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Cultivating the Reading Culture in the ESL Setting

Cultivating the Reading Culture in the ESL Setting | ITTT | TEFL Blog

A leader must read to expand his scope of knowledge, to keep abreast of what is happening in his field of expertise and around the world. Reading stimulates one's thinking and processing. Before we develop a child in his leadership ability, we must develop something more foundational – the love for reading. As an educator, I believe reading develops inquisitiveness, which in turn, develops the interest to engage, hence build confidence, even at a young age. And in the process, to nurture the child towards leadership ability.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Katherine C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Undisturbed Sustained Silent Reading

'Opening the world of adventure and imagination from a book set in a far-off land or even down the street can help students make connections to their lives and the world.' is without a doubt the hope of every parent and educator.

As a result, Singapore schools introduced the U.S.S.R. (Undisturbed Sustained Silent Reading) in the '80s, to encourage a reading culture in schools, where teachers and students would read for twenty to thirty minutes daily in the school assembly hall. Despite such an attempt, as a teacher who diligently observed U.S.S.R. with my students, I recognized that the amount of time set aside daily was insufficient to build that culture and to inculcate the habit of reading.

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Drop Everything and Read

There has been a recommendation to promote D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time, instead of the traditional U.S.S.R. D.E.A.R. time is to provide a regular daily reading time of ten to fifteen minutes. The venue for DEAR time is to be the classroom where it is more conducive to better air circulation, better lighting, more spacious, and fewer distractions than having all the students to be in the school assembly hall to do their reading. And having just the teacher in the classroom with the students, the teacher becomes a role model for the students as they watch her read and they will follow suit.

I see the value of D.E.A.R. time, instead of U.S.S.R., as I have observed how my students were not as engaged in their reading while in the school assembly hall, as compared to the reading in the classroom.

Personal Experience

Over the years of teaching, I am convinced too that cultivating a reading culture, creating a reading atmosphere in the classroom will more likely to motivate students to want to read. And I testified to that from my personal experience in cultivating a love for reading with a class of forty low-ability and least motivated to learn, more so to read, students.

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8 Points on Encouraging Reading in the Classroom

How can a classroom teacher motivate students to love reading? Here are my observations and recommendations based on my personal experience and supplementing them with sources.

First, to build a conducive atmosphere for reading, create a reading corner in the classroom. To make it conducive for students to want to be at the reading corner, placemats and cushions at the reading corner, so that students can enjoy their reading in a relaxed mood. For the class that I taught, I placed books in colorful IKEA boxes instead of the typical library shelves or cupboards.

Second, build a library with a range of books of different genres: pictorial (this is especially helpful for students with little word recognition or vocabulary); factual; fantasy; historical; fictional. I started by getting the books to contribute to the library. Eventually, I asked students if they would like to contribute. Some brought books from home to add to the collection. In this way, there was ownership of the books since they had contributed. It would also be good to ask students what types of books they would be interested in and work towards getting books of those genres and topics.

Third, put in reading time where the teacher would read to the students. When I read to the class, I would stop at 'cliff-hanging' parts of the story to create suspense. This was to entice students to go read the book for themselves to find out how the story developed. This reading time is solely for pleasure, and not language learning time!

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Fourth, read Big books as a class. In Singapore schools, big books with big font size words and colorful illustrations are meant for lower primary classes to enjoy choral reading. But I used these big books for this class with students of low learning ability. It encouraged them to read as the reading together would be especially helpful for those who may struggle to read aloud on their own. It would give them a sense of achievement.

Fifth, for students who have a better command of the language, they can share their reading with the class. This will inspire the rest of the students to read too. The teacher can encourage these students to be reading buddies, to read to their classmates who may not have as good a command of the language. In this way, there could be peer learning and building friendships in the classroom.

Sixth, get the low-ability students to read to the teacher individually. I had a student who spent the entire year reading just a book on shapes. Every day, he would come to my table with the same book, and page by page, word by word, he would read. At the end of the year, the class decided that he should keep the book as that was his favorite book and also remind him of his achievement that he had completed reading a book independently.

Seventh, introduce audiobooks. Audiobooks would develop students' focusing ability and listening skills. Although it is necessary to look for audiobooks that are comprehensible for the students, putting into consideration their level of language and learning ability.

Finally, excite the class with a library message board where students or even the teacher herself, can recommend book titles. Using sticky notes or a call-out card at the library corner to make announcements, such as 'Read Me, I'm scared!' or 'Take a Look, I'm Funny!'. In this way, students can be drawn to search out those books to read.

There are many more ways to motivate students to enjoy reading. I believe, ultimately, the teacher herself is to be the inspiration and motivation to create that reading environment for her students.

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For me, it was not an easy process to cultivate the love for reading in this class of low learning ability and unmotivated students. Yet, having implemented most of the above ways to encourage reading, the greatest reward I had at the end of that year, was to see the students taking their initiative to go to the library corner to read on their own after they had done their work, and eventually borrowing books from the school library and the public library! They even reminded me it was reading time if I had forgotten to gather them for reading. It was certainly a great joy and satisfaction to have led this class of students to be confident to express themselves in a language that they struggled with because they finally were able to read and had enjoyed reading.

They had become leaders of themselves as they became readers – independent readers.

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