knowledge influences word perception (Semantic knowledge)
4. Perception of syntax for a given word depends upon the context in which the word is embedded (syntactic knowledge).
5. Our interpretation of what we read depends upon the context in which a text segment is embedded (lexical knowledge). All the aforementioned knowledge sources provide input simultaneously. These sources need to communicate and interact with each other, and the higher-order stages should be able to influence the processing of lower-order stages.
According to Stanovich’s interactive-compensatory model:
1. Top-down processing may be easier for the poor reader who may be slow at word recognition but has knowledge of the text topic.
2. Bottom-up processing may be easier for the reader who is skilled at word
recognition but does not know much about the text topic.
3. As a result, Stanovich’s model states that any stage may communicate with any other and any reader may rely on better developed knowledge sources when other sources are temporarily weak.
To properly achieve fluency and accuracy, developing readers must work at perfecting both their bottom-up recognition skills and their top-down interpretation strategies. Good reading (that is fluent and accurate reading) can result only from a constant interaction between these processes. Eskey states that fluent reading entails both skillful decoding and relating information to prior knowledge (Eskey, 1988). This interactive model, in essence is rooted in a well-known theory in reading comprehension called schema theory.
2.3) Schema theory
As a more process-oriented approach to reading comprehension is adopted, more and more attention is directed to the reader, rather than the text. In other words, in-the-hand factors gains predominance over in-the-text factors. It is acknowledged that what reader brings with him to the text and the way he interacts with the material determines the degree of comprehension. As a result, one of the factors, which is given tremendous importance, becomes the reader’s related background knowledge. According to Clarke and Silberstein (1977):
“The reader brings to the task a formidable amount of information and ideas, attitudes and beliefs. This knowledge coupled with the ability to make linguistic predictions, determines the expectations the reader will develops on as he reads. Skill in reading depends on the efficient interaction between linguistic knowledge and knowledge of the words (P.136).”
In fact, the role of background knowledge in language comprehension has been formalized as Schema Theory (Bartlett, 1983; Rumelhart, 1980). Clarke and Silberstein (1977) explain Schema Theory as follows:
“The previous knowledge structure is called schemata. According to the schema theory comprehending a text is an interactive process between the reader’s background knowledge and the text. Efficient comprehension requires the ability to relate the textual material to one’s own knowledge (1987).”
The theory envisions an information-processing model of the mind in which knowledge is stored in related units that can be recalled and activated to operate incoming information (Anderson, 1988). According to Perkins (1983) Schema Theory assumes that readers use a process of semantic productivity to create meaning from a written or spoken text, which itself has no meaning (Cited in Vahdani, 1995). This Theory also predicts that as readers read, they are able to go beyond the word and sentence level to the overall organization and discourse level of the reading because their background knowledge or schemata enables them to expect and predict the way in which the writer has organized the material (Carrell, 1984). Chastain (1988) calls this “knowledge of story schemata”, or writing patterns” which makes it possible for the readers to use the conventions of their language to comprehend the text.
A first step in the process of understanding a sentence is to assign elements of its surface structure to linguistic categories, a procedure known as parsing (Carroll, 2008; p.132). The result of parsing is an internal representation of the linguistic relationships within a sentence, usually in the form of tree structure or phrase marker (ibid). Parsing may be thought as a form of problem solving or decision making in the sense that we are making decisions (although not necessarily in a conscious manner) about where to place incoming words into the phrase marker we’re building. According to Just and Carpenter (1980) these suggestions are made immediately as the reader encounters a word, principle called immediacy principle. According to this principle, when the reader first hear or see a word , access its meaning from permanent memory, identify its likely referent , and fit it into the syntactic structure of the sentence. The alternative one is to take a “wait-and-see” approach: to postpone interpreting a word or phrase until it is clearer where a sentence is going. Considerable evidence for the immediacy principle is available. The primary reason is that the number of decisions involved in understanding even a single sentence can be quite large and thus can overload our cognitive resources.
There are two parsing strategies. One of them is called the late closure strategy. The strategy states that, whenever possible, the reader prefer to attach new items to the current constituent (Frazier, 1987).It reduces the burden on working memory during parsing (ibid). A second strategy is referred to as the minimal attachment strategy, which states that the reader prefers attaching new items into the phrase marker being constructed using the fewest syntactic nodes consistent with the rules of the language (Carroll, 2008).
