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Reading Habits of English Studies Optionists of Maktab Perguruan Teknik, Kuala Lumpur

Gan Say Eng, JABATAN BAHASA

ABSTRAK

This study examined habits of reading in the English language of 47 teacher trainees at the Maktab Perguruan Teknik (Technical Teachers’ Training Teachers), Kuala Lumpur. The objective of the study was to examine differences in reading behaviour patterns, the causal factors of reading problems and perceptions of needed improvements in reading habits. The study revealed that these students did not have good reading habits and they did not see themselves as confident readers. The main reason was the heavy curriculum and the numerous assignments, which did not allow them adequate time for reading. The nature of reading remained largely intensive and motivated by the need to fulfill the demands of the curriculum. A positive observation, however, was the students showed awareness of the importance of reading and the interest to develop their reading habit.

INTRODUCTION

Reading, presumably, is enjoyed by everyone. In colleges and schools, reading in the official language, Bahasa Melayu, often takes first choice. This should not be the case for English language teachers. However, almost always we find that these teachers do not read extensively in the targeted language.

English Studies (PI) trainees undertaking the Malaysian Teachers’ Diploma Course or Kursus Diploma Perguruan Malaysia (KDPM) appear to have a fairly adequate exposure to the opportunity to read or to improve their reading skills. However, the general consensus among the college lecturers of English is that these students have a low proficiency in English and have yet to master the basic reading skills. This observation is validated in a study by Lim (1993), who found that the language proficiency of TESL trainees was sadly inadequate and these trainees hardly read outside the needs of their course requirements. Adlan et. al. (1997) studied first semester English option (PI) teacher trainees and found that students were weak in the basic reading skills and that reading achievement was related to other variables such as the school and home environment.

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

Reading in English in teacher training colleges appears to be confined to the limits of the curriculum. It is, therefore, apparent that students read in English to fulfill the classroom tasks, assignments or projects. It is not a common habit for students to read in English for self-interest. Hence, reading in English is largely done more for extrinsic than intrinsic reasons.

Based on personal experience and observation college lecturers share a common view that reading in English is not a regular habit among most Maktab Perguruan Teknik (MPT) students. They observe that students do not undertake reading as part of their personal and college learning lifestyle. Alderson & Urquhart (1984) and Carrell (1988) maintained that reading, as one of the skills in language learning and teaching, should be given more prominence because reading competency gives access to a world of knowledge.

There is the relationship between reading and the proficiency level of learners. Nuttal (1982) and Krashen & Terrel (1983) substantiate the point that good readers with good reading habits usually have higher language proficiency. This study highlights the need to develop good reading habits if students want to improve their language proficiency.

The root of this reading problem can be attributed to the approach taken in the teaching of reading. Reading in the classroom is often carried out to meet a specific end such as to provide answers to comprehension questions or to find out meanings of difficult vocabulary. As such, reading is viewed ‘as an end in itself’. In other words, reading is instrumental to the classroom and curriculum needs. This is a limited concept of the reading skill. Instead, reading needs to be viewed as ‘a means to an end’ in which the ultimate end is the acquisition of reading proficiency to enable learners to read effectively for a wider purpose. This means reading has to be extended beyond the classroom and curriculum to allow learners to develop a regular habit of reading for personal or other reasons.

Research Questions

This study seeks to answer the following questions:

(i.) what types of English language materials do students read?

(ii) how often do they read academic materials and non-academic materials?

(iii) what are the main reasons for students to read English language materials?

(iv) how do students perceive their reading problems?

(v). what are the students' perceptions of ways to overcome their reading problems?

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

In the context of non-western countries where English is spoken and/or learnt as English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL), Scales & Burley (1984), as cited in Mokhtari, K. & Sheorey, R., 1994) studied college students in Senegal and all students, irrespective of marital and educational status, reported to have enjoyed reading and welcomed the opportunity of improving their reading skills. In the Mokhtari & Sheorey (1994) study of international students in ESL composition classes at Oklahoma State University, USA, the survey showed students perceived the ability to read well to be important or advantageous. Both good and poor readers reported they spent more time on academic reading than any other type of reading in college.

