EFFECT OF INSTRUCTION IN READING COMPREHENSION SKILLS ON SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS INFERENTIAL ABILITY

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EFFECT OF INSTRUCTION IN READING COMPREHENSION SKILLS ON SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS INFERENTIAL ABILITY

 

ABSTRACT

 

This study investigated the effect of instruction in reading comprehension skills on senior secondary school students’ inferential ability in Zaria Local Government Area. Two groups of SS I students, experimental and control, were involved in this study. All conditions were similar in the two groups on reading comprehension skills progrmamme of understanding figurative usage, indentifying a main idea, discovering text organization and recognizing a writer’s point of new using a test instrument standardized by the researcher, test were administered to the students after the lesions. Data collected were analyzed using the mean scores and Anova statistical tools. The results indicated that the experimental group performed significantly better in their post-tests compared to the control group, it was therefore recommended that effort should be made to assist the learner achieve comprehension, a basic step to building inferential ability by teaching specific reading sub-skills, during reading comprehension lessons. On the basis of gender there is no significant difference in performance between the boys and girls scores.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

INTRODUCTION

 

1.1        Background to the Study

 

In Nigeria, the English language as a medium for teaching and learning in schools, as well as a Lingua Franca still have a long way to go in ensuring the desired effect. Adeyanju (1987) pointed out that as a vehicular language of education in Nigeria, the slides in the standard of English are largely responsible for a falling standard of education in the country.

 

Banjo (1973) and Obah (1989) insist that an area of language learning that requires utmost and urgent attention is reading comprehension as this affects not only reading for pleasure, but also reading for information in content areas of study. Umolu (1988) sees the problem of low reading ability as a national crisis because of the pervasive nature of poor academic performance in higher institutions of learning nationwide. The picture painted is bleak. The annual mass failure in West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) result in English language attests to the fact that most students do not read instructions, or even questions, with sufficient comprehension. This, no doubt led to the hue and cry about the illiteracy level of the products of the primary, secondary schools, as well as tertiary institutions (Oluikpe, 1984). Agbese (1989) lamented the country’s educational “investment in failure” rather than success.

 

In general, many factors influence the comprehension of textbooks. These include socio-cultural factors such as home background or experience at home, peer influence and value placed on reading by the society. There are also influences such as the absence of reading culture; linguistic factors such as the level of vocabulary and the syntactic and semantic difficulty of the textbooks; psychological factors such as motivation, interest and prior knowledge and pedagogical factors such as teacher training, methods used in teaching reading and instructional materials (Odumuh,1997).

 

The ability to communicate clearly is as a result of clear thinking in the language. And this can only be achieved through reading. For this reason, reading is one of the most essential components of the English course. The place of reading as an invaluable skill cannot be overemphasized. Beck and Mckeown (1991) put it aptly when they remark that learning both in school and beyond, is nearly dependent on acquiring information from text. One way of doing this accurately is, by being able to read beyond the surface level. To buttress this fact, Duke, Pressley, and Hilden (2004) agreed that comprehension entails a complete web of skills and dispositions.

 

In Nigeria, teaching of comprehension is still viewed as the simple task of providing learners with many opportunities to read a piece of text and respond to a variety of questions. The number of correct responses provided by the learner was then taken as an indication of their level of understanding of the text (Annadale, 2005). Emphasis on comprehension sub-skills is neglected.

 

Research and awareness however have proven that emphasis on these are a necessary tool for the successful teaching and learning of reading comprehension. Reading instruction involves the development of skills related to the various stages of the curriculum. Classroom approaches should be concerned with reading strategies for different purposes (Williams, 1999). Reading comprehension skills at the secondary school level can be classified as: Literal – understanding literal meaning (reading the lines). This includes; Lexical meaning, grammatical meaning, answering direct reference questions and factual restatement;

 

Inferential – inferring deeper meaning (reading between the lines). This includes; understanding figurative usage, finding main idea, discovering organization and

recognizing a writer’s point of view. Evaluative – evaluating meaning and method (reading beyond the lines). This includes; separating fact from fiction, comparing different versions and assessing literary devices.

 

An area of concern to this study is the inferential, reading between the lines. This involves sub-skills like being able to find the main idea. This is to say specifically, the issue on the author’s mind in a piece of reading material. In doing this, the reader weaves together specific details to determine what is relevant to the central meaning (William, 1999).

