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文化内容图式与英语阅读教学

发布时间:2013-10-07 11:00:24  

分 类 号 H 3 1 3 单 位 代 码 10183 密 级 内 部 研 究 生 学 号 9731005

硕 士 学 位 论 文

题 目 文化内容图式与英语阅读教学

作者姓名: 薛 亚 红

专 业: 英语语言文学

导师姓名

及 职 称: 刘 希 彦 教授

吉 林 大 学

一九九九年十二月

Master’s Degree Thesis

Cultural Content Schema and EFL Reading Teaching

Major: English Language and Literature Author: Xue Yahong

Supervisor: Professor Liu Xiyan

Department of English

College of Foreign Languages Jilin University

December, 1999

Contents

Introduction…………………………………………………………………………..1

Chapter One A General Survey of EFL Reading Teaching…………………………..3

1.1 A Conventional View of EFL Reading Process………………………………3

1.2 Aims of EFL Reading Teaching………………………………………………5

1.3 Characteristics of EFL Reading Textbooks...………………………………...5

1.4 Typical EFL Reading Teaching Procedure…………………………………...6

Chapter Two Cultural Content Schema and Its Effects on EFL Reading…………...10

2.1 Schema and Its Theory ……………………………………………………....10

2.2 Schema-theory Model of Reading Process…………………………………..12

2.3 Cultural Content Schema and Its Functions in EFL Reading………………..15

2.4 Cultural Content Schema and EFL Reading Short-circuit…………………..20

Chapter Three Implications of Cultural Content Schema

for EFL Reading Pedagogy …………………………………...25

3.1 Implications for Classroom Activities………………………………….…….25

3.1.1 Pre-reading Activities.………………………………………………….25

3.1.2 Vocabulary Instruction………………………………………………....28

3.1.3 While-reading Instruction…………………………………………...…30

3.1.4 Post-reading Activities……………………………………...…………..31

3.2 Implications for a Shift of the Teacher’s Role……….………………………32

3.3 Implications for Material Selection……………………………………….….34

3.3.1 Authentic Texts………………………………………………………...34

3.3.2 Guidelines for Material Selection……………………………….……...35

3.4 Principles in Developing Students’ Cultural Awareness

in the Classroom Settings………………………………….....36

3.4.1 Step-by-step Principle………………………………………………...37

3.4.2 Principle of Appropriateness…………………………………....…….37

3.4.3 Principle of Mainstream………………………………………….…...38

Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………..40

Reference…………………………………………………………………………….1

Abstract in English…………………………………………………………………..1

Abstract in Chinese…………………………………………………………………..1

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to my supervisor, Professor Liu Xiyan, for his valuable suggestions, helpful guiding, timely criticism and careful polishing of the language in finishing this thesis. My thanks also go to many other teachers who have given me insightful advice and instructions, and helped me a lot in my writing.

Introduction

For the Chinese students, reading, which can be defined as a vital means of getting information from the written language, is by far the most important of the four skills in learning English as a foreign language. Therefore, in English teaching pedagogy in China, great importance has been attached to fostering students’ ability to read the written language at a reasonable rate and with good comprehension. However, though great efforts have been made to achieve the end, the result of EFL reading teaching is not so encouraging as expected. There are, of course, many factors accounting for such failure, including the individual difference of the students—intelligence, motivation, attitudes; the teaching experiences, the teaching methods of the reading teacher as well as the reading materials themselves, etc.. But what really counts, to our understanding, is the traditional theory on reading underlying such teaching practice, which holds that reading is basically decoding the meaning from the written language and a good command of linguistic knowledge will naturally lead to good comprehension. The reading teachers have been influenced by such a conventional view so much that they follow it in actual reading teaching. Therefore, the reading lesson turns out to be a language lesson with great priority being given to improving the students’ linguistic knowledge rather than improve their reading proficiency. What such a text-oriented method neglects is the role of the students’ prior knowledge, particularly the cultural background knowledge in the reading comprehension process. So it is not surprising that the students’ reading comprehension still remains weak, which in turn, leads to the poor performance in the actual examinations testing their reading proficiency. The central point at issue is that most of the reading teachers do not have a thorough understanding of the nature of the basic process involved in reading.

