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TESOL 2006

Tampa, FL

Shawn Ford & Frank Noji



1. Title


Learning to Read or Reading to Learn?


2. Abstract


While traditional reading instruction focuses on developing comprehension skills to understand text structure, another approach focuses on promoting comprehension to access information, or reading to learn. What exactly is reading to learn? How is it operationalized in the ESL classroom?


3. Session Description


While traditional reading instruction focuses on developing comprehension skills and strategies to understand text structure, another approach focuses on promoting comprehension to access and use information, or reading to learn. Although reading to learn has been discussed and advocated by second language researchers, it has been largely overlooked in the ESL instructional setting until recently.


In this presentation, we begin with a literature review of research focusing on the connection between comprehension in reading and language development. The terms “learning to read” and “reading to learn” are then defined and ways of distinguishing between the two approaches are explored. Taking the reading to learn approach, we describe a language development course design that is based on an information-building process. Also we share a selection of classroom materials developed to reflect the reading to learn approach. Next, we present results of a preliminary study that utilized the course design and materials in an integrated-skills, content-based curriculum for adult ESL students. To conclude, we propose directions for reading to learn research, ideas for implementing reading to learn as a pedagogical approach, and implications for materials and textbook development.


Participants are invited to share their views on taking a reading to learn approach in their courses and programs.



Frank Noji:


Since 1997, the KCC ESOL program was restructured around content-based instruction.  From the beginning we have been applying the sustained-content or the extended-theme approach (one theme for 16 weeks). 


Any ESOL program needs to respond to the demands of the larger institution as well as respond to the needs and demands of the students and the needs of the faculty and program.  The Kapiolani Community College ESOL program has been wrestling with institutional demands, demographic demands, and programmatic demands.


Institutional Demand:

The college is moving away from competency-based curriculum towards a learning outcomes model. Along with this there is a push towards e-portfolios. How can the ESOL program move toward this learning outcomes based classes and prepare students for the e-portfolios that they will be asked to produce in some of their classes.


Demographic Demands:

With the influx of international students who now make up more that 50% of the students, the demographic make up of the program has changed from 80% Gen 1.5 students and immigrant students to half international students. Another change was in the age of the students.  In 1997, 42% of the students in the program were between 19 and 25.  In 2006, the number had risen to 62%. 


Programmatic Demands: 

The mission of the ESOL program remains to ensure that students whose first language is not English are able to benefit from the college courses they are about to take.  A few years back, we became aware of the fact that teachers were so taken by the content that they were not addressing the language development issue.  Students were complaining that they weren’t learning English.  To address this problem we infused the Opportunities Framework that I presented on in San Antonio. The opportunities model forced us to look at input-output-feedback.  Looking at input-output-feedback in reading we felt we were not really preparing our students for college level reading.


Shawn Ford, Anthony Silva, and I have been thinking about and discussing the demands and have been trying out new ways of looking at reading and writing and at curriculum design.  What we would like to present today is the idea of comprehension, specifically purposeful reading, that we have been trying to integrate into our curriculum. 


The learning outcomes emphases focuses on what the teacher and the institution intends for the students to learn from the course and from the text.  The text must then be viewed not as a collection of generic pieces of facts but it must be viewed from the socio/political/cultural environment of the place it is being used.


The issue that arose out of this discussion was re-defining the meaning of “comprehension.”  In most texts, the focus of reading instruction is aimed at getting at what the writer intended to say.  It was focused on some generic sense of comprehension.  The materials writer determined what the important details were or what the main ideas were.  This did not leave any space for the diverse background knowledge and purposes the students brought to the classroom. When asked if they understood, and the student said yes.  Wasn’t it possible that the student understood it but not in the same way that the materials writer understood it. 


From this perspective, the traditional view of reading instruction, that is exercises and activities which focus on a generic comprehension of the article and based on the premise that all texts have a thesis statement that express the main ideas and details that support that main idea seem to become less useful in producing “effective” readers.  It became less clear to us how the “before” “during” and “after” strategies were preparing our students for the reading they were expected to do in their college courses – reading for specific learning outcomes. 


As we did some reading to see what reading research was saying about this, we found that research was beginning to uncover changes in text process and the approach to text itself.  In the past, according to research, the process of reading was focused on deciphering the contents of the text and committing that information to memory.  However, today learning from text is much more complex.  diSessa, 1988, explains that we are faced with a knowledge explosion, “where the creation and flow of information is endless and, often unmanageable.”  Alexander, Kulikowwich (1994)  suggested that “there is also the dilemma that so much information within one’s everyday environment will make it more difficult to discern important from unimportant content or relevant from irrelevant, and even misleading, information.  At the same time Garner, Gilinghane, & White (1989) pointed our that “students’ attentions and interests are consistently drawn to content that is trivial or tangential to the overall message being conveyed….”


These past two years, we have been thinking about the Reading to Learn approach as a possible answer to some of these issues and questions.


Alexander, Murphy, and Woods (1996) points out that “it is even more vital to provide students, especially those who are less knowledgeable or less experienced, with the guidance needed to separate the message from the noise surrounding it.”  They offer several guidelines for teaching in an information-rich society that is relevant to text-based learning.  Three of the guidelines that we thought would be useful in answering some of our issues were:


Seek Principled Understanding.  Learning is much more than the simple accumulation of information.  It requires the development of a rich body of knowledge organized around pivotal concepts or principles – “principled understanding” (Gelman and Grteeno 1989).


Teach More about Less.  Along with making thoughtful decisions about what information to stress, teachers must orchestrate learning opportunities that permit students to explore these concepts more deeply and fully.