 

Another sub-skill is the figurative language, which is used in a non-literal way to give a particular idea or picture in the mind (Longman Dictionary of contemporary English). Figurative language is not always obvious.

 

The third sub-skill is the discovery of text structure. This is the ability to follow the structure of a passage. The reader recognizes the relationship among the main idea and arranges them in the pattern of the entire discourse (Williams 1999).

 

The fourth and last sub-skill that is of concern to this study is the ability to recognize a writer’s point of view. This usually involves mapping what is represented in the text against one’s experience and knowledge (Wallace, 1996).

 

Authors don’t expect readers to create inferences out of nothing. Authors provide information (that’s the external text); readers, read that information in a variety of ways of create their internal text. When authors aren’t providing literal information then they are implying something. “Authors imply, therefore readers have to infer. However, inferencing doesn’t work if students don’t have the right background knowledge. To help students make use of their background knowledge, the text should be previewed with them. Preview could be, asking students what they already know about the content of the selection. For example, the topic, the concept, or the time period. They could also be asked what they know about the author as well as discussing the important vocabulary items used in the text. Students could also be shown some pictures or diagrams to prepare them for what they are about to read (Report of the National National Reading Panel, 2000).

 

In the words of Pressley and Block, (2002) when students access appropriate background experience, they are more likely to make inferences and elaborations that often lead to sophisticated understanding of texts, unfortunately, struggling readers may lack background experience about a specific area, or may associate incorrect or irrelevant background experience with a particular topic. This is where the application of which reading strategy becomes relevant. One such reading strategy is making connections to background experience. It is known as list, group, label or LGL (Taba, 1967).

 

It is a strategy that offers a variety of ways for the teacher to help student connect to background experience. It can help strong readers access their background experience and aid struggling readers by filling in missing knowledge and focusing on relevant background experience. The goal is for most students to be able to connect the text to background experience or recognize a lack of prior knowledge, independent of teacher assistance. A formal LGL activity may be tapered off and replaced by informal discussion about what is already known (Fournier and Graves, 2002).

In educationally advanced parts of the world, comprehension instructions, once seen as a black or white proposition is regarded as a complex challenge for many classroom teachers. According to Harcourt (2004), effective teachers now know, that reading passages and answering questions are far too shallow. These teachers understand the importance of providing explicit instruction in multiple comprehension strategies. A strategy is a plan selected deliberately by the teacher to accomplish a particular goal or  desired learning outcome (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000).

 

The use of strategy rarely happens in isolation, but often involves the interaction of a number of strategies simultaneously. A reader might make a connection within a text and at the same time make predictions about what will happen, as well as make an inference using implicit information presented (Annadale, 2005). The essence of this is to enable the learners build a web of skills needed in the development of reading for various purposes, of which inference an area of concern to this study is one.

 

For many students and teachers, comprehension is defined by the questions supplied by the reading passages. These questions may range from literal and inferential to evaluative. The fact of the matter is that, such questions are only assessing comprehension not teaching it (Umolu, 1996). So, the provision for testing inferential ability could be there without taking the students through the necessary steps involved. Historically, educators have asked students a barrage of questions under the guide of reading instruction, but there is little evidence to suggest this practice had positive results (Maloney, 2005).

 

In contact session with students as well as findings from other research works it has been observed that students are more comfortable with the linear translation of texts and tend to perform poorly in the task of interpreting a text (Pearson, Hansen and Gordon, 1979). This is why it is said that the ability to make inference is crucial for comprehension because inference facilitates a reader’s ability to create personal and implied meanings from text (Wallis, 2005).

 

A close look at the handbook released by the Federal Ministry of Education on Examination Malpractice in January, 2007 revealed that the cheating that was carried out in English Language paper 2 in every centre examination malpractice was recorded, was on the summary questions which calls for the exercise of inferential ability.

 

The researchers’ conviction that the development of inferential ability in learners is not elusive or something to be left for the learners to explore and discover on their own justifies the need for this study, although a lot of work have been documented on suggestions of how to build inferential ability in learners. This study however has adopted Williams (1999) suggestions for inferring deeper meaning. The suggestion entails abilities such as; understanding figuration usage, finding the main idea, discovering text organization and recognizing a writer’s point of view. This is to ascertain the authenticity of the suggestions. The researcher in turn has classified the enumerated abilities as sub-skills, which could be suitable for learners at the senior secondary school level, because of its simplicity.