In the local context, several studies of Malaysian university and secondary school students were carried out by Pandian, A. (1997) and he reported the increasing phenomenon of reading reluctancy. According to him, it is the phenomenon of adults and adolescents who can read but choose not to read. Instead, they prefer to watch TV, listen to the radio or spend time in other recreational activities. Pandian (1995) found 86% of high school students are reluctant readers and causal factors included parental influence, a place to read, exposure to English materials at home and school, attitude towards English language and attitude towards reading in English.

Closer to the current study context was a study by Lim (1993) who explored reading habits of TESL trainee teachers from 3 teacher-training colleges in Peninsular Malaysia. She reported that the majority of the subjects had not developed the reading habit as only 40% of the sample indicated that reading was their most preferred recreational activity.

Some Related Key Concepts

A. Definitions of Reading. Nuttal (1982) claims that we read for meaning because we want to get something (facts, enjoyment, ideas or even feelings) from the writing. Williams (1984) defines it more simply as a process which requires a reader to look at a text and understand what has been written. In his terms, in reading one does not need to understand everything he or she reads. We read for different reasons or purposes. The way we read or the reading style is determined by the purpose of our reading at a specific time. Williams (1984) describes three basic styles of reading - intensive reading (reading to analyse or study the text in great detail), extensive reading (reading quickly for general knowledge, enjoyment or leisure) and rapid reading (speed reading).

B. Extensive Reading & Language Learning. Professionals in the teaching of ESL are convinced that if ESL learners read extensively, their command of English would improve greatly (Krashen & Terrel, 1983; Nuttal, 1982). Bright & McGregor (1970) call this form of reading outside the demands of curriculum instruction as ‘private reading’ and advocate it in intensive reading classrooms in order to keep the reading interest alive.

C. Reading Attitude. Attitude as defined by Ajzen & Fishbein (1980) is a learned disposition on how to behave, either negative or positive; and the reading attitude refers to the person’s predisposition towards reading as an activity. The McKenna Model of Reading Attitude Acquisition (McKenna, et. al., 1996) suggests that the individual’s attitude toward reading develops over time as a result of three complex factors: (i) normative beliefs (how one’s friends’ view about reading); (ii) beliefs about outcomes of reading (whether reading is likely to be pleasurable, useful, frustrating or boring) and beliefs about outcomes of competing activities; and (iii) specific reading experiences. The degree of positive or negative attitude towards reading differs according to the kind of reading to be performed and the purpose of reading. Therefore, it is more meaningful and practical to discuss reading attitude with reference to a particular type or use of reading (Taylor, et. al., 1988).

Reading Motivation. Reading motivation is the energizing force that actually causes reading to occur when a favourable attitude towards reading exists. Matthewson (1976) as cited in Taylor, et. al uses the term ‘interest’ to describe the action orientation that occurs when positive attitude and motivation are both present. He believes attitude towards reading by itself does not cause an individual to read. Interest becomes a factor that triggers actual reading.

METHODOLOGY

A survey method was used in this study. A questionnaire on reading habits and reading problems was administered between the 3rd – 8th May 2000. Data collected was analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS)

Respondents

Respondents in the study comprised those students from Semester IV and Semester III who were currently pursuing English Studies as a minor option in the Malaysian Teachers’ Diploma Course (KDPM) in MPT. The total population consisted of 47 students

Instrument

A questionnaire comprising 8 sections was used and it was piloted on 14 KDPM students of similar course and age backgrounds on the 25th and the 26th of April 2000. The language in some items was simplified because some respondents found parts of the questionnaire quite difficult to understand

ANALYSES OF DATA & FINDINGS

The data and findings are presented in percentiles in the form of tables.

