Cognitive correlates of English reading achievement among standard three pupils in the slums of Nairobi
Arasa, Josephine Nyaboke
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This study aimed at finding out the relationship between English reading achievement (dependent variable) and Letter-sound knowledge, decoding abilities and speed of reading (independent variables). The study also investigated whether there were any significant gender differences in English reading achievement, Lettersound knowledge, decoding abilities and speed of reading. Differences between good and poor readers in all the variables were also examined. Finally teachers' views, opinions and perceptions on identification of poor readers, importance of reading, factors contributing to poor reading, help given to poor readers, suggestions on what could be done to improve on reading in the slums, whether time allocated to teaching reading was adequate and whether they felt they were well equipped to teach reading were explored. The sample for the study consisted of 78 (35 males and 43 females) standard three pupils from 5 selected schools in the slums of Nairobi whose ages ranged from 8-13 years with an average age of 10 years. The teachers who teach English to these children in class 3 together with the headteachers in each of the five schools also formed the sample. Data was collected by use of Letter-sound knowledge test, alphabetic process test logographic process test, teachers' and headteachers' questionnaires, students' questionnaires, report cards to obtain English reading achievement scores and a focused group discussion instrument for the teachers. Data was coded and analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). Descriptive statistics to describe and summarize data, Pearson Product Moment correlation coefficients, multiple regression analysis test, t-tests and Analysis of variance (ANOVA) at P<_0.05 level of significance were used to analyze data. The following the results were obtained based on the hypotheses of the study: i) English reading achievement was positively and significantly correlated with Letter-sound knowledge (r = 0.36), decoding of Non-words (r = 0.48) and decoding of Familiar words (r = 0.54). ii) English reading achievement was negatively and significantly correlated with the speed of reading Letters (r = -0.36), speed of reading Non-words (r = - 0.40) and speed of reading Familiar words (r = -0.47). iii) There were significant and positive inter-correlations among Letter-sound knowledge and decoding of Non-words (r = 0.54) and with decoding of Familiar words (0.57). iv) When the independent variables were combined, they contributed significantly to English reading achievement (R` = 0.30). v) There were no significant gender differences in decoding of Non-words, decoding of Familiar words, speed of reading Letters, speed of reading Nonwords and speed of reading Familiar words. vi) There was a significant gender difference in Letter-sound knowledge. vii) Good and poor readers (grouping) differed significantly in English reading achievement and in letter- sound knowledge, decoding of Non-words and Familiar words, speed of reading Letters, Non-words and Familiar words. viii) One's gender and being a good or poor reader (grouping) did not interact significantly to influence performance in Letter-sound knowledge, decoding of Non-words, decoding of Familiar words and in speed of reading Letters, speed of reading Non-words and speed of reading Familiar words. Results from the teachers showed that the teachers could easily identify poor readers using a variety of methods, teachers knew the importance of knowing how to read, they used various methods to teach reading and they could explain factors that contribute to poor reading. The teachers used different approaches to help the poor readers to improve and they gave many suggestions on what they felt needed to be done to improve on reading achievements in the slums. Generally, the teachers felt that they lacked the necessary skills to teach reading; hence, they were not well equipped to teach reading. They also felt that the time allocated to teaching reading was inadequate. From the research, the following recommendations were made: i) There is need for early assessment and intervention to identify students deficient in reading skills (Letter- sound Knowledge and word decoding skills), followed by a one to one intervention. The children should be taught to attend to each letter and its relationship to sounds. The teachers should begin with common, useful letters and words to avoid confusion. Similar letters and letters with similar sounds should be separated. Teachers can use flash cards or word cards, pictorial aids or display high frequency words on the wall or bulletin boards. Reading easy books, repeated readings and choral reading should be used to facilitate ii) The teachers should provide a balanced and comprehensive program of instruction, which covers concepts about print, phonological, and phonetic awareness, letter name knowledge, letter sound knowledge, letter groups and sounds and sight words. The reading instructions should be appropriate for the students' level of performance. Extensive practice should be emphasized to integrate use of visual, contextual, and structural cue system. iii) During teaching, fluency and automaticity should be emphasized. iv) Poor readers require specialized methods of teaching as they lack the necessary skills and knowledge compared to the good readers, this will help them to improve on English reading achievement. This is likely to reduce the anxiety, frustration, high