For students at elementary schools, reading is a complex process that requires the application of numerous skills ranging from question-asking to decoding. Good readers understand the meaning behind written words, know how to pronounce them, use clues from the context to understand unfamiliar words, as well as use the existing background knowledge to learn about new subjects and topics.
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Teaching elementary students how to read is a complicated task because students come to the classroom with varying knowledge backgrounds, skills, and styles of learning. Past experiences, family dynamics, and health issues also influence the ability of students to learn how to read, which is why teachers should be prepared for instructing learners on how they can critically analyze arguments, synthesize new information from several sources, and using new information for building on top of their existing knowledge.
The importance of reading has been illustrated in multiple examples. For instance, Calkins (2010) extensively explored the use of reader’s workshops while Al Nooh and Mosson-McPherson (2013) studied the efficiency of reading techniques used in Saudi-Arabian secondary schools.
The more teachers read the more knowledge they accumulate and prepare themselves for their future life. The more they read, the more language skills they develop, and the more often they can exercise their brains. Also, reading is a process that enables concentration, which is essential for children’s development when they go to school (Gibb, 2015). Thus, the benefits of reading for primary school students are vast and are associated with a variety of new skills that can be acquired in the process.
In the present action plan, the problem of poor reaching abilities among Saudi Arabia elementary school students will be discussed. In the context of the public educational system in the country, there is a gender separation policy that works on three levels: elementary, intermediate, and secondary. When students are being assessed for their learning, they are required to pass an examination and must receive at least 50% of the score in each subject taught, and reading skills are essential for passing the exams (Al-Roomy, 2013).
The problem of inadequate reading skills among elementary school students can be linked to the lack of effective strategies that teachers use for increasing children’s levels of proficiency and ensuring that they read well. Several major issues linked to inadequate reading skills have been identified; they are the following:
- Limited vocabulary;
- The lack of extra-curricula self-study exercises;
- Spelling problems;
- Disinterest in classroom activities and group discussions;
- Limited motivation;
- Difficulties in using background knowledge to decode unfamiliar words and read those that have already been studied;
- Issues with retelling the text (Al-Qahtani, 2016).
The complications linked to the inadequate reading skills of Saudi Arabian children require addressing in the context of elementary education due to their adverse influence on students’ development and knowledge. According to Al Nooh and Mosson-McPherson (2013), when it comes to reading, students need to have the appropriate level of concentration, comprehend the language, be fluent, have the motivation to learn, as well as show high levels of retention. Enhancing these conditions under which learning becomes effective is the main goal of the current action plan.
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As the solution to improve the reading skills of students, it is proposed to develop a Reader’s Workshop Strategy in the context of Saudi Arabian primary schools. Teachers must play a defining role within the strategy because “learners need teachers who demonstrate what it means to live richly literate lives” (Calkins, 2010, p. 6). Within the context of a readers’ workshop strategy, there are several objectives that teachers should achieve to ensure that students develop the necessary level of skills. These objectives include the following strategies:
- The strategy of naming and describing;
- Modeling the strategy in the process of reaching;
- Using collaboration for enhancing skills and knowledge;
- Guiding practice through gradually assigning new responsibilities to students;
- Providing an opportunity to use the acquired strategies independently (Calkins, 2010).
The method of reader’s workshops is targeted at emphasizing a large number of books that students can select based on their interests. In the instructional context, these workshops are focused on independent reading both with the whole-class and with small-group discussions. Large groups of students can be addressed during these workshops because of applying the Social Learning Theory – allowing readers to learn from their fellow students and share their knowledge.
Autonomy is a crucial aspect of a reader’s workshop because of the need to assign responsibilities to students. Without gaining the necessary level of autonomy, students will be unable to read texts and decode words independently. To reach this objective, several components of the Readers Workshop Strategy have been developed. Minilessons represent the first component and imply the quick demonstration of powerful reading skills or strategies for students to understand the challenge with which they are presented (Calkins, 2010). Minilessons should take place at the beginning of hour-long lessons and are conducted regularly to develop a pattern of teaching that will be familiar and understandable.
Guided reading is the second component of the proposed strategy and implies an instructional approach associated with teachers working with small groups of students (Calkins, 2010). During such lessons, a text is offered to be read with the support from the teacher and other students to coach readers on strategies they can use to decode new material. However, the ultimate goal of guided reading is to provide students with enough skills for them to use independently.
