The Student’s Perspective: Three Steps to Active Reading

Three Steps to Active Reading

The focus has been on teachers and teaching so far at EFL Magazine. Educators spend a lot more time thinking, writing, and reading about education, after all. But a student’s perspective can often be as valuable as a teacher’s, or more so. We’d like to give the student’s a little bit of a voice, and so we’ll begin having occasional posts written by students. This first post is by Aziz Soubai, who while a teacher, feels he’s still a learner in many ways. He used these three steps to become a better active reader. If you know a student who might like to contribute some thoughts on lessons, exercises, or just an anecdote, let us know. 

I’m in love with foreign languages like French, Spanish and English. Since I was a young learner, I viewed reading as the best strategy to master and acquire languages. This was especially true of English, which was at that time like music to my ears. French was the first language that I was exposed to in school. But, English has had a hugely significant impact on me, maybe due to the fact that my English teachers were funny, helpful, and made me love the language through music, short stories, vocabulary games, and things like that.

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I tried to develop some kind of routine, practice or more precisely a behavior which I will explain later on with more details. This reading behavior (which will be discussed from three perspectives) has tremendously developed over the years. It has been developed through strategies, techniques, and methods that I learnt from my various interactions and discussions with professionals, educators, and students; either online or in the national workshops, conferences and in the different learning /teaching experiences that I had in my personal and professional life.

I still remember as a young learner my ardent passion to read long texts and highlight difficult vocabulary items. It was like an obsession to me. I read the passage many times try to understand every piece of information. A book shop owner once told me in a funny, witty way: “You are obviously going through a lot of troubles reading these passages, why don’t you skip the unimportant details?” That question still rings in my ear, still lingers in my consciousness. “May be I’m a little pedantic, that’s all,” I said. Honestly speaking, I’m very pedantic. I was just self-conscious to admit it. And from that time on, I decided to find a way to be a better reader! I decided to move to the next level. The bookshop owner got a point.

My first strategy to develop my reading abilities and move from being a passive reader into an active one with critical thinking and creativity was at the university. I learnt to read aloud. This technique is applied only in poetry and rarely in prose. So, I took long poems like “The Waste Land” by T.S Eliot –and read it sluggishly and in a loud voice. Try to read this in both ways and you will see what I’m talking about: “April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire” In this fashion, I discovered that every word tastes differently and every word has a particular purpose to serve. And I believe that poetry should be read in that way. The reader will be able to appreciate the musicality and sweetness of the lines, which is often not apparent when reading in other ways! The example I gave earlier is used for advanced students. And English teachers of course can find so many poems on the internet and be able to improve their learner’s language skills and sub skills: pronunciation, intonation, writing and speaking!

The second strategy that I used to be a great reader was focusing on and only selecting the topics, themes or issues which motivate me. Why that choice? Simply because reading for the sake of reading is a complete waste of time. However, reading the things that are interesting to me brings a lot of joy -and I mean it literally- to my heart and makes me think deeply about what I read, how I read it, and why I read it. In my case, I like to read topics, for example, related to teaching/learning English as a foreign language. I also like to read Victorian fiction, particularly Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. This also should be applied when it comes to teaching EFL /ESL learners. Involving students in the choice of the reading passages and even in the stages of lesson planning will make them highly motivated and develop a passion for reading which is absent in a lot of language classrooms!

More importantly, philosophy and reading about how philosophers view the world around them made me an analytical reader and hence a wholly different person with a different persona. This latter term by the way was one among many terms I learnt while reading these kinds of passages. My first experience with philosophy was in high school. I discovered that I enjoy reading texts full of ambiguities; this makes my brain and imagination work to find the answers to the problems presented. However, the problems remain unsolved and the questions remain unanswered and this is exactly what I love about philosophy. Therefore, I developed a sense of criticism and analysis of everything that I read. This added to the quality of being pedantic will do the trick. My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think…I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment-It is frightful If I exist, it is because I’m horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire. Wait a minute! That was not me. It was a quote from Jean-Paul Sartre. I did not want to use the quotation marks to make you get my point. Philosophical quotes need to be read carefully and need more than one reading and sometimes have many interpretations by the audiences.

In short, these were the three main strategies and techniques I developed over the past few years to be a great reader. However, I do not feel that I have reached a comfortable position in that context. I still need to find out how to develop my skills both as a reader and as a writer. I want to read like a writer and write like a reader. I think a lot EFL learners today struggle with the English language because of the absence of the right reading strategies, not necessarily the ones I mentioned here. Those techniques may or may not suit certain learners in certain contexts with certain styles. The bottom line here is that sharing my autoethnography will hopefully shed some light on the importance to develop an effective reading habit.


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