STUDENT CHARACTERISTICS / NEEDS
OVERVIEW OF THE TOPIC
PRINCIPLES GOVERNING ORGANISATION OF TOPIC
The skill of summarizing has to do with one’s ability to comprehend information; it is tied intrinsically to the skills of listening and reading. Effective summarizing can be done only after the information to be summarized has been fully apprehended.
This unit will be taught at a high school in Barbados referred to as the School; the students will be given alphabetic labels. The purpose of the unit is to help the students of form 4A-2 of the School to become effective listeners and readers and to develop the skill of summarizing. Form 4A-2 is a Business Studies class and most of the students have voiced their ambition to become part of the business world as soon as they leave school. The teacher therefore reflected on the necessity of doing with them an area of English which would not only interest and motivate them, but would also equip them with a skill that they could later use in a practical way especially in their chosen careers.
After much consideration on the part of the teacher, summary writing emerged as the area most relevant to the students as a group. Underlying this decision is an observation made by Hipple (1973) that children seek a reason for everything they do and that they would write much more effectively if they could be made to see that their writing has a definite purpose. He makes another important point that unless children are encouraged to see beyond the assignment and examination purpose of writing, they will continue to produce writing that is unimaginative and sterile. Thus, it might be argued that once students are made to see the practical purpose of their writing they will be motivated to put greater effort into it. In fact, many students have displayed a lack of interest in writing activities at school on the grounds that they do not intend to become writers or poets, they do not like reading, and they do not see writing as ever being beneficial to them.
This paper will examine the purpose and value of summarizing through a close study of the various areas in which this skill proves to be essential and useful and will prepare an approach for the teaching of summary writing which will make it interesting and instructive to the students. The students will be given the opportunity to practice summarizing in a number of areas and for a range of different purposes, with the aim of helping them to see for themselves and to appreciate the practical benefits of being able to summarize. The teacher will use a combination of visual and aural aids in order to stimulate interest and increase motivation.
The students will first be given a ‘root’ look at summary – what it is, where it is used, the prerequisite skills, how it should be approached – before being provided with practice in the various areas that the subject covers. Emphasis will be placed on the actual writing of summaries so that while students will also be exposed to listening and reading activities, the bulk of the lessons will be devoted to summary writing practice.
It is hoped that by the end of the unit the students will have come to a realization of the purpose and value of summarizing in everyday life, in school and in the world of work which they seem to find irresistible and compelling.
The unit will be taught over a period of six weeks. It will be divided into fourteen lessons; six of 35 minutes and eight of 70 minutes duration. While the subject will not have been exhausted in these fourteen lessons, the students will have been provided with adequate foundation to assist them in becoming good summary writers. It is expected that they will do further work in summary writing in Form V. In the remaining periods of the term it will be necessary to do work in other areas in order that students acquire competence in a wide range of skills.
STUDENT CHARACTERISTICS / NEEDS
Form 4A-2 of the School consists of twenty-five students; nine boys and sixteen girls ranging from fourteen to sixteen years of age. This class could be considered average within the school, but within the class there is a wide range of varying dispositions and abilities.
Of the boys, Students A and B appear to be extremely restless and immature and particular effort has to be directed towards helping them develop more serious and responsible attitudes. Students C and D are very slow and incline towards isolation. They do not like group activity, hate to be pressured or hurried and work far better if they are allowed to work alone and in their own time. Additionally, Student D is sickly and frequently absent from school. He therefore requires particular attention and assistance. Student E poses a particular problem; he rarely utters a word, sits with his head thrown back and eyes closed or conversely with head bowed on the desk fast asleep. All attempts by the teacher to encourage, advise, cajole or even coerce him have proved fruitless. His only response is that he hates school, as his attitude suggests. Discussions with other teachers have revealed that his attitude is the same in all classes and has been so for a long time. The teacher has recommended that he sees the Guidance Counsellor.
The girls fall into two categories: those who come to school to work and those who come to socialize. Fortunately, the latter do not form the majority and although there are no exceptionally bright students the ‘workers’ display interest and a will to learn. There are two, Student X and Student Y who can be described as trouble makers. They are rowdy, undisciplined and rude and show very little interest in lessons. The teacher has sometimes found it necessary to send these students to work in the library so that the rest of the class could benefit from undisturbed instruction. However, Student Y has been absent from the beginning of November and no one seems to know the reason for her prolonged absence. A special case worth mentioning is Student Z. This student is frequently absent from school due to illness. Nonetheless, whenever she is present she displays keen interest and takes her work very seriously with the result that she produces work of a higher quality than many who have not missed a day of school. This student deserves a great deal of encouragement.