Listening to reading is another component of readers’ workshops and represents the strategy in which students listen to how a teacher reads or how their classmates read. Listening is an important skill to acquire within the context of reading skills development because it allows students to pay attention to the new vocabulary, learn how some words are pronounced, and have the opportunity to imitate what they have heard when reading on their own.
Writing about reading is an important aspect of the workshop strategy. In the course of workshop sessions, students usually jot down some new information they have learned or the teacher may instruct them to write a short paragraph about their reading. The importance of this process is linked to the capturing of the thinking that is at the core of conversations and activities during reading workshops (Calkins, 2010). Also, it should always be encouraged for students to learn how to draft vital information and revise it later. Independent reading is the final component of the proposed strategy and implies students’ being able to read the text without someone’s help.
However, despite the general conception, independent reading is not that independent and usually occurs within rich social contexts (Calkins, 2010). Because of this, the reading workshop is meant to create social connections among students and encourage them to reflect on the reading strategies that their classmates use to decode new information. Reader’s workshop is an appropriate solution to these reading issues because it will help students grow as not only readers but also as speakers and independent thinkers. Teachers will have an opportunity to provide their students with time and guidance to read, which are important factors in promoting success.
To connect the proposed strategy to the philosophy of education, it should be mentioned that reading workshops represent a unique opportunity for teachers to develop their approach to instruction and foster closer connections with students. Philosophy of education is a widely disputed subject because there is no one approach to the way students should be taught, and each teacher can evaluate his or her philosophy at any point during their practice.
However, the philosophy of teaching can be linked to learning theories, which represent how students absorb, analyze, and retain newly-acquired knowledge. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory applies in the context of reading workshops because it is based on learning from observing, imitating, and modeling others (McLeod, 2016) The breakdown of the main theories of learning is presented in the diagram below (Figure 1). Thus, depending on how students exhibit their learning capacity, teachers operating within the environment of a reading workshop can adjust their style to better suit that of learners.
Analysis of Prior Research
The subject of reading workshops targeted at enhancing students’ reading abilities has not received the necessary level of attention in the research literature. Only a few outdated research articles can be mentioned, which is why the main focus will be placed on Calkins’s (2010) findings. According to Wilson (2012), who studied the effectiveness of reading workshops as applied to students with behavioral disabilities, the framework served as a positive process within the primary elementary classroom.
Before the implementation of reading workshops, students were not performing at necessary levels and the classes allowed them to boost their reading comprehension and place them at either advanced or proficient ranges of reading ability.
In the study by Shaffer (2007) on readers’ workshops giving students flexibility in the classroom, the researcher concluded that the strategy could help in integrating positive practices in the classroom environment. However, Calkins’s (2010) Guide to the Reading Workshop serves as the basis for the current action plan due to the most comprehensive look at strategies that can help enhance students’ reading. In the Saudi Arabian context, where schools divide students by gender in classrooms, there is a need to engage learners with opportunities to reach high-interest accessible books (Calkins, 2010).
This is necessary because gendered classes are homogenous and can lack the diversity necessary for the sharing of experiences. The author also heavily emphasized the role of collaborative learning when it comes to enhancing reading skills: to read independently, students need to work together and share their knowledge.
In the current plan, the larger vision of educational improvement is concerned with preparing primary school students for their future life and studies. The broader goal is giving students the tools and expertise they can use to read independently as well as be capable of helping their classmates reach the same goal. Regarding the smaller goals that are measurable, the action plan implies the following:
- Increasing the number of students who read fluently;
- Establishing a collaborative environment through teamwork;
- Teaching students how to help each other to decode new words;
- Offering extra help to individuals who struggle with independent reading the most;
- Challenging students to read books that are not familiar to them;
- Providing a balanced approach between reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The following graph (Figure 2) is the schematic representation of the reading workshops:
The current situation of the inadequate level of reading skills in the context of Saudi Arabian elementary schools is challenging: not only do students lack the necessary level of expertise, but they also do not have the motivation and interest, and this needs to change. The team to lead the change should include skilled teachers who have worked in the field for years. They will be contacted by conventional methods and asked whether they would like to participate in the change plan.