In fact, reading is not a simple mechanical skill, nor is it a simple linguistic process, but rather a very complex cognitive process, “a psycholinguistic guessing game”(Goodman, 1976,

P489). Reading comprehension, as a result, is an extremely complex skill, one which is highly

individual, highly context-dependent, involving the readers’ integrative use of their linguistic

knowledge, including vocabulary and grammatical knowledge, their prior knowledge as well as

their inferential ability. Reading, from the schema theoretic perspective, is an interaction

between the reader and the written text; an interaction between the new information in the text

and the old information the reader brings when comprehending the text. Among the old

information, the cultural background knowledge of the reader counts more than his or her

linguistic knowledge.

With a view to helping improve EFL reading teaching, here in this thesis, chief attention is

focused on the analysis of schema theory model of reading process, especially on the discussion

on the relationship between cultural content schema and EFL reading teaching, with its

implications for the EFL reading teaching.

Apart from an introduction and a conclusion, this thesis is composed of three chapters,

with Chapter One providing a general survey of the EFL reading teaching, and Chapter Two

dealing with the relationship between cultural content schema, one type of schema, and EFL

reading teaching. Chapter Three, based on Chapter One and Chapter Two, concerns with the

implications of the cultural content schema for EFL reading pedagogy.

Chapter One A General Survey of EFL Reading Teaching

The rapid development of science and technology, together with the increasingly frequent

contacts between people of different nations, especially communication through internet, has

made more and more people aware of the importance of reading English as a foreign language,

for it is thought that over 60% of the latest findings of the scientific research and the latest

technological information are written in English, an international language. Thus reading is

regarded as the number one skill among the four basic language skills: listening, speaking, reading,

and writing. As a result, English reading teaching, including intensive reading and extensive

reading, has long been considered the core of English teaching pedagogy in China, with two

fundamental goals for instruction: increasing the students’ comprehension from the text and

increasing their ability to comprehend from the text. Consequently, a large proportion of the

teaching time is devoted to achieving these ends. The emphasis on reading is reflected not only

in China’s National English Teaching Syllabus for Colleges (1986), which explicitly stipulates: “To develop students’ reading ability, enable them to obtain information and knowledge related to their specialties and lay a solid foundation for their future study and work…”, but also in all the important national English examinations, with the portion of reading comprehension accounting for 30% of the total scores in EPT, and 40% in CET Band 4 , CET Band 6 and the graduate-student entrance examination, to name only a few.

1.1 A Conventional View of EFL Reading Process

Reading comprehension is a topic of frequent discussion in foreign language literature.

A great deal has been written about reading and a great deal of research has been carried out on the process of reading and accordingly many models have been proposed concerning the reading process, among which are the bottom-up model, top-down model and schema-theory model. The one which influences EFL reading teaching most in China is the bottom-up model, which until comparatively recently, has dominated both first and second language research and theory. Such a model holds that reading is a unidirectional process. And in this perspective, each word, each well-formed sentence, and every well-formed text passage is said to “have” a meaning which is often conceived to be “in” the text, to have a separate, independent existence from both the writer and the reader (Carrell and Eisterhold, 1983). Since to extract the full meaning of a written text has been considered the ultimate goal of the reader, he or she is required to process each of its individual sentences. “This, in turn, depends on having correctly analyzed the clauses and phrases of those sentences, which depends on having recognized the component words of those units, which depend upon having recognized their component letters. Therefore, the processes involved in reading appear to be organized, hierarchically.” (M. J. Adams, 1982)

The central notion behind the bottom-up model is that reading is basically a matter of decoding a series of written symbols into their aural equivalents. Once the meaning enters the mind of the decoder, the comprehension is achieved. Cambourne (1979), who uses the term “outside-in” rather than bottom-up, provides the following illustration of how the process is supposed to work:

Print---Every letter---Phonemes and graphemes---Blending---Pronunciation---Meaning discriminated matched

In such a model of reading process, the writer provides information for the reader who is seen as “the recipient” of information or as an “empty vessel” bringing nothing to the text but instead needs only to open his or her mind to let the meaning pour in.

