Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Factors of Reading Development

There are so many factors that play into a student’s reading development. The different backgrounds of the lives of each student have a large influence on any reading experience. As an English teacher, you must be able to take into consideration the differences between your students when planning instruction.

It’s not an easy task to incorporate all the varieties of cultures into the classroom, especially if English is not the first language of every student. Different cultures have different values and characteristics, which inherently affect reading development. For example, a facet of American culture is valuing a rags-to-riches type of story. Other cultures might not understand this ideal and may value family time over money and professional success. These differences greatly affect a student’s reaction to different types of reading materials.

Understanding the nuances of a language and a culture can take years. However, there are some methods that can be employed in a reading classroom to help reading development, especially if English is a second language.

Learning a Second Language

There are various theories of how a language is learned. Some of these theories can help understand how reading skills will be affected by different cultures. For example, the monitor hypothesis states that there must be a self-monitoring mechanism that allows a language learner to recognize when something about the language is simply not right. Adjustments are then made to correct the mistake. However, in order for this mechanism to work, the student must have an understanding of linguistic rules. As the English teacher, you must address basic linguistic topics with your students from different cultures. In other words, incorporate linguistic rules into your teaching. Don’t make assumptions about basic understanding.

Another theory is the input hypothesis, which states that students acquire language through learning material just a bit beyond their reach. As a teacher, you might recognize this idea as scaffolding, which is the support given by a teacher to a student on an individual basis to help with difficult material. Eventually, the teacher removes the scaffolding when the student is ready. With regards to reading development for students with different cultures, teachers can use scaffolding to address the differences in values.

This can also be especially important when dealing with the silent period, which occurs when the language learner is silent, saying nothing, but taking in information. Language learners need this time to digest the new language before actually speaking. For students who speak English, but have different cultures and values, scaffolding can be a great tool to bridge the gap between perspectives.

One last theory you can incorporate into your classroom is called affective filter hypothesis. This theory states that there are three filters that inhibit language learners: anxiety, no motivation, and low self-confidence. Basically, if the student feels those emotions, then learning is inhibited. On the other hand, if you can create a relaxing atmosphere which motivates and promotes confidence, then your students will learn more. Try to reduce the anxiety and pressure for students with different backgrounds. Give them confidence with praise and looser expectations. Do not push these students, as they might be in the silent period. These filters must be turned off or operating at low levels in order for strong readers to develop.

Approaches for English Learners

There are several approaches a teacher can take for English language learners or even students with different cultural backgrounds. The first is called sheltered English instruction or sheltered English immersion. With this approach, the teacher modifies content, curriculum, and lesson delivery to make it more accessible to the student. In this situation, the level of language fluency determines class objectives and the teacher builds the curriculum based on specific interests, backgrounds, and culture of the student. For instance, a student from a culture with strong views on gender roles, literature dealing with those concepts can be chosen for the reading material.

Another important aspect of this approach is to use the multiple forms of class activities. Try to incorporate many different teaching styles, like class discussion, artistic or creative projects, personalized writing prompts, and dramatizing a story. In this approach, you can even repeat content based on the needs of your students. This approach is very individualized, but these tactics can also be helpful even for students who might not need as much accommodation.

A second strategy is called the cognitive academic language learning approach. This is a cognitive model of learning, which means it focuses solely on strategy-based instruction. This approach is mostly for students learning the English language. The teacher does not get to choose the content; he or she must use the content from grade-level curriculum determined by the state. However, part of this approach is individualizing the vocabulary, verbal, reading, and writing skills incorporated into the lessons.

Prior knowledge is also important in this approach. For instance, a student who has grown up in China might never have heard of the United States’ Civil War. Thus, if you plan a reading lesson on Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, you will need to also plan instruction on the history aspect of the war.

Different cultural backgrounds also affect note-taking and personal connections, which are skills that should be used in a reading class. For your students whose cultural backgrounds lead them to struggle with these concepts, you can work into your lesson plans ways to address the concerns. For instance, design a lesson on setting a purpose and plan for reading. Or create strategies where a student can monitor his own comprehension. The cognitive academic language learning approach is a more serious plan for students with major struggles.

Lesson Summary

To review, all students have varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds. These differences can greatly affect reading development and must be considered when designing instruction.

When addressing these cultural differences in your classroom, you must first consider how students learn when dealing with language. There are various theories on this, the first of which is called the monitor hypothesis. This focuses on a student self-monitoring the language and noticing when mistakes are made, even if he doesn’t understand why. As the teacher, you must address the ‘why’ part.

A second theory is the input hypothesis, stating students acquire language through learning material just a bit beyond their reach. This relates to scaffolding, which requires individual support for difficult material.

Lastly, affective filter hypothesis focuses on anxiety, motivation, and self-confidence as the three filters that affect language and learning. As a teacher, these filters need to be turned off to promote proper reading development.

Finally, there are two different approaches to help you address the cultural differences of your students. First, sheltered English instruction or sheltered English immersion, centers on building objectives and curriculum for individual students. The second is the cognitive academic language learning approach, which keeps the same content, but relies on strategy-based instruction. Both of these approaches allow for individualizing the vocabulary, verbal, reading, and writing skills incorporated into the lessons.

Overall, there are many ways you can adapt your reading class to address the backgrounds of your students. If the teacher is willing to make adjustments based on the cultures of his or her students, then reading development can prosper.

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