Authors: Esther Geva and Gloria Ramirez

Publisher: OUP 2015


Like Focus on Grammar and Meaning, which I reviewed in ETp Issue 101, this book is part of the Oxford Key Concepts for the Language Classroom series. This series intends to make research findings on important topics accessible to practising language teachers (primarily of students aged five to 18) and students working towards graduate certificates in TESOL or diploma-level qualifications.

This particular title aims to equip teachers and teachers in training with the practical skills they will need to teach second language reading to students with different learning needs. Part of the way it does this is by means of a number of hypothetical students from differing language backgrounds, whose specific problems with reading are discussed in light of the general issues being examined. We meet Xu Ming, a ten year old from China, seven-year-old Sarita from Colombia and teenage Mohammad, a Somali immigrant living in New York, amongst others. This use of ‘real-life’ examples – even if the named students aren’t actually real – helps to bring all the theory to life and emphasises the point that students do have individual needs and that their linguistic backgrounds and the contexts in which they are learning English are likely to be major factors in their ability to understand written texts.

A series of ‘Classroom Snapshots’, essentially descriptions of classroom situations, reading tasks set by a teacher to a particular class and exchanges between students and teachers, are discussed and analysed to determine what problems with a text or task specific students are likely to encounter, and how these could be addressed. In addition, there are various activities, some designed to prompt readers to reflect on what they have read and apply it to their own contexts, and some which encourage readers to put themselves in the shoes of a learner confronted by certain linguistic structures or vocabulary items in a text. Usefully, the first activity in Chapter 1 invites readers to respond to a series of statements about the teaching of reading to non-native speakers of English, saying whether they agree or disagree, and how strongly. This enables readers to establish their own starting points, from which they can then begin to question their own beliefs (or have them confirmed) as they move through the book, learning about the findings and evidence put forward by various researchers. One very good aspect of the book (and of the series as a whole) is that all these statements are revisited in the final chapter, where the authors give their own views, informed by the research and ideas presented in the rest of the book.

In keeping with the aims of the series, Focus on Reading covers theories of reading instruction and presents insights gained from academic research. Specific studies, many of these classroom-based, and their results are described in ‘Spotlight Study’ sections, so readers can appreciate the practical nature of the studies which inform the theories of second language reading which are being proposed.

Reading is a skill which, perhaps more than any other, changes rapidly within the age group (five to 18) covered in this series of books. Students have to begin by learning to read and then progress to reading to learn. Some of them may have different writing systems in their own language. By the age of 18, many of them will be required to tackle quite sophisticated and academic texts. This book covers many aspects of the subject in a readable and accessible way, and I can recommend it to anyone who teaches reading to students in primary and secondary schools.