Such a unidirectional model of reading provides the reading teacher with “a rational structure for instructional programs: start at the bottom, with single letter recognition, and successively work up through the higher level skills.”(M. J. Adams, 1982) Thus, according to (Carrell, 1989) “problems of second language reading and reading comprehension are viewed as being essentially decoding problems, deriving meaning from print.” Such a conventional view of the reading process has greatly influenced not only the aims of EFL reading teaching, the design of EFL reading textbooks but also EFL reading teaching procedure.

1.2 Aims of EFL Reading Teaching

In EFL reading teaching, the instruction goals are of two kinds: the ultimate goal, which is to promote the students’ comprehension from the text as well as their ability to comprehend from the text, and staged goal, which is to enlarge the students’ linguistic knowledge. The goals are so classified on the assumption that if the students’ linguistic knowledge is increased, their reading comprehension will be automatically improved accordingly. The latter is achieved by realizing the staged goal. In reality, however, it is not the case. As the reading teachers over-emphasize the attaining of the staged goal, they, consciously or unconsciously, overlook the ways of achieving the ultimate goal.

As a result, far from giving instruction on reading proficiency, EFL reading teaching gives priority to the input of new language materials with the immediate aim of imparting knowledge of vocabulary, grammatical and discourse structures for the development of other language skills to make better performance in examinations. Thus, the teachers choose shortish texts to train the students’ language skills in detail. In other words, they emphasize intensive reading only, neglecting extensive reading, another approach to improving the students’ reading comprehension, which is necessary and complementary to intensive reading, and which uses longer texts, sometimes even employs complete books.

1.3 Characteristics of EFL Reading Textbooks

Based on the staged goal of the EFL reading instruction, most textbooks are designed to improve the students’ linguistic knowledge, therefore are often quite different from the reading materials we meet outside the classroom. Most of the textbooks in use carry the following defects:

1. Many texts are simplified to be within the linguistic range of the students at different levels of the language in order to make the students understand easily, but only to miss some important cohesive devices, result in a distortion of the original proposition. Such texts turn out to be more difficult to understand than the original ones.

2. Many texts are over-explicit: they say too much, spell out too many details, so that there is no room for inference and hence no chance for the students to practise this important skill. (Nuttall, 1982)

3. Some texts are less informative than it ought to, they deal with over-familiar topics, recounting facts that have long been part of the students’ general world knowledge. The students find such texts exceedingly boring and lose interest in reading them.

4. Texts are often contrived because of the desire to include numerous examples of a specific teaching items (e.g. a tense). Such written texts are used as a means for new vocabulary and /or grammar structure.

So it is fairly common for such texts to begin along the following lines:

It is eight o’clock in the morning. Mr. Smith is in the dining room of their house. Mr. Smith is sitting at the table reading his newspaper. He is waiting for his breakfast. Mrs. Smith is in the kitchen cooking breakfast for Mr. Smith, her husband, and their two children. John and Mary…

The text would then continue in a similar way. Obviously, reading materials of such a kind seem artificial because the intention is to draw the students’ attention to items of structural usage rather than the authentic features which are characteristic of ‘real’ texts, or what makes texts ‘hang together’.

1.4 Typical EFL Reading Teaching Procedure

In actual teaching, the reading teachers tend to adopt the traditional view of reading process

regarding reading as a linguistic process rather than a thinking process, therefore, the emphasis

has always been exclusively on the language to be comprehended and not on the comprehender.

According to Elizabeth Buchter Bernhardt (1984): “A typical reading lesson consists of one or a

combination of the following:

1. a reading passage which contains the grammatical structures to be taught for the unit;

2. glossed vocabulary consisting generally of the long words in a text;

3. a vocabulary list consisting of long words;

4. a set of comprehension questions.”

The average classroom teaching tends to follow what is offered in the textbook. And the

typical reading teaching procedure goes as follows:

1. the teacher gives a detailed analysis of the glossed words from their

pronunciation, spelling to their meanings; from their morphological features to their functions.

2. the reading passage is either read to the students or the students read the

selection aloud.

3. the teacher paraphrases the whole passage sentence by sentence with chief attention

focused on the grammatical structures.

4. the students answer the comprehension questions.