dropout, repetition, poor academic performance, negative attitudes towards school and other problems associated with being a poor or non-reader. v) There is need to provide individual attention and remediation to the poor readers. This can be done by having special classes for those who have not had any previous exposure to reading, those with minimal exposure and those with average skills. Then once they have acquired the necessary skills they can be taught together as a group. Many teachers recommended this grouping though they lack the time, resources, and competence. Remedial programmes should focus on the specific deficits or deficiencies that have been identified through assessment and diagnosis i.e. treat and focus on weaknesses to enhance strengths of the child. For example a priority should be given to teaching how letters correspond to sounds, reading and writing of Non-words by use of letter-sound knowledge vi) When teaching, there is need to distinguish between the letters of the alphabet and their usage to spoken names which contain sounds i.e. spoken Letter/sounds should be linked to written forms. (Many subjects had extreme difficulties linking letters to sounds). vii) There is need to help learners to recognize whole words (word learning). Many children did not perceive words as Familiar or Non-words and they were very slow• in their responses with some relying on Letter-sounding technique (reading letter by letter). Learners should be helped to use lettersound knowledge to read and pronounce Non-words. viii) More pre-primary or nursery schools should be set up in the slums and the parents encouraged to send their children to these schools instead of waiting until they are over age then send them to primary schools. Many teachers felt that this will help the children to acquire basic skills of reading early in life. (74% of the subjects had not attended nursery or pre-primary). ix) Adequate screening tests should be developed and teachers taught on how to diagnose reading problem. These tests can be prepared by specialists in the area of reading at KISE, Ministry of Education, Department of special Education at Kenyatta University and clinical child neuropsychologists to help identify poor readers. x) There is need for the government to provide interesting, varied and more reading materials to the slums now that there is free education. Many of these children cannot afford to buy even a single book xi) Success of any reading program depends on the knowledge and the skills of the teacher. The teacher should be well trained in a specific approach and supported in its implementation either through in-service or pre-service. These teachers need knowledge on word attack knowledge, skills and strategies to provide well-structured instructions to their students. xii) Teacher training colleges should offer courses that impart the necessary skills on teaching of reading and reading disabilities so that the teachers can confidently and competently deal with this problem of poor reading. The training should give the teachers first hand experience, knowledge, and skills on diversity of reading problems. The teachers should also be trained on identification, assessment, diagnosis, and intervention of reading disabilities. The training should also focus on methods of teaching reading, which have been proved effective through research. xiii) Adult education programmes for parents should be emphasized to reduce illiteracy so that the parents can get more involved with their children's schoolwork. xiv) Free medical clinics should be offered to check and help those children with speech, hearing and visual problems that interfere with learning to read (reading is an audio-visual process). xvi) There is need to create awareness to the slum community on the importance of education so that the community can work together with the teachers and administrator to reduce illiteracy and other problems in the slum. xvii) The teachers need to change their negative attitudes towards the slum community and more specifically towards these children. Some of the teachers during the focused group discussion sessions said "ignore them" "they can never make it in life" "we are here because Teachers Service Commission cannot transfer us elsewhere" among other negative comments. The teachers need to know that any child, given the right kind of physical and emotional support can learn and achieve. These children are just disadvantaged but not necessarily retarded intellectually. xviii) There is need for an in-depth study of the poor readers to identify specific features or characteristics associated with poor readers for purposes of remediation or intervention. xix) More research and other comparative studies should be carried out to find out other factors related to related to Kiswahili and English reading achievement since the present research variables accounted for only 30% of the variance in English reading achievement. Such factors include memory, phonological processing, audio-visual perception, home and school related factors among others. From the finding's it can be concluded that English reading achievement is significantly correlated with Letter-sound knowledge, decoding abilities and speed of reading. However, there is need for an in-depth study of the poor readers to identify specific features or characteristics associated with poor readers for purposes of remediation or intervention. More research should also be carried out to find out other factors related to English reading achievement since the present research variables accounted for only 30% of the variance in English reading achievement.