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Reading Strategies Revisited

William Grabe's Reading in a Second Language: Moving from Theory to Practice has proven to be a great resource to help update the curriculum at CESL.  It's helping to bust some myths about speed reading and to clarify the concepts behind reading strategies.  Part of Chapter 10 and all of Chapter 11 go into depth about reading strategies that support comprehension and becoming a strategic reader.

For those with access to the book, a quick look at tables 10.3, 11.1, 11.2, 11.3, and 11.6 will help language teachers get the gist about reading strategies.  I'd like to focus on table 11.1 (page 224), which lists the metacognitive processes for comprehension as it is most relevant for our upper-level students at CESL.  These processes help students develop autonomy concerning the improvement of their own reading strategies that, when mastered, become reading skills.

  1. Set (or reset) reading goals

  2. Expect to build a coherent interpretation of a text and establish the main ideas of a text

  3. Make inferences as necessary in line with our goals

  4. Monitor comprehension to maintain a coherent interpretation and awareness of main ideas

  5. Recognize when we are losing coherence of interpretation or the reading output does not match our reading goals

  6. Summarize the main ideas of a text

  7. Engage various strategies to help repair an incoherent interpretation

  8. Evaluate the reading input in various ways beyond simple understanding

      I believe it's important for upper-level students to understand the metacognitive processes before they enter university courses.  Even more important, I believe that language teachers should keep these in mind when helping students to develop reading strategies.
Some of these metacognitive processes overlap with the 20 major reading strategies listed in the appendix of Chapter 10.  These 20 major reading strategies should be more recognizable to English language teachers, and I think they should be introduced to students at lower levels.  Grabe divides these reading strategies into 2 categories: empirically validated reading comprehension strategies and indirectly supported reading strategies used in validated multiple-strategy instruction.

Empirically Validated

  1. Activating prior knowledge
  2. Answering questions and Elaborative Interogations
  3. Constructing mental images
  4. Forming questions
  5. Making associations (mnemonic support)
  6. Monitoring - related to metacognitive processes #4 and #5
  7. Previewing
  8. Summarization - related to metacognitive process #6
  9. Text-structure awareness and story grammars
  10. Using graphic organizers

Indirectly Supported

  1. Clarifying
  2. Establishing goals for reading - related to metacognitive process #1
  3. Inferencing (using context) - related to metacognitive process #3
  4. (Mental) translating
  5. Paraphrasing
  6. Predicting
  7. Rereading
  8. Reading aloud (for modeling, for fluency)
  9. Synthesizing information
  10. Taking notes
It is important to acknowledge that some students in a class may already be using these strategies without being fully aware of them.  It is more important that students become aware of and have greater control over these strategies in combination rather than using them separately.   Therefore, I believe we should assess upper-level students' awareness and demonstration of their preferred combination of reading strategies.

Grabe, W. (2009) Reading in a second language: moving from theory to practice.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


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