It is evident that during such teaching procedure, reading instruction is changed into

language improvement instruction, with the teacher taking the students through a text on a

word-by-word, phrase-by phrase-basis, explaining points of vocabulary , syntax, style and

content along the way. The students never actively participate in the reading process, but rather

they passively listen to the teacher and learn new linguistic items by rote. As a result, the

students’ reading comprehension still remains weak, their reading speed is very low, their cultural

background knowledge is poor and their reading skills are by no means improved. It is no

wonder that in actual examinations, their performance is unsatisfactory, with the scores the

students have got out of the section of reading comprehension only averaging to less than 50% in

the above mentioned examinations.

Fortunately, with the development of psychology, psycholinguistics, applied linguistics as

well as the text linguistics in the 1970s, people have had deeper understanding of the nature of

reading process. They have come to realize that the principal shortcoming of the bottom-up model seems not to derive from incomplete or misconceived analyses of text so much as from the assumption that reading is the process of extracting information from text. And “more specifically, it is argued that in the reading situation, as in any effective communication situation, the message or text provides but one of the critical sources of information. The rest must come from the reader’s own prior knowledge, which the reader can and do activate in top-down fashion to complement or anticipate the upward flow of information from the page.” (M. J. Adams, 1982)

As with the bottom-up models, there are a number of variations in this approach, but basically all agree that the reader rather than the text is the focus of the reading process. Cambourne (1979, P65) provides the following illustrations of the approach:

Past experience, language---Selective aspects---Meaning---Sound, pronunciation

intuitions and expectations of print if necessary

Obviously, this approach emphasizes the reconstruction of meaning rather than the decoding of form. Rather than decode each symbol, or even every word, the reader forms hypotheses about text elements and then “samples” the text to determine whether or not the hypotheses are correct.

Such top-down processing is an essential component of skilled reading. It enables the reader to resolve ambiguities and select among alternate interpretations of the text. Moreover, it provides a means by which the reader can use his or her own knowledge as a source of redundancy—as a means of reducing the amount of effort that must be made in extracting visual detail from the text (M. J. Adams, 1982). The distinctive feature of this psycholinguistic model is Goodman’s emphasis on the central directing role of reader’s predictions with minimum attention to visual decoding.

Enlightened by such a theory of reading model, some of the reading teachers, in their teaching practice, have come to follow the text-oriented model. They lay little emphasis on lexical analysis and sentence parsing, but instead on such textual features as reference, cohesion, rhetorical patterns and semantic coherence, in that “text is the core of the reading process, the means by which the message is transmitted from writer to reader.” (Nuttall, 1982, P15) And such empirical studies have indeed indicated that discourse or textual constraints together with semantic and syntactic constraints “serve as important sources of information for the fluent first-language reader.” (Cziko, 1978, P485) and that “much of the difficulty in reading a second

language may be due to the inability of the second-language reader to make full use of these contextual constraints” (ibid.). Compared with the afore-said word- or sentence- oriented approach based on the bottom-up theory, the text-oriented approach might prove to be a leap forward in EFL reading teaching and more effective in fostering students’ reading ability. Yet, it still focuses on the language per se, though admittedly on a unit larger and more comprehensive than the sentence, i.e., on the text or discourse. Researchers, therefore, assert that EFL readers’ failures to comprehend a non-defective texts are viewed as mostly due to their language deficiency—“perhaps a word was not in the reader’s vocabulary, a rule of grammar was misapplied, an anaphoric cohesive tie was improperly coordinated, and so on.” (Carrell and Eisterhold, 1983)

From the above analysis of both word- or sentence-oriented and text- or discourse-oriented method in EFL reading teaching, it becomes clear that neither of them can present a comprehensive view on the nature of the reading process, thus neither of them can hold water completely. More and more linguists and reading researchers, especially those of schema theory, have in recent years, come to be aware of the nature of the difficulties that the reader encounters in reading. Besides the linguistic problems which are taken as a great obstacle to effective reading, there are, in fact, many other non-linguistic factors giving rise to failures in EFL reading comprehension, among which is the role of the reader’s prior knowledge, especially his or her cultural background knowledge he or she brings to the reading task. This is what those involved in EFL reading teaching often neglect in real practice.

