Teaching Ukrainian Reading Strategies at the Lower-Intermediate Level

Natalia Pylypiuk, University of Alberta

This paper will summarize the work I have conducted in preparing an annotated reader for English-speaking students learning Ukrainian at the lower-intermediate level of proficiency. It will discuss the theoretical underpinnings of my project and the problems I have encountered while piloting the material I have collected. The theoretical models implicit in this abstract have been researched by my M.A. student, Tracy Dool, whom I gratefully acknowledge.

The project began as a third-year course in "Assisted Readings" intended to bridge the transition of language students entering the Ukrainian literature program at the University of Alberta. In other words, it was originally conceived as an introductory survey of the poetry and prose of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the express purpose of preparing potential literature majors to confront questions of genre, periodization, and elementary criticism. Now entitled "Discusii" (Discussions), the project has evolved into a collection of readings that seeks to maintain a balance between belletristic and publicistic material. This evolution was predicated by the fact that, upon completing the second year of language study, students still lacked the necessay tools to confront the evocative and emotive aspects of both the language and the "messages" inventoried in the survey. On the one hand, they did not have the vocabulary required to interact cognitively with the selected texts; on the other, they had never been exposed to the values and assumptions inherent in the texts to benefit from the challenge these posed on an emotional and cultural level. The difficulties my students encountered reflected the general patterns that have been observed in programs maintaining a two-tiered organization of language instruction--i.e., those that focus on "language development" in early stages of study and introduce the study of literature in upper-level courses. In my case, these problems were confounded by the fact that Ukrainian basal textbooks designed for college students do "not use any identifiably authentic reading material at all." Moreover, they eschew the introduction of realia. (A 1996 survey of 15 similar Spanish textbooks indicates that only 26.6 percent seek to include linguistic and cultural information through literary works. See David J. Shook, FLA).

Initial experience with "Assisted Readings" affected the manner in which I was conceptualizing both my work on a basal, proficiency-oriented textbook and on the reader "Dyskusii." Apart form leading me to rethink the manner in which I expose my students to language through reading (James Coady), it forced me to reformulate the selection of texts to be anthologized in *Dyskusi‘.* Albeit separate projects, these are interrelated to the degree that the vocabulary and grammatical structures of the basal textbook will intimate "the starting point" of the reader. "Discusii" now seeks to conjoin the findings of P.T. Culhane concerning the direct instruction and training of vocabulary and the methodology proposed by Kate Perry (1993). With this purpose in mind I have been concordancing a wide variey of texts and establishing word-frequency counts of thematically related sets of belles-lettres and publicistic material (to cite one example: a 1926 poem by the futurist Mykhailo Semenko dealing with abortion appears along with post-1991 articles and advertisments that assume various perspectives on the issue). The ensuing statistical analysis is affording me a view of the high frequency of difficult words (and, I might add, structures) appearing in a variety of "revealing" and "less revealing" contexts. This in turn is allowing me to experiment with the order in which "Discusii" presents its selections, and to determine which texts will serve for (a) in-class work and (b) free voluntary reading. At the same time, the statistical analysis is helping me design strategy-based reading tasks that will orient my students through multi-layered comprehension "checks," which will engender in them "a sense of autonomy and higher level of metacultural awareness" (Vicki Galloway).

In addition to detailing the steps I have taken thus far, my paper will discuss the reactions of my students to material that overtly or covertly challenges their presuppositions about Ukrainian culture in general and literature in particular.