How Reading is Taught: The Survey Results are In

Leann Keefe, University of Kansas

The importance of reading in the foreign language classroom has been evident throughout history as seen in the grammar/translation method's emphasis on reading literary works and in reading as a source of input (Krashen, 1981). In the nineties, in the "communicative" classroom, the emphasis has been on reading for meaning (Swaffar, Arens and Byrnes, 1991) and the more global idea of reading comprehension as developed by Kern in his discussion of literacy (1996). Little, however, has been written about how we actually conduct classes that teach our students how to read, especially in the classrooms of the less commonly taught languages.

In order to determine what activities college level instructors perceive they use in Russian language classes focused on teaching reading, I surveyed members of AATSEEL from January-May, 2000 via a web-based questionnaire. 65 instructors completed the form which asked them to determine the frequency with which they perform specific activities in the classroom such as having students practice determining the meaning of unknown words from context, reading the text out loud in class, answering comprehension questions and having students draw cultural comparisons. I also asked the respondents to state whether the activity was conducted in English or in Russian and I had instructors differentiate between levels of instruction (beginning, intermediate and advanced). Respondents were also asked to answer an open-ended question about how they taught reading in an intermediate class and to provide demographic information about their native language, years of teaching experience, textbooks and class size.

When analyzing the data, I looked at how instructors ranked reading activities according to the following categories: level of instruction, beginning level textbook (Golosa, Nachalo, Stage One: Live from Moscow), years of teaching experience, native language of instructor, and intermediate level textbook (V puti, Stage Two: Welcome Back and Golosa). The results show that across groups, the most often used activities are specific, bottom-up or text-based, such as having students determine meaning of unknown words from context, discuss grammatical questions raised by the students in English, have students determine word meanings from Russian roots and prefixes. Most global activities, such as retelling the text and skimming for main ideas, are not used as often. For example, with advanced students, instructors say that they most often do activities at the word level (introduce new vocabulary, determine word meanings from Russian roots and prefixes, and practice determining word meaning from context. Retelling the text and discussing the main ideas, however, are ranked seventh and tenth.

My presentation will provide the rest of the results collected from the questionnaire, a discussion about the implications of the results and suggestions for future research.