Aim for Rooted Relevance.  Optimal learning is more apt to result when the content is not only relevant to students but also serves to build principled understanding in academic domains (Bennet, & Rice, 1996)


A lot of reading research has suggested these types of principles to be applied to reading instruction.  Following the research, we have been trying to apply these principles is what we are referring to part of Reading to Learn, and that is what we will refer to as “purposeful reading.”


By focusing on a single question or concept in a series of readings, it is possible to




ESOL 94 Final Reflection

Reading Skill Example 1


Articles are also very difficult. I especially think that “sociology of food” was difficult. First I could not understand what it said. However, after reading again and again, I had gradually understood it. The other articles were also. After finishing the summer ESOL course, I think that I could get a lot of many words and reading skill.


ESOL 94 Final Reflection

Reading Skill Example 2


Second of all, we had total 7 article about food on this semester. Each article our instructor explained grammar and content for us. I didn’t read English magazine much but I just read one a few days ago. I was really surprise that I could read a whole long article in the magazine. I never did this before, so I think this semester was really useful to improve my reading skill.


ESOL 94 Final Reflection

Reading Skill Example 3


The topics were interesting. That was the first time that I read texts so close. I knew that I had a serious problem that I just move my eyes on the texts, then, I was by way of understanding. Although I knew that the problem, I didn’t help it because I didn’t know how I can improve my reading. This summer, I had to try to understand well and thought about these topics a lot. Poster sessions, extended readings and seminars also let me try to understand well the topics. I have never felt that reading English is fun until this summer.


ESOL 94 Final Reflection

Comprehension Example 1


We studied English this summer using the topic of food I really liked the topic and the way I learned this summer. The good things in this class were that we (students) did not only learned grammar, vocabulary, writing and pronunciation, but we also learned about history, sociology, biotechnology, nutrition, cultures, diets, and issues.


ESOL 94 Final Reflection

Comprehension Example 2


During the course of the summer, I learned much about a lot of thing from the food such as American Cuisines, Biotechnology and Taboos etc. Every article was very interesting, but the most attract interest articles were the potato and the poster session of Food issues. After reading “the Potato in History” I felt that food controls person’s life. The person can spend the expansive living if there is an abundance of food. But, life changes by 180 degrees when a certain one is lost.


ESOL 94 Final Reflection

Comprehension Example 3


Through ESOL 94(Summer) course, my viewpoints regarding food and eating widened and deepened. I have learned useful knowledge and information about food. Let me put brief descriptions about what I learned. Through the study of “the family potluck,” I learned that cuisine plays an important role solidifying our subjective senses of cultural identity. Through the study of “American culture,” I learned that the American cuisine is characterized by the broad diversity of foods. Now I better understand the eating habits of Americans and American diets.


ESL 100 Mid-term Reflection

Comprehension Example 1


In my opinion, I think American education has two major purposes. First, it is intended to help developing American society by producing educated generations. For example, in the past, there was the GI Bill which helped providing funding to World War II veteran’s and their whole generations to pay for the school…Second, education means to united people who live in United States. There was discrimination occurred in the past. The colored-skin people were mistreated severely by the American people…Education made American be aware that all people have the rights to live as normal people no matter what skin colors they have.


ESL 100 Mid-term Reflection

Comprehension Example 2


Current American education faces various problems. It is true that there is a gap between ethical groups. Students who have rich family background are easy to achieve higher education. In contrast, schools which located in downtown that most residents are poor can not get enough money to maintain their facilities. To solve these problems, government took action to provide higher education for everyone. For instance, GI Bill made many people who were in lower class get a higher education. Education can be the seed to succeed economically to move up to middle class… Affirmative Action is excellent example that American education pursues equality. Students who discriminated could get a chance to go to universities. Affirmative Action brought the diversity not only schools, but also whole society.


ESL 100 Mid-term Reflection

Comprehension Example 3


Recently, different problems come out our societies such as AIDS, teenager pregnancy, drug, and alcohol. The students who have these issues can not continue to go to school, so they decide to drop out. The numbers of students who drop out their school because of these issues are increasing. I think that this problem is not only in the U.S. that is, all countries have same problems, and they have to think about solution. Also, I think that American education mean to me is difficult because the U.S. is large country of population, and there are various people. Therefore, the government has difficulty to give same opportunity to get education to all people.


ESL 100 Mid-term Reflection

Comprehension Example 4


After I learned about these issues, I felt that American education is a miniature of American society. This is because I think that the poor has a problem not only in education systems, but also in American entire society. Also, minorities and women have relatively difficult situation in the society even today. I think that the problem of society and the problem of American education are related each other. However, these issues that existed in the past have been solved by some actors and their reforms. As a result, the educational condition has been getting better. I do not think that American education is in perfect condition, but it is a development of the society.




Make materials for Purposeful Reading curriculum

Į       Lack of scaffolded texts for purposeful reading: CBI materials follow a “learning to read” format

1)             Identify language-learning needs in a Purposeful Reading curriculum that emphasizes purpose and comprehension

Š          vocabulary selection and teaching

Š          concept mapping

Š          input grammar analysis

Š          extended readings


Future Research


1)             Examine student learning outcomes carefully

2)             Examine transfer of skills


3)             Examine the idea of “rooted relevance” carefully


Process for Developing Approach and Materials


Step 1.                Examined the demands of the institution, demographics, and program

Step 2.                Explored means of addressing demands

Step 3.                Modified our curriculum

Step 4.                Taught using Purposeful Reading concepts

Step 5.                Reflect on how our strategies, activities, and approaches have changed through the implementation of Purposeful Reading

Step 6.                 Codify our heuristics

Step 7.                 Develop a method for Purposeful Reading

Step 8.                 Institutionalize Purposeful Reading

Step 9.                 Modify our Purposeful Reading method through continued action research



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contents (c) 2001 Shawn Ford/ Webb-Ed Press