Chapter Two Cultural Content Schema and Its Effects

on EFL Reading

As a matter of fact, the emphasis on the role of the prior knowledge of the reader in reading comprehension is not new. As early as 1781, Immanuel kant, a German philosopher, asserted that new information, new concepts, new ideas can have meaning for an individual only when they can be related to something the individual already knows. It was not until more recently, however, that Anderson et al. (1977,P369) have restated this notion: “Every act of comprehension involves one’s knowledge of the world as well.” Recent research in schema

theory has borne out the truth of both Kant’s and Anderson’s observations. Schema theory research has shown the role of background knowledge within a psycholinguistic model of reading. With the emergence of schema theory, the concern has not been the relationship between the text and a putative stage of language development, but rather the relationship between the reader and the text (Eddie and Moran, 1989). In this chapter, we will try to reveal the effects of cultural content schema on EFL reading from schema-theoretic perspective with some elaboration of this theory.

2.1 Schema and Its Theory

The introduction of schema as an important construct is attributed variously to (a) Piaget in his many books such as The Origins of Intelligence in Children (1952), (b) Bartlett in Remembering (1932) and (c) Kant in Critique of Pure Reason (1787/1968). And Bartlett (1932) was generally recognized as the first psychologist to use the term “schema” in the sense that it is used today, who in his classic book Remembering (1932, P201) defined the term “schema” as “an active organization of past reactions, or past experience.” The concept of a schema together with its related notions has been rigorously investigated in psycholinguistics and in studies of comprehension in recent years. For example, Minsky (1975); Bobrow and Norman (1975); Rumelhart (1975,1980); Schank and Abelson (1975). Some of the researchers even assigned to it other technical terms which may be thought of as parts of the same general, cognitive approach to text processing: scripts, plans, and goals (Schank and Abelson 1977), frames (Minsky 1975; Fillmore 1976; Tannen 1979), expectations (1978), and event chains (Warren, Nichola and Trabasso 1979).

Schema, according to Anderson and Pearson (1984), is an abstract knowledge structure which the reader brings to the text while reading. It is abstract in the sense that it summarizes what is known about a variety of cases that differ in many particulars. It is structured in the sense that it presents the relationships among its component parts. According to S. Kathleen Kitao (1989), it is composed of “slots” for each component, including information about constraints in what can fill the slot. As part of the process of comprehension, a reader fills in the slots in the schema with information from the text, and for slots not explicitly mentioned in the text, with default values or values inferred from other slots. This process is referred to as instantiation of the schema. It is necessary for comprehension, since the writer does not specify every piece of information necessary for comprehension of a text.

The role of background knowledge, according to Carrell (1984), has been formalized as schema theory which holds that any text, either spoken or written, does not carry meaning by itself; rather, a text only provides directions for listeners or readers as to how they should retrieve or construct meaning from their own, previously acquired knowledge. Such knowledge is called the reader’s background knowledge; the previously acquired knowledge structures are called schemata.

According to schema theory, which began to emerge in the late 1970s and became the driving force behind empirical investigations of basic processes in comprehending a reading passage, comprehending a text is an interactive process between the reader’s background knowledge and the text. Efficient comprehension requires the ability to relate the textual material to one’s own knowledge (Carrell, 1984). Obviously, schema theory research has demonstrated the importance of background knowledge within a reader-centered psycholinguistic processing model. The schemata are of two broad types: formal or textual schemata and content schemata. Carrell (1983a) made a distinction between the two and defined the former as the reader’s background knowledge of the formal, rhetorically organizational structures of different types of texts, the latter, on the other hand, as the background knowledge of the content areas of the texts. Specifically speaking, the formal schema is the reader’s background knowledge about, and expectations of, the differences among rhetorical structures, such as the differences in genre, that is, the differences in the structure of simple stories, scientific reports, newspaper articles, poetry, etc.; while content schema is the reader’s background knowledge about the subject matters of texts, such as going shopping, eating at a restaurant, washing clothes, etc.

Schema theory holds that an EFL reader’s failure to activate an appropriate schema during reading may result in different degrees of non-comprehension.

2.2 Schema-theory Model of Reading Process

Developed from the interactive-model of Rumelhart, schema-theory model of reading process, according to Carrell (1983a) asserts that the process of interpretation is guided by the principle that every input is mapped against some existing schema and that all aspects of that schema must be compatible with the input information. The principle results in two basic modes of information processing: bottom-up processing and top-down processing.