 

Ability to discern levels of meaning develops with experience. The teacher should not expect from the adolescent reader the sophistication of an adult (Williams 1999).

 

 

1.2        Statement of Problem

 

Results in comprehension and summary over the years have been poor (WAEC Chief Examiner Report 1988 and 2001). The chief examiner’s report on the West African Senior School Certificate Examination from (2003-2009) on English language highlights the following on candidates’ weaknesses:

 

  1. Inability to restate the ideas of a passage in different words and expressions;

 

  1. If candidates learn how to answer comprehension and summary questions, and make a serious attempt to understand the passages and questions they will do well in the examination Inability to interpret questions so as to tackle the demands of the questions is seen in certain cases (questions on Essay).
  1. Question 6 and 7 (comprehension): Majority of the candidates could not answer questions 6 (1d) correctly which dealt with irony in the passage. Teachers were instructed to pay attention to figures of speech and see to it that students have a thorough understanding of them.

 

  1. Lack of summary skills- mindless lifting, brought in irrelevant points.

 

  1. The report stated that candidates still have a lot of work to do in these areas. With the vast amount of time and resources expended on teaching the subject one would have expected good performance in comprehension and summary and

 

especially in inferences (Banjo, 1989).

 

The problem of this study is to see if the poor performance of Senior Secondary School Students in the examinations is related to their use of inferential ability in reading comprehension despite the time and resources committed into teaching. The ability of students to draw inferences from any reading material is paramount to teaching and learning in schools. There is the need for students to be able to read between the lines for maximum comprehension in reading exercises. (Ambe, 2007). Regardless of whether the causes of reading problems are cognitive, emotional or otherwise, teachers must continue to find ways to help learners become readers that are more proficient.

 

Given the understandable importance of the English language at all levels of the educational system, it is important to ensure returns which are commiserate with the vast amount of time and resources spent on teaching the subject (Banjo, 1989). The detailed syllabus for both WAEC and NECO (2004-2006 and 2010-2012) on summary and comprehension spelt out the following requirements:

 

  1. Extract essential points and facts from passages; 19

 

  1. Identify and explain literary term; and

 

  • Make required deductions from passages

 

For this reason, Williams (1999), inferring deeper meaning ability of: Understanding figurative language usage, finding main idea, discovering organization and recognizing a writers point of view have been adopted for this study. To the best knowledge of this researcher, none of these skills have been tested for possible enhancement of inferential ability of learners in senior secondary schools in Zaria local government area. There is therefore the need to test these skills to ascertain their effectiveness or otherwise in the development of inferential ability. The present study which focuses on these four skills is a step in the right direction. The findings of this study will be useful in improving the teaching and development of inferential ability in our learners.

 

 

1.3        Purpose of the Study

 

The purpose of this study was to assess the effect of instruction on reading comprehension skills of senior secondary school students inferential ability in Zaria local government area. It sought to determine the following:

 

  1. The performance of the students in the sub-skill of understanding figurative usage, finding main idea, discovery of text organization and recognizing a writer’s point of view.

 

  1. The difference in performance of students taught reading comprehension skills and those not taught
  2. To compare students’ performance in pre-test and post-test in control and experimental group based on gender.

 

1.4        Research Questions

 

The Research Questions that guided this study are as follows:

 

  1. What is the performance of students in each of the four sub-skills of understanding figurative usage, finding main idea, discovering text organization, recognizing a writer’s point of view and inferential ability?

 

  1. What is the difference in the performance of students taught reading comprehension sub-skills and those not taught?
  2. What is the difference between the scores of students in the pre-test and post –test of the two groups based on gender?

 

 

1.5        Hypotheses

 

The three null hypotheses corresponding to the research questions have been formulated as:

 

  1. There is no significant difference in the performance of students in each of the four sub-skills and inferential ability.
  2. There is no significant difference between the scores of students taught reading comprehension sub-skills and those not taught.
  3. There is no significant difference between the scores of students in the pre and post-test of the two groups based on gender.

 

 

1.6        Significance of the Study

 

Reading is an invaluable language skill for the learner. The learner’s willingness to learn it and ability to use it influence the entire academic attainment (Ogwude, 2004). This is why comprehension of reading materials at various levels has continued to provide opportunities for continuous research work. Comprehension instruction was once viewed, as the simple task of providing students with ample opportunities to read a piece of text and respond to a variety of questions. It is now regarded as a complex challenge for many classroom teachers.

