Feature Article of Sunday, 5 May 2013

Columnist: Eyiah, Joe Kingsley

Is the Teaching of Reading Skills Dying in our Schools?

EDUCATION WEEK QUESTION: Is the Teaching of Reading Skills Dying in our Schools?

Asks Joe Kingsley Eyiah, OCT, Brookview M. S., Toronto-Canada

Did you know that READING can keep your mind active and engaged well into old age? Reading is considered one of the best habits that one can inculcate in him/her. It leads one to knowledge!
The old Good Book says that ‘for lack of knowledge my people perish’. Yes, knowledge is power. Though knowledge comes to us in many forms, it best comes in the pages of a book. However, we won’t know until we read what is written in the pages. Therefore reading is the key to knowledge. It is said that the one who reads is a leader!
As a parent and a teacher by profession I can’t overemphasize the importance of reading to the teaching and learning process. Teachers always encourage their students to read. And students who read a lot excel in the academics. It is good to catch them young with reading!
If the above assertion is true then my biggest question for all educators as we celebrate EDUCATION WEEK this May is: Are we as teachers teaching effective reading in our schools?
Recently, a retired educationist, Pastor Edward Quansah was reported in the news as having called on the Ghana Education Service (GES) to introduce a course that would ensure effective reading in schools. This course, according to him, should mandate teachers to teach reading to students especially at the early age so as to help students comprehend whatever they are taught in their schools. I couldn’t agree with him the more! The fact that every subject is read makes the teaching of reading to students very important if we want them to do well in the subjects they study at school.
It is interesting to note that at the school where I teach in Toronto, there is a slot immediately after lunch which requires all students to do some silent reading. We call that SRT (Silent Reading Time). Some students do not appreciate the SRT because they either see reading as boring or they cannot read!
My experience as teacher both in Ghana and in Canada has shown me that most Ghanaian children either don’t like reading or they are not encouraged to read. Since reading is an activity with a purpose it stands to reason that teaching reading skills to students is way of in calculating good reading habit in students.
Reading is done for various reasons. A student may read to gain information, verify existing knowledge or for enjoyment! In all situations, the reader must be able code the words/sentences being read and comprehend the text to make meaning of in the context it is written.
The teaching of phonics (for phonemic processing), spelling and vocabulary to ensure easy reading comprehension as teachers used to do in times past seem to be on the decline in our schools.
I am therefore adding my voice to those who advocate for a new reading formula to make reading and pronunciation of words easy for students. The formula which spells words according to their pronunciation is intended to simplify both Ghanaian and foreign languages for students and teachers alike.
Furthermore, research has shown that there is relationship between the lexical level of processing, especially in decoding print, word recognition, breadth of vocabulary etc and inference that prompts better understanding of what is read! For example, Graesser et al. (1994) see vocabulary as the starting point in the activation of background knowledge. The recognition of explicit content words, combinations of content words, and interpreted text constituents is crucial to knowledge-based inferences (page 347). Teaching students the skills of spellings, pronunciation, listening & writing, vocabulary and above all, inference would make them better readers!
There are students who cannot read due to lack of skills in pronunciation of words and the ability to make inference into what is read. Some students too can read aloud fluently and convincingly, but understand very little of what they read. We must therefore teach all the reading skills which would make all students enjoy reading and with good understanding of what is read.
That is my piece of cake for all educators as we celebrate this year’s Education Week in May.