involving guessing and predicting. Students’ limited reading skills create many problems. Very frequently, students do not know how to use different reading skills, how to use appropriate ways to move their eyes from word group to word group. It is common that there are new words, new structures in a reading text for every language learner. If the learner has no good reading ability, he will read the text with less understanding and he will get discouraged and will not want to keep on reading gradually. There fore, how to help learner of a foreign language to read better is closely related to their reading. 2.3. 2. Language problems Yorio (1971) gives out a contrary view to reading problems. He argues that reading problems of foreign language learners are largely due to the knowledge of the target language to mother tongue interference in the reading process. In his opinion, reading involves four factors: knowledge of the lang
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