Bottom-up processing is evoked by the incoming data; the features of the data enter the system through the best fitting, bottom level schemata. Schemata are hierarchically organized

from the most general at the top to most specific at the bottom. As these bottom-up schemata converge into higher level, more general schemata, these too become activated. Therefore, bottom-up process is also called data-driven, whereas, top-down processing occurs as the system makes general predictions based on higher level, general schemata and then searches the input for information to fit into these partially satisfied, higher order schemata. Hence, top-down processing is called conceptually-driven.

To achieve successful comprehension, the two modes of information processing should be occurring at all levels simultaneously (Rumelhart, 1980). The data needed to fill out the schemata become available through bottom-up processing; top-down processing, on the other hand, facilitates their assimilation if they are anticipated or consistent with the reader’s conceptual expectations. Bottom-up processing insures that the reader will be sensitive to information that is novel or that does not fit their ongoing hypotheses about the content or structure of the text; top-down processing helps the reader to resolve ambiguities or select between alternative possible interpretations of the incoming data. The following figure demonstrates the interactive nature of schema theory model of text processing, which is adapted from the model proposed by Johnson, Shek and Law in 1989:

Top-down Text Content

Processing Schemata Schemata

Understanding

(Sentence level processing) (Inter-sentential processing)

Bottom-up Processing cohesion cohesion cohesion

Figure2-1: An Interactive Model of Text-Processing

(Adapted from that of Johnson, Shek and Law,1989)

To illustrate the effects of background knowledge, schematic interpretation and simultaneity of bottom-up and top-down processing, consider the following text from Nuttal (1996, P7):

The bus careered along and ended up in the hedge. Several passengers were hurt. The driver was questioned by the police.

On reading these few lines, most of the readers are able to construct a rather complete interpretation of the text, since we have a schema about buses, which includes the fact that buses carry passengers, and that a bus has a driver. Hence, we visualize that the passengers mentioned were in the bus (and not in a car that happened to be there) and that the driver was the bus driver, not from another vehicle. Though the sentences do not actually tell us these things, we are making inferences based on our experience.

Our bus schema also includes that buses run on roads; thus we infer that the bus was rushing at full speed along a road, even though no road is mentioned. This means that our road schema is activated, which for some readers will also include components such as walls, hedges, fences to mark the limit of a road. These readers will easily form a mental picture that the bus goes too fast, leaving the road and crashing into the hedge that bordered it. Those readers whose road schema does not include hedges along roads may have difficulty here.

Then comes our driver schema, which for most of us include the idea that the driver is responsible for the safety of the vehicle driven. This will consequently, lead to the idea that the police questioned him (probably our schema sees a bus driver as a male!). Therefore, we will not be surprised if the next sentence told us that the driver was arrested, because we probably have a schema associating police questioning with guilt. The readers might keep this interpretation unless some contradictory information is encountered. Notice what happens if the reader next encountered this final sentence:

She was later congratulated on her quick thinking and skillful handling of the bus when the brakes failed.

Yes, the driver was a woman. For the readers who had not thought this possibility, their bus driver schema will change to accommodate it so as to make the whole text cohere with the

interaction between bottom-up processing and top-down processing.

So we may claim that as long as the incoming information being processed through bottom-up processing and the conceptual predictions being made through top-down processing are compatible, we have a satisfactory interpretation of the text. When we encounter a mismatch between the top-down predictions and the bottom-up information, we are forced to revise the interpretation in such a way as to make the two compatible once again.

Thus, according to schema-theory model, if the reader activates an appropriate schema and succeeds in giving a text a consistent interpretation, then he or she has comprehended the text. If the reader does not effectively utilize his or her bottom-up processing mode to activate the schema, or if he or she does not possess the appropriate schema anticipated by the author, in either case, a mismatch exists between what the writer anticipates the reader can do to construct meaning from the text and what the reader is actually able to do. (Carrell, 1983) As a result, non-comprehension of various degrees arises.