 

A. Types of materials read

Table 1: Percentage of respondents reading academic materials

Types of academic materials read

% of respondents who indicated

Never

Rarely

Some-times

Always

College Textbooks

2.1

29.8

57.5

10.6

Library Reference books

2.1

29.8

46.8

21.3

Research Journals

25.5

40.4

29.8

4.3

Technical Reports & Manuals

21.3

57.4

21.3

0

Special Interest Books

2.1

4.3

51.0

42.6

Literary Materials

8.5

46.8

40.4

4.3

Articles on the Internet

6.4

27.7

34.0

31.9

N=47

Table 2: Percentage of respondents reading non-academic materials

Types of non-academic materials read

% of respondents who indicated

Never

Rarely

Some-times

Always

Fiction Books

6.4

14.9

53.2

25.5

Newspapers

2.1

6.4

38.3

53.2

Magazines

2.1

4.3

38.3

55.3

Comics

2.1

27.7

36.2

34.0

N=47

It is evident from Table 1 and Table 2 that students preferred reading non-academic materials to academic materials. Among the academic materials read, students preferred lighter forms of reading materials, such as special interest books, for example cookery books and sports books. This can further be verified by their preference for magazines and newspapers. It is interesting to note that students showed an interest for articles on the internet and despite their training to be English Language teachers, they did not show a significant interest in literary materials.

B. Reading Volume

The reading volume is measured by the number of hours spent on reading per week. Table 3 shows the reading volume according to academic materials and non-academic materials.

Table 3: Volume of reading according to types of materials

Reading Volume

Academic Materials

Non-academic Materials

No Time Spent

6.4

8.4

Up to 3 hours per week

36.2

23.4

Between 4 - 10 hours per week

46.8

55.4

Above 10 hours per week

10.6

12.8

N=47

The reading volume of students was not impressive with the majority reading only 4 - 10 hours a week. This meant that on the average, they spent about an hour or less a day. Cross referencing to other data on materials read, they probably spent most of their reading time on newspapers and magazines.

Other Indicators of Reading Habit also showed that only 27.7% of the respondents always completed the reading of books assigned to them, compared to 55.3% of them who always completed the reading of magazines assigned to them. Indicators on reading for pleasure showed that only 36.2% stated that they always completed the books they read, but 63.8% stated that they always completed the magazines they chose to read. These indicators showed their overall preference for magazines to books.

The respondents also showed that they did not spend adequate time on reading although they said they visited libraries regularly. Only 36.2% read quietly (by themselves) everyday for 15 minutes or more; 34.0% read quietly every few days and 14.9% read quietly once a week.

C. Reasons for reading

Table 4: Respondents’ Priority ranking for reasons for reading

Reasons

Priority Rankings
1 being most important; 8 being least important
(%)

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

I read to obtain general information

12

(26.1)

8

(17.4)

5

(10.9)

6

(13.0)

5

(10.9)

5

(10.9)

2

(4.3)

3

(6.5)

I read to gather current information

3

(6.5)

10

(21.7)

14

(30.4)

5

(10.9)

5

(10.9)

5

(10.9)

3

(6.5)

1

(2.2)

I read to do coursework assignments

1

(2.2)

5

(10.9)

8

(17.4)

10

(21.7)

7

(15.2)

3

(6.5)

8

(17.4)

4

(8.7)

I read for pleasure

8

(17.4)

2

(4.4)

6

(13.0)

6

(13.0)

9

(19.6)

5

(10.9)

6

(13.0)

4

(8.7)

I read as a hobby

3

(6.5)

5

(10.9)

4

(8.7)

5

(10.9)

7

(15.2)

8

(17.4)

9

(19.5)

5

(10.9)

I read for self-development/ enrichment

7

(15.2)

4

(8.7)

1

(2.2)

10

(21.7)

5

(10.9)

11

(23.9)

5

(10.9)

3

(6.5)

I read for examination purposes

6

(13.0)

7

(15.2)

5

(10.9)

4

(8.7)

7

(15.2)

2

(4.4)

13

(28.2)

2

(4.4)

I read because I am forced to

4

(8.7)

1

(2.2)

1

(2.2)

2

(4.3)

6

(13.0)

1

(2.2)

2

(4.4)

29

(63.0)

N=46

Reading to obtain general information appeared to be the most important reason given by the respondents for reading. This was closely followed by ‘reading to gather current information’. The reasons for ‘reading for pleasure’ and ‘reading as a hobby’ showed moderate ranking while reading for course work assignments appeared on the upper rank than lower. This could mean that the main reason for reading was to gather knowledge and information to fulfill coursework assignments. However, it is heartening to observe that the respondents never felt they were forced to read and not the majority read for examination purposes. Hence, there exists some intrinsic motivation, if nurtured, it could develop into good reading habits.