2.5) Reading materials
The importance of appropriate material has been mentioned before. However the following quotation by Chastain (1988) leaves no doubt in this regard: “Selection of appropriate reading material is a crucial component in the establishment of a productive reading program. Given good reading materials, capable students can manage to compensate for inadequate reading instruction and inappropriate post–reading activities, but they cannot learn to read if they do not have authentic materials with worthwhile content (p. 231).”
Here Chastain believes that appropriate reading materials are so important that without them students would be bogged down in learning to read , whereas with appropriate materials students can improve their reading proficiency without further help from the teacher , provided they have been taught how .
However, just saying that material should be appropriate does not mean anything. In other words, appropriacy of materials should be operationally defined. A difficult task though it is, appropriacy could be broken down to definable components so as to make the development and selection of appropriate materials an easier task for teachers to accomplish. Therefore, the remainder of this section will be devoted to elucidating the components of appropriacy.
The reader’s willingness to process the printed page until the message is fully understood is a central point. No reading will indeed take place if readers are not interested enough to continue reading. However if they are really interested in knowing what the author has to say, they will make every effort to understand the reading (Chastain, 1988). Along the same lines, Thonis (1970) states: ” The interests of pupils , too , have an important bearing on the choice of materials we may offer … Primary pupils may enjoy the practice of Twinkle , Twinkle , Little star … Older pupils would enjoy , I Must Go Down To The Sea Again … ( p . 198 ).”
All this implies, therefore, that in the preparation and selection of materials, an important factor to take into account is the interests of the students.
The selection of materials should also be based upon the object
ives of the reading program (Thonis, 1970). Without clarifying the objectives, confusion may arise both for the teacher and for the learners. As Chastain (1988) holds:
“Students’ goals vary from no particular objective, common to students in elementary language courses, to very specific goals, such as those held by students with definite career plans (p.232).”
In the same vein, Thonis (1970) holds:
“We need to specify what exactly the present nature of our pupil is, including his language ability and his past educational experiences and to describe precisely what he should be able to do as a result of his exposure to the materials . This exact and precise description of our instructional objectives, in terms of how the learner is expected to perform, serves an excellent guide to our choice of materials (p.197).”
Therefore, another criterion for preparing and selecting appropriate reading materials is that they should fit the objectives of the learners.
Readability of reading materials, estimated on the basis of linguistic elements in a text, has often been considered a cause of difficulty for students at different levels. However, Beaumont (1982) found that students do not necessarily understand better materials with a lower readability score.
Therefore, scholars conclude that more important factors are at work here. The two most important are background knowledge and interest, considered by Baldwin et al. (1984) to be separate factors in reading comprehension (Chastain, 1988).
Another significant factor affecting comprehensibility in language classes is the lack of familiarity students may have with the foreign culture (Johnson, 1981).
Therefore, in addition to readability, factors such as background knowledge, interest and cultural load must be taken into account when preparing or selecting reading materials.
Robinson (1991) approaches authenticity in the following terms: “A key concept within the communicative approach, and one felt to be particularly relevant for ESP is that of authenticity … basically, when we refer to the use of print, audio, video and pictorial material originally produced for a purpose other than the teaching of language (p.54).”
However, Widdowson (1990) argues differently with regard to authenticity. He states: “Authenticity of language in the classroom is bound to be, to some extent, an illusion. This is because it does not depend on the source from which the language as an object is drawn but on the learners’ engagement with it (pp. 44, 45).”
He further adds that if authenticity is to be defined as natural language behavior, there is also difficulty that learner will naturally incline to draw on their own languagein any situation that calls for uncontrived linguistic communication.
Recently, Widdowson (1996) holds:
“Authenticity concerns the reality of native – speaker language use … But the language which is read for native speakers is not likely to be read for learners … They belong to another community and do not have the necessary knowledge of the contextual conditions which would enable them to authentic English in native speaker terms.”
Lee (1995) distinguishes between text and learner authenticity:
“Text authenticity is defined in terms of origin of the materials, while learner authenticity refers to the interaction with them, in terms of appropriate responses and positive psychological reaction (p. 323).”
Looking at authenticity in this way, we can conclude that textually authentic non-text book materials will not necessarily be learner unauthentic. On the contrary, Byrnes (1985) argues material written by native speakers for language students as being authentic. But, all in all, authenticity is definitely one important factor to be taken into account in preparing and selecting materials, although no general agreement has yet been reached as to what authenticity indeed is and how it is