Thursday, October 16, 2008

Topic: Previews of Short Stories

10-second review: Suggests providing previews of reading assignments for English-language learning (ELL’s) students to help them with challenging material.

Title: “Previewing Challenging Reading Selections for ESL (English as a Second Language) students.” HS Chew and MF Graves. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (April 1998), 570-571. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The teacher writes out the preview. Includes statements and questions to gain the reader’s interest. Relates to that which is familiar to the students. Questions to involve student participation. Overview of the selection, including title, characters, plot up to the climax. Directions for reading. The authors provide a sample preview for O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.”

Comment: The problem I am having with this idea is that the preview is written out—teacher time—is quite lengthy and will be almost as difficult for the English language learning students to read as the story itself. Some suggestions: read aloud the preview with the students as they read along. Pre-teach vocabulary—if not in the written preview, at least orally.

My second concern is that the authors view the preview as only a prop (a “scaffold”) that should later not be needed. I believe that all students should learn how to preview by themselves when they are asked to read anything that is challenging. “The Gift of the Magi” is a short story. I have developed a technique for previewing a short story.

1. Read the title. Ask students to reflect on the meaning of the title. The students raise questions.

2. Students read one sentence a column or page. Students tell what they have learned about the story. They raise questions

3. Read one paragraph a column or page. Students tell what they have learned. They then raise questions and cancel out previous questions that have now been answered by reading one paragraph a column or page.

4. Organize the questions raised by the students and they then read to answer the questions.

5. Discuss their answers to the questions

This type of preview does not require the teacher to spend valuable time writing out the preview. The students raise their own questions and read to answer their own questions. The teacher adds questions if the students have missed something important. This preview of short stories worked very well for my students in a community college literature and writing course. Most important, this type of preview enables students to preview all other short stories that they will read.

I’m not suggesting an either/or situation here. Both methods are useful. The written preview can lead to the independent use of my suggested preview. RayS.

This blog, English Education Archives, reviews articles of contemporary interest from past English education journals.

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