Article by Adil Bentahar, Assistant Professor | December 3, 2020
Like most reputable English language programs, the University of Delaware’s English Language Institute (ELI) considers reading a major pillar supporting the learning of our target populations, which include special program professionals and conditionally admitted students. The ELI enjoys a strong reputation as a leading English language program in North America, which is an outcome of its student-centered and innovative approach to teaching the four language skills and beyond. In this piece, I focus on four key factors related to reading instruction.
Integrated-skill approach to teaching reading
While not discounting the possible value of teaching reading as a separate skill (the segregated approach), researchers agree that the merits of the integrated-skill approach are many (Ellis & Yuan, 2004; Lee, 2006). A good number of ESL practitioners have therefore adopted and successfully implemented the integrated-skill approach to teaching reading. At the University of Delaware’s ELI, reading texts are supported with spoken language, and the targeted vocabulary is concomitantly put into practice through writing assignments and/or oral presentations. In the classroom, we help students grow as proficient readers who not only approach reading as a process, but also put into use the knowledge and strategies learned from engagement with listening and writing. Likewise, students often read academic text as part of speaking presentations or assignments. The point is that whenever possible and appropriate, students bring into play content knowledge from other skills to support reading and vice versa. Overall, reading instruction at the ELI supports reading skills by also guiding students to listen to, write, and discuss content, oftentimes following the thematic unit approach.
Learning (not learning about) the strategies
Another major facet of effective instruction at the ELI is the explicit instruction of reading strategies. In my experience as a former international student and current professor of ESL, developing a student knowledge base becomes more useful when student learning autonomy is emphasized. ELI students, for example, intentionally discuss, reflect on, and learn level-appropriate sets of reading-related cognitive and metacognitive strategies, such as predicting, evaluating, re-reading, (self-)questioning, and summarizing. We believe we should help our students think about what they know and what they don’t know (metacognition) as a foundation for improving their reading proficiency and autonomy. Teachers of English know very well that international students and English language learners in general, have at their disposal an array of strategies and content knowledge stemming from their first language experiences; therefore, it is our job as ESL specialists to create experiences for students to deliberately retrieve and put into use their repertoire of strategies before learning and mastering new ones.
Students challenging their limits
Challenging students with level-appropriate and meaningful reading assignments is the main lever to help them give their best. For them to cope with university-level challenges, students need to understand key concepts, engage in reading lengthy passages with more confidence, purposefully take notes, and sharpen their skill sets to meet the high expectations university professors have of students on American campuses. I must note, at this point, that challenging students does not mean making their lives miserable or “difficult;” on the contrary, when appropriate, we encourage them to get out of their comfort zones. Students read different genres and synthesize and compare information from different readings, with the goal of building the skills and confidence they need to cope with academic texts to which domestic [American] students are accustomed. It is always thrilling when having learned these skills, many of our graduates end up matriculating to the University of Delaware or other respectable universities both nationwide and worldwide.
Dedicated adept teachers
At the ELI, we take our students’ success seriously because we know the job very well. ELI faculty frequently discuss updates on reading instruction, conduct observations, and (re)design courses. In the past six months, many faculty members have completed intensive training in integrating technology and online tools into language instruction; many of us have also joined efforts to create new courses and re-design current ones to meet the challenges and opportunities of online instruction. Besides teaching, many instructors take the time to serve on national committees, present at national and international conferences, and publish ESL/EFL related research, which, of course, ultimately benefits student learning and performance in several areas, including reading. In short, promoting student growth in language in general and reading in particular is also a direct outcome of dedicated, industrious, and well-versed faculty who are committed to the success of their students.
Dr. Adil Bentahar first came as a graduate student to the United States, where he has completed a master’s and PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in teaching English as a second language. He usually teaches Academic Transitions and teacher training courses at the ELI. He is currently working (with colleagues) on two research projects; the first studies the impact of teacher-training programs on Saudi educators, and the second examines the impact of moving online on reading instruction.
Ellis, R., & Yuan, F. (2004). The effects of planning on fluency, complexity, and accuracy in second language narrative writing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26, 59–84. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/