 

Studies have equally shown that weaknesses in reading comprehension is more readily recognized where the students skill in inferring meaning or deducing conclusion from given texts is tested. Result of such tests revealed that students are more comfortable with the linear translation of text and tend to perform poorly in the task of inferring from a text (Pearson, Hansen and Gordon, 1979).

 

Yet expectedly, the degree to which readers draw appropriate inference is seen as central to the comprehension of texts (Alderson, 1987). This revelation is a further enhancement to the importance of this study. Learners need to be exposed to the importance and place of inferential ability in reading comprehension. This also calls for volume reading which is associated with textual knowledge and world knowledge. This in turn produce good comprehender who have knowledge of text structures (Stanovich and Cunninghan 1993). The student who does not read often and widely will almost surely stagnate in comprehension development (Meyer, Brandt, and Bluth 1980).

 

Most of the studies so far conducted on reading comprehension of secondary school students in Kaduna state are majorly on reading difficulty. If any has been done on inference, not with the same approach, as that of this study to the best of this researcher’s knowledge. This study is also of the strong opinion that pedagogic factor is also a hindrance to learners development of inferential ability. This study therefore, hopes to create awareness by bringing to the notice of all stakeholders, the importance of the selected sub-skills for this level of learners that could go a long way in developing their inferential ability.

 

The inability of learners to infer, to deduce hidden meaning from explicitly stated information in reading materials is one of the challenges faced by learners in tackling examination questions as seen in the chief Examiners report on Senior School Certificate Exams. And because inference will not just happen without taking the learners through the necessary foundations, is the justification for this study. The study is significant in a way of adding to the data on the development of inferential ability in learner. Any effort to add to the frontier of knowledge is a step in the right direction.

This study is expected to be of immense benefit to the English language teacher, who all along may not have seen the need to take learners through the process of developing their inferential ability in reading comprehension? A very important skill that is worth teaching to enable the English language learner face the challenge of learning English, and at the same time studying core content through English. Another benefit to the teacher is the usage of the suggested sub-skills in this study which also includes the process of teaching them. The result of this exercise could inspire them to build on the sub-skills by reading to acquire other methods of developing inferential ability in a more advanced way.

 

Hopefully, the study will also be appreciated by policy makers who need to realize that, reading in language teaching is a broad area, which should be given more attention in the school curriculum.

 

The textbook writer also could use the finding to improve, on the standard of questions asked at the end of each reading passage in learners English language textbooks.

 

The learners themselves will notice appreciable change in their teachers teaching method which will in turn enhance their performance generally. The importance of this to the learner is that when their inferential ability is built, they will be motivated to read more on their own. Their level of wider comprehension as a result of better teaching method on inference will be a new experience in their overall academic pursuit.

 

It is hoped that the results of finding on the teaching of the sub-skills of understanding figurative language, finding main idea, discovering organization and recognizing a writer’s point of view would alert the classroom teacher on the need to adequately prepare for reading lessons. Curriculum planners hopefully could use the findings to improve the language arts method curriculum as it relates to the teaching of reading skills.

 

 

1.7        Scope and Delimitation

 

This study is restricted to the concept of inferential ability and the stages involved in arriving at inference like; finding main idea, discovering of text organization, recognizing a writers point of view and understanding figurative usage. This scope is based on the belief that these are vital for the development of inferential ability at the senior secondary level. The scope of this would be delimited to senior secondary school class one in Zaria Local Government for manageability. At this level it is expected that, students are exposed to higher order thinking questions that would help to build their inferential ability.

 

 

1.8        Basic Assumptions

 

This study was conducted based on the following basic assumptions:

 

  1. Understanding figurative usage can influence the development of inferential ability.
  2. Being able to find main idea as different from supporting details can aid the development of inferential ability.
  3. The knowledge to discover text organization can influence the development of inferential ability.
  4. Being able to recognize a writer’s point of view can also aid the development of inferential ability.

 

 

1.9        Limitations

 

The limitation encountered in this study was the rejection by some schools to be used for the study. They complained of the disruption of their already planned scheme of work for the weeks to be used. As such the duration for teaching was reduced from eight weeks to six weeks. Some of the teachers to be used as research assistants were equally reluctant, and took a lot of cajoling from the researcher to pacify them.

 

 

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