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In terms of brainstorming for expanding basic ideas, it is necessary to seek the help of both educators and psychologists and child psychologists. The latter is crucial for the plan because it will provide some insights into how children collaborate and interact. The help of these experts will be needed throughout the entire process of plan implementation. The project with be led by the headmaster of the school in which the strategy will be implemented, with tasks being delegated to the rest of the teachers. The step-by-step timetable for the plan is the following:
|Summer 2019: Preparation|
|June 1-30th||planning procedures, brainstorming, creating lesson plans|
|July 1-30th||finding appropriate classes of students and schools on which the strategy can be tested|
|August 1-30th||pitching the idea to the higher educational background, including the Ministry of Education.|
|The school Year 2020: Implementation|
|September 1-30th||determining the reading levels of students (advanced-intermediate-beginner)|
|October 1-31st||finding books that students must read during the plan’s implementation (fiction, non-fiction, and picture stories)|
|November 1-January 1||Implementing the workshop plan|
|February 1-30th||evaluation and conclusion of results|
The range of stakeholders will be involved at different stages of the plan implementation. The principal of the school will pitch the idea to the Ministry of Education while teachers will participate in the role of mentors and plan the workshops themselves. In terms of addressing some obstacles, there is a need to inform teachers about the need to change their attitude toward reading instruction in terms of assigning students more responsibilities and allowing them to help each other.
The role of parents should also not be underestimated: they will be encouraged to evaluate their children’s reading skills at home and make them read new texts to further their proficiency. For example, parents will be recommended some texts that they can read with their children. The outcomes of home lessons can be shared at parent-educator conferences two times a year. In terms of the obstacles, it is expected that most resistance will be encountered on the part of children, especially those experiencing many difficulties with reading. The plan will be deemed as successful in the case when the reading skills of the least performing students will improve by at least one level.
The funds needed to plan the reform are estimated to amount to $5,000. On-time-funds are expected to cost more, up to $10,000, due to the need to purchase tools such as interactive whiteboards, books, stationery, and so on. Annual expenses have not been estimated yet; however, they can amount up to $50,000 because of the expenses on staff’s payments. The Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia is expected to be the primary source of funding support. With the wide implementation of the plan, the issue of the lack of students’ reading skills is expected to be reduced in impact.
|Personnel||50,000 for all persons involved||Paying teachers and other stakeholders for their time|
|Materials||500-1000 per classroom||Purchasing study materials, tools, and classroom aids|
|Other costs||100-1000 per expense||Any other expenses not covered above|
Evaluation and Assessment
In regards to the formative assessment of an action plan, it will be necessary to evaluate whether the students’ level of reading skills has improved. Small reading tests and short evaluations will be performed throughout the process of the plan’s implementation: at the end of reading workshops, teachers will select several students randomly and give them tests (Lom, 2012). A summative assessment will be implemented for evaluating the progress of students at the end of the plan’s implementation (“Formative assessment,” 2014). Therefore, formative assessments will be used for optimizing the process while summative assessments will be used for evaluating the learning.
In summary, it should be mentioned that reading workshops represent a great opportunity for teachers to enhance students’ reading skills. The current action plan presupposes the introduction of reading workshops into the curriculum of elementary school students in Saudi Arabia. Each one-hour workshop will be divided into five parts, each of which will have its purpose and implementation objectives. Ultimately, it is expected that the strategy will seamlessly integrate itself into the curriculum of Saudi Arabian schools.
Al Nooh, A., & Mosson-McPherson, M. (2013). The effectiveness of reading techniques used in a Saudi Arabian secondary school classroom as perceived by students and teachers: A study of methods used in teaching English and their effectiveness. Arab World English Journal, 4(3), 331-345.
Al-Roomy, M. (2013). An action research study of collaborative strategic reading in English with Saudi medical students. Web.
Al-Qahtani, A. A. (2016). Why do Saudi EFL readers exhibit poor reading abilities? English Language and Literature Studies, 6(1), 1-15.
Calkins, L. (2010). A guide to the reading workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Thompson, K. (2012). 5 main theories of learning. Web.
Formative assessment. (2014). Web.
Gibb, N. (2015). Reading: The next steps. Supporting higher standards in schools. Web.
McLeod, S. (2016). Bandura – Social learning theory. Web.
Lom, B. (2012). Classroom activities: Simple strategies to incorporate student-centered activities within undergraduate science lectures. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education: JUNE: A Publication of FUN, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, 11(1), A64-71.
Shaffer, J. L. (2007). Readers’ workshop: Giving students time, choice, and flexibility in the classroom. Graduate Research Papers, 22. Web.