Other indicators of reading behaviour in Section 5 showed that 59.6% of the respondents viewed that they sometimes enjoyed reading and 29.8% of them said they always enjoyed reading. One other positive observation was 40.4% of respondents stated that they always enjoyed studying English at the college while 51.1% of them stated that they sometimes enjoyed studying English.

D. Perceptions of reading problems

From Table 5 most of the respondents rated themselves as average readers with average performance in their reading speed and reading comprehension. They appeared to lack confidence in themselves as good readers.

        Table 5: Percentage of respondents according to types and levels f rating of reading ability

Types of Rating

Poor

Average

Good

Excellent

Rate yourself as a reader

17.0%

61.7%

19.2%

2.1%

Rate your own reading speed

14.9%

53.2%

29.8%

2.1%

Rate your reading comprehension

17.0%

61.7%

19.2%

2.1%

                          N=47

Data on reading problems is shown in Table 6. Generally, the respondents seemed to have more problems with understanding grammar and vocabulary than they had with content area, context and ideas in the reading materials.

                        Table 6 : Percentage of respondents according to problem areas in reading

Problem Areas

Never Understood

Rarely Understood

Sometimes Understood

Always Understood

Content Area

4.3%

17.0%

40.4%

38.3%

Vocabulary

2.1%

17.0%

74.5%

6.4%

Context

2.1%

19.1%

48.9%

29.9%

Ideas

2.1%

17.0%

44.7%

36.2%

Language(grammar)

6.4%

23.3%

59.5%

10.8%

                        N=47

Other indicators also showed the low confidence and ability in reading. It was found that 78.8% of the respondents either sometimes or always re-read parts of the materials they did not understand. About 47.8% of them said they sometimes or always abandoned the reading and this is probably due to some of the above problems.

E. Perceived Causes of Reading Problems

Table 7 shows a list of perceived causes of reading problems. Two perceived major causes for their reading problems were too many coursework assignments and too many college activities; these probably led to physical exhaustion of the students. The respondents were aware that their low proficiency was a major reason for their reading problems. Other main reasons were: disturbances in the reading environment, poor library facilities and inaccessibility to materials.

Table 7: Percentage of respondents according to perceived possible causes

Perceived Causes

% of respondents

Too many coursework assignments

73.9

Too many college activities

67.4

Low proficiency in English

58.7

Disturbances in the reading environment

44.4

Physical exhaustion

35.6

Poor library facilities

33.3

Inaccessibility to materials

31.1

Lack of peer motivation

20.0

Disinterest in reading in English

15.6

Lack of lecturer motivation

13.3

Personal/ Home background influence

13.3

Influence of electronic media

2.2

N=47

F. Ways of Improving Reading Habits

The respondents were asked to list the ways which they thought could help to improve their reading habits.

Table 8: Reading Improvement

Table 8: Reading Improvement

Ways lecturers could help

% of respondents

Conduct reading aloud sessions during class time

67.4

Implement more reading syndicate in class

50.0

Set a time table to help you read

45.7

Organise reading competitions

43.5

Conduct tutorial on how to read well

43.5

Carry out class book reviews

34.8

N=47

Table 8 shows that 91.1% of the respondents were aware that the most basic way to improve their reading habits was to read frequently on their own. The external support such as taking part in competitions or keeping a reading journal were perceived to be of lesser importance to the respondents.

Although students were aware of the importance of getting help from lecturers and peers, cross-referenced data showed that most of the respondents sometimes discussed with their peers on materials read and most of them rarely discussed with their lecturers on materials read. Interpolating results on possible causes of reading problems and ways of improving reading habits suggest that the two factors of time and environment It is evident that time and a conducive environment must be made available to students if their reading habit is to be developed.

