Dorren Perry and Patricia Bellart, Project RIRAL
Many of our adult education students have a fear of reading. They find reading to be a painful task, full of pitfalls and problems. Our goal, increasing our students' reading comfort level, will not only imporve GED scrores, but will also promote life-long learning. Increasing reading comprehension, making reading less of a chore and more of a choice, will allow students to access the information they need to meet their personal, educational and career goals.
In order to the reading process, we chose to systematically integrate decoding, vocabulary development, and a reading comprehension strategy into our pre-GED and GED curriculum. Because of the time constraints for this two month project, we decided to eliminate the decoding piece and concentrate on vocabulary development and reading comprehension.
We chose daily analogies as the vocabulary development element for this study. We theorized that this method would encourage group participation, increase dictionary use, teach multiple meanings and origins of words, introduce suffices and prefixes, and make learning fun. This proved to be very successful with both the AM and the PM students. Of the approximately thirty learners in both classes, all but one had strong positive reactions to the analogy methodology of instruction. The two most frequent answers to the question, "Why do you like/dislike the analogy segment of the class?" were:
1) it's fun
2) it makes me think
For the reasing comprehension we chose RAP, a paraphrasing strategy, which has been designed to help students deal more effectively with complex readings. Paraphrasing requires students to read short passages of materials and rephrase the content, including the main ideas and specific details, in their own words. This strategy helps students improve their recall of important information. Research ahs shown that students' comprehension and retention scores increase in proportion to the qulaity and quantity of the paraphrase statements they make while reading a passage. 1
Paraphrasing benefits students for several reasons. First, students have to actively interact with the material rather than passively read it. Second, students maintain a high level of attention during this activity because they "chunk" long passages into smaller units while they read, question, paraphrase and read again. The combined effort of "chunking" and active reading facilitate memory and recall of information.
To begin this project, we designed a reading survey and adminstered it to thirty-two students, approximately sixteen learners per group. Out of that total we designated six learners as our focus control group. Those six consisted of three learners with one language (English) and three learners with two or more languages. We selected these learners because they represent typical adult learners at Project RIRAL.
The groups were divided by classes, those who attend the morning (AM) session and those who attend the afternoon (PM) session. The AM and PM group dynamics are vastly different, with the AM group being more amenable to experimentation. As a group the AM students are more supportive, nurturing and willing to take risjs (reading aloud). The PM group was resistant and not open to the reading strategy, so we decided to use only the vocabulary development portion with them.
Our students, for this study, are somewhat homogenous in that they are all displaced workers from primarily the same manufacturing plant. They are required by the Department of Employment and Training to attend school in order to receive their cash benefits; however the similarity ends there. The students range in age from twenty to sixty and have diverse skills, interests and abilityies. In addition, they come from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. We meet five days a week, two hours per day at Project RIRAL's Woonsocket Learning Center (WLC). Most of the learners live in the city of Woonsocket and all are northern Rhode Island residents. The WLC is convenient for all the students and can be accessed by public transportation for those who cannot or will not drive. We also have stuednts who walk in and one who bicycles in eveyr day, weather permitting. Attendance is consistent, with few absences.
We administered an exit reading survey to the focus control group. While we were creating the exit survey, we realized that the original questions had weaknesses, so we modified the exit questions to remedy those problems.
The results indicated all learners noting a change in their reading at home; they all went from no reading at home to some reading for pleasure. Both groups indicated comprehension skills increased sightly, with Group 1's comprehension increasing more significantly. Decoding of 'big' words decreased slightly, with Group 2's decoding skills showing the most significant decline.
The exit survey also asked the learners to rate their own ability to recognize the main idea and details in a paragraph. The learners rated themselves higher in recognizing main idea than we ovserved and gave themselves lower marks recognizing details and paraphrasing than we noted.
To say that this mini-study project answers any major questions would be presumptuous in the extreme. However, we have to say that we are encouraged with a 100% improvement in the reading at home category. We also feel that the vocabulary development complements and enhances the reading. We did formal "RAP" three times per week and analogies on a daily basis.
One of our most interesting observations was the role of the group dynamic. As already noted, the learners are somewhat homogenous. The PM group participated in the daily analogies segment but refused to "RAP." They even agreed to reading on videotape. During the two months of the study, we moved three people from afternoon to morning and those three blossomed to become among the most active participants. We have speculated as to why the tone of each group is so different, but, as far as our study is concerned, one fact emerged. The learners have to be willing to participate and become actively engaged for the "RAP" session to succeed.
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