Form 4A-2 has three seventy-minute lessons weekly and they all occur in the later periods of the day; periods six, seven and eight. It is obvious that the students are neither fresh nor alert when English lessons occur. With this in mind the teacher has sought to employ a wide range of strategies and activities that will provide motivation for the students. In the past, the teacher has occasionally found it necessary to end the lesson a few minutes early to allow students to use the bathroom or just relax. Within the framework of the unit it will be necessary to make adjustments in lessons to allow time for such or similar activities whenever they become necessary.
Having worked closely with these students of Form 4A-2 in the first term, the teacher has discovered that most of them view school as a prison which they must endure until they become of age to join the adult world. This attitude has come out frequently in their writing and in class discussions. At the same time, they express desires to join the business world as secretaries, accountants, lawyers and businessmen. Some have even articulated their intentions of setting up their own small businesses.
It is clear that these students need to be guided as well as prepared if they are to realize their ambitions. Firstly, they must be prepared by being provided with the opportunities to develop the necessary skills and secondly, they need to be assisted in developing a sense of purpose and in making maximum use of the opportunities, with which school provides them, of acquiring the knowledge and skills which will be useful in achieving their goals.
The teacher has identified weaknesses in the areas of reading (comprehension) and expression and in an attempt to correct these weaknesses has decided on this unit in summary writing as a means of helping them to overcome the difficulties they experience in understanding simple information and providing them with opportunities to express themselves clearly and concisely through writing.
OVERVIEW OF THE TOPIC
The Reading Process
Listening and reading, according to Goodman (1972), are the receptive aspects of language use just as speaking and writing are the generative aspects. Further, written and oral language are alternate surface structures with the same underlying deep structure so that whether listening or reading, the language user must infer the deep structure from the surface structure. A brief study of the reading process should therefore highlight the importance of good listening and reading skills as a necessary foundation to good summarizing.
Reading, like summarizing, can be described as a process which involves the reader in a number of transactions. It starts, according to Goodman (1972), with the reader being presented with graphic display and ends with his having inferred meaning from the graphic display. It involves, in the words of McNeil (1964) “acquiring information from content and combining disparate elements into a new whole.” Estes (1982), Farr (1984), Goodman (1972) and Langer (1982) share the viewpoint that the reading process is interactive in that it requires that the reader brings into the text his/her own ideas, attitudes and experiences in order to interpret the writer’s meaning. Langer further postulates that meaning has to be considered as part of the writer’s growing vision of what the entire passage is about so that the meaning of the whole depends on the interpretation of separate segments of the text, on what came before and after. Estes goes on to quote Rosenblatt (1978) who, in expressing a similar view, describes meaning as emerging “from a network of relationships among the things symbolized as the reader senses them.” The above viewpoints serve to underpin the interesting observation made by Goodman (1972) that “a reading theory must be built on a psycholinguistic base.”
Bacon and Ruddell (1972) and Langer (1982) posit that meaning should always be the immediate as well as the ultimate goal of reading. Goodman goes further to explain that in order to arrive at meaning it is necessary to understand how language is used and how it works. He views grammar as the system of language, the system itself consisting of a number of variables (semantic, lexical, phonemic, phonological, and syntactical) which are interdependent and indivisible. It follows that language cannot be taken as a system of words since words taken independently cannot reflect meaning. In fact, both Goodman (1972) and Langer (1982) subscribe to the view that words in themselves are meaningless and that meaning has to be considered as the end result of a process of sampling, interaction and reconstruction on the part of the reader.
While most writers seem to agree that the word in itself cannot be taken as a unit of processing in reading, there appears to be varied opinions on what should be regarded as the basic unit. Goodman (1972) views the clause as the basic unit of processing in reading and posits that meaning can be derived from written language only when underlying clauses and their inter-relationships have been inferred. The reader, therefore, needs to be aware of what these clauses are in the deep structure and be capable of dealing with them in the form in which they appear in the surface structure.
Schoenheimer, Ganderton and Campbell (1967) argue that it is not the clause or even the sentence, but the paragraph which is the basic unit of language. They consider the paragraph to be the key to comprehending and interpreting information since it provides the reader with the ‘building plan’ that the writer has used. Schoenheimer’s Ganderton’s and Campbell’s (1967) concept seems to apply strongly to extended texts while Goodman’s (1972) appears to be concerned with more intricate levels of processing applicable to any type of text.
Estes (1982) introduces yet another concept. He acknowledges Goodman’s (1972) idea of reading as sampling and goes on to observe that what is sampled depends on the reader’s schema so that whether he begins at the level of the letter, word, phrase, sentence or paragraph, the experience is similar; the reader sees portions from which to infer wholes. He, however, adds that the bigger the unit the reader can handle, the more efficient his reading becomes.