Table 9 shows the respondents appeared to prefer lecturers to conduct reading aloud sessions in class. This reflects the respondents’ rather shallow knowledge of reading strategies available as reading aloud is usually encouraged more for the beginner or younger readers and it is much less suitable for older readers.

On the other hand, the results might indicate the emphasis placed by students on the correct pronunciation as part of improving their reading habit. Though the relationship appears vague, it is indeed worth researching into. Thus, a further study needs to be done to elicit more details.

Table 9: Ways in which lecturers could help to improve reading habits

Ways lecturers could help

 

% of respondents

Conduct reading aloud sessions during class time

67.4

Implement more reading syndicate in class

50.0

Set a time table to help you read

45.7

Organise reading competitions

43.5

Conduct tutorial on how to read well

43.5

Carry out class book reviews

34.8

DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The reading habit

It is particularly obvious that students have poor reading habits. They prefer light and easy reading materials such as newspapers and magazines, to academic books. It should be noted that this preferred choice would in a way reflect the students' low level of proficiency in the language. This leads to the lack of confidence in the capability to read academic materials and thus becomes a hindrance to developing language proficiency.

It must be mentioned at this point that high levels of reading achievement are associated with large amounts of voluntary reading and this positive relationship has been demonstrated on tests done by Pearson & Fielding (1991). Further, students who read more demonstrate better reading fluency (Binkley, 1989) and greater abililty to read independently (Ingham, 1982). As in the case of this study, reading appeared to be a means to an end and not an end in itself. Bintz (1993) reported that assigned reading to fulfill a defined objective, such as a course task, is often unmeaningful to students or irrelevant to their personal lives. It is the view of the researchers of this study that good reading habits can only be developed if students read voluntarily, especially for recreation, rather than just for the demands of their classroom and curriculum

Considering that the respondents are future English language teachers, their lack of good reading habits give cause for concern. As primary school teachers, they will have an important role to play in inculcating the reading habit amongst school children during their formative years of language instruction. This role will not be realised if the teachers themselves are not readers, by habit and inclination.

What the relevant authorities can do.

One important outcome of this study was the students complained they had too many assignments and activities in college which caused them to be physically exhausted. Hence, this was one of the reasons for their reading problem. The study also revealed that generally the students were aware of the need and importance of reading in the making of a good language teacher and they knew that they should read more to improve. Unfortunately, they did not do so.

This phenomenon should be a cause for alarm for the Teachers Training Division of the Ministry of Education and the researchers of this study would like to suggest very strongly that the curriculum be reviewed to provide enough ‘space’ for students to simply enjoy reading as a habit. It must be reiterated here that although reading is a skill to acquire mastery in a certain language, it is also a tool to acquire something such as knowledge of varied disciplines(Williams, 1984). The Teachers Training Division needs to remember that the acquisition of a good reading habit is far more valuable than the habitual ‘down-loading’ of content knowledge in the classroom. By this, the students are trained to have the reading skill to acquire wider knowledge for a lifetime.

It would be beneficial to students if the college library can provide novels, which are of the students' proficiency level. Library facilities should be upgraded as well so as to provide quality service and a conducive environment for developing a love for reading.

What college lecturers can do.

Some of the ways lecturers can undertake to help students improve their reading habits have been mentioned in the study. But more important is to ensure that these ways are entrenched in the concept of making reading meaningful and fun for the students. Hyland (1990) noted that reading classes are often used to teach language rather than reading and texts are milked of every drop of meaning by intensive study of vocabulary and linguistic patterns. On the contrary, lecturers need to employ many and varied strategies and activities to increase enjoyment in reading.

Hyland (1990) emphasises that the teacher’s job is to help students identify different reading purposes and to master the strategies best suited to achieve them. Research has shown that comprehension skills and strategies require direct instruction or in

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** Special acknowledgement to En. T. Shanmugam of Jabatan Pengajian Perdagangan who has kindly helped in processing data for this research**