Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language(2nd ed.)
Christine Nuttall, with chapter on testing reading by J. Charles Alderson (1996)
Oxford: Heinemann English Language Teaching
Pp. vi + 282 (including index)
ISBN 0-435-24057-9 (paper)
Occasionally, to get a conversation about language teaching going, someone will pose the question, "If you could only take 10 books with you to a teaching assignment, which would you take?" I have one for my list: the new edition of Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language. The book is well written, provides guidance in a non-dictatorial way, suggesting and encouraging rather than leading by the nose. The approach to teaching reading is principled, well detailed and comprehensive. Readers will find a clear and common-sense explanation of what to do and why. This book is not an examination or application of the most current theories on whole language, interpretation and deconstructionism, nor does it treat teaching literature or literacy in any depth. However, it does an excellent job at what it sets out to do, which is to provide reading teachers with the guidance to help their students become proficient readers.
The primary audience for the book is EFL teachers, but ESL teachers, teacher trainers and educators, and materials writers will find much they can use. Teachers, both new and experienced, will find well-thought-through guidance for implementing a learner-oriented reading program. Trainers and educators will find applications of sound educational principles. Materials writers, besides getting insights into how a good teacher thinks about a lesson, will find useful guides for questioning and exploiting a text, which they can use in preparing materials.
The book consists of three sections: introduction, reading skills and strategies, and planning and teaching. The initial section contains three chapters, the first on reading, the second devoted to text and discourse, and the final chapter given over to a discussion of reading in the foreign language classroom. The section devoted to reading skills and strategies includes chapters on efficient reading, word attack skills, reading for plain sense, and understanding discourse. The final and longest section, planning and teaching, includes a description of an extensive reading program, planning reading lessons, picking out texts, asking questions, other kinds of reading tasks, testing reading (contributed by J. Charles Alderson), and the teacher as reader. The book also contains appendixes which include texts that are used to illustrate different points, extracts for different reading courses, lesson plans, and useful addresses. Also included are a current bibliography (though [-1-] without the divisions contained in the original edition), suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter, a key for activities in the book, and an index (an invaluable addition not included in the original edition).
The reader is well supported in coming to grips with teaching reading. Each chapter includes appropriate exercises for the reader that illustrate different points Nuttall wants to make. Keys are provided for exercises which are not self-explanatory. Further help is provided within individual chapters where related ideas are cross-indexed, allowing the reader to go backwards or forwards to read more on the topic under discussion. The book shows much updating and expansion, with a judicious selection exercised over what to keep. This edition's organization fits together better than the original, as this edition seems to build toward the latter part of the book, whereas the original edition seemed to take a long time to get to the point about extensive reading. The larger size of the book makes it easier to read, but not to carry around.
A great deal of the book is devoted to the many sensible suggestions offered for setting up an extended reading program. This emphasis on extended reading is supported by a growing body of research (for two recent reports, see Kim & Krashen, 1997, and Nation, 1997). Nuttall suggests practical ways to accomplish the difficult or seemingly impossible, and EFL teachers will find many helpful suggestions for planning, implementing, promoting, and running an extensive reading program. In addition, a great deal of information concerning where and how to get the graded readers, which are the backbone of this type of extended reading program, is provided either in the chapters or the appendixes. The one concern that arises is the lack of attention given to World Englishes when considering finding appropriate texts, since World Englishes texts might cut down on the problem of background knowledge in some areas of the world. Another quite different source that is overlooked is the Internet.
While the emphasis on setting up an extended reading program may not appeal to all readers, the clear-headed teaching approach will prove welcome. Nuttall begins with and reiterates certain ideas, including that reading is purposeful, reading should be enjoyed, flexibility is necessary when designing and accomplishing instruction, and you should fit your lesson to the reading. The approach to classroom matters is a common-sense one, with guidance like "predictions need not be 'successful' to be useful," or "Never say anything yourself if a student could say it for you," which provide spurs to examine one's own practices. Whether providing word attack skills, approaches to teaching longer texts, or suggestions for questioning, Nuttall seldom settles for one approach or type of exercise. This variety should work against the temptation to take parts of the book and apply them without adaptation to a particular situation, which Nuttall warns should not be done. For those put off [-2-] by the emphasis on skills in the title, Nuttall does discuss strategy instruction, though she holds that strategies will be developed more instinctively through doing a lot of reading. Still, strategies are discussed and many activities implement and practice strategy use.
This book's strengths lie in its close relationship to the classroom, the learners and the teachers, and its attitude that errors are opportunities for learning, obstacles are challenges. The weaknesses of the book include some rather cursory treatments of current research, especially when it runs counter to the "psycholinguistic guessing game" (Goodman, 1967) school of reading. There is sometimes too much detail provided about many different aspects of reading instruction, which makes the reading slow going. However, this detail will no doubt be helpful to practitioners adapting the instructional activities.
Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language is not a theory-driven work; it derives from pragmatically dealing with classroom challenges. It is a book to be read through, a book to dip into once in a while when you are getting overly focused on one or two things, or a book to explore when you find yourself in a routine. Nuttall states that we should not forget that reading for enjoyment is probably the most motivating reading tool. For her readers, her enjoyment in writing about reading and teaching make this book encouraging, attractive and enjoyable.
Goodman, K. (1967). Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game. Journal of the Reading Specialist, May, 126-135.
Kim, H. and Krashen, S. (1997). Why don't language acquirers take advantage of the power of reading? TESOL Journal, 6(3), 26-29.
Nation, P. (1997). The language learning benefits of extensive reading. The Language Teacher Online. http://langue.hyper.chubu.ac.jp/jalt/pub/tlt/97/may/extensive.html
John M. Graney
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