2.3 Cultural Content Schema and Its Functions in EFL Reading

Carrell and Eisterhold (1983) suggested that one of the most obvious reasons why a particular content schema may fail to exist for a reader which leads to non-comprehension of various kinds is that the schema is culturally specific and not part of a particular reader’s cultural background. Thus a comprehensive understanding of cultural content schema and its effects on EFL reading becomes ultimately important to throw some new light to EFL reading pedagogy. Simply put, cultural content schemata, one specific kind of content schemata within the framework of schema theory, is what colloquially called, a reader’s cultural background knowledge germane to the comprehending of a reading passage. A full understanding of the term entails some knowledge of another relevant term “culture”.

Culture, as defined by anthropologists, is “…the whole way of life of a people or a group. In this context, culture includes all the social practices that bond a group of people together and distinguish them from others.” (Montgomery and Reid-Thomas, 1994, P4) Culture may also be thought of as being composed of three levels: (1) popular culture, including customs, ceremonies, the way of living, i.e., housing, clothing and food, transportation and human relation; (2) advanced culture, referring to philosophy, literature, art, religion, science, technology, invention and so on; and (3) deep culture, concerning conception, values, beliefs, world outlook, etc..

Thus, by cultural content schema is meant the reader’s cognitive network of all the above

mentioned aspects covered in the notion culture, in such a conceptual framework there may also be some knowledge about those frequently used cultural-loaded words, phrases, idioms, including the euphemistic expressions and literary quotations. A reader’s cultural content schemata of these kinds may exert greater influence on his or her comprehension of a reading text.

The first American linguist to incorporate cultural background information into a description of meaning was Fries (1945,1963) in whose analysis, there are three levels of meaning: lexical, grammatical, and social-cultural. Comprehension of the total meaning of a sentence occurs only when the linguistic meaning of the sentence is fitted into ‘a social framework of organized information’. However, it was not until in the 1970s when schema theory came into being that the important role of cultural background knowledge of the reader in EFL reading became an issue of wide concern among psycholinguists and applied linguists, who consequently carried out a series of empirical research to confirm the assumption.

Research by Gatbonton and Tucker (1971) substantiated that due to cultural misunderstandings, EFL students drew incorrect assumptions when reading unfamiliar texts; however, when provided with pertinent cultural information, their performance increased significantly. Based on schema theory and research findings of such kind, we focus, in this section, on the functions of three specific kinds of cultural content schemata for EFL reading comprehension, namely: cultural customs, religion and cultural-loaded words.

Motivated by schema theory and the fact that even highly proficient speakers of English often find it quite difficult to read English texts, Steffenson, Joag-Dev and Anderson (1979) carried out a study in which subjects from India and the United States were asked to read and recall two texts describing an Indian wedding and an American wedding respectively. Weddings, as we know, are rituals of general as well as particular significance. Each adult, in this study, whatever his or her cultural orientation, has a well-developed schema for the concept of a marriage and for the ceremonies by means of which people wed, although the details of that schema will vary with cultural differences. Both groups of subjects read their native passage more rapidly, recalled a large amount of information, and produced more culturally appropriate elaboration. On the other hand, when the subjects read the foreign passage, more culturally inappropriate distortions appeared.

The research by Steffenson et al. (1979), Johnson (1978) and Carrell (1981) has attested that implicit cultural content knowledge presupposed by a text interacts with the reader’s own cultural background knowledge to make texts whose content is based on one’s own culture easier to read and comprehend than syntactically and rhetorically equivalent text based on a less

familiar, more distant culture.

As an illustration of the functions of cultural content schemata for EFL reading, take the following passage (Rumelhart, 1980) as an example:

Business had been slow since the oil crisis. Nobody seemed to want anything really elegant anymore. Suddenly the door opened and a well-dressed man entered the showroom floor. John put on his friendliest and most sincere expression and walked toward the man.

“I’ll take it. Cash on the line,” the man asserted within a few minutes.

Later, as he was completing the paper work, John murmured to himself, “What does he really know about elegance?”

To an American, the comprehension of the passage involves the activation of a schema concerning buying and selling, which includes such slots as: a seller (John), a buyer (the well-dressed man), place of exchange (the showroom), manner of payment (cash on the line), and goods for exchange (car). Based on his life experience, though there is no mention of the word “car” anywhere in the passage, he can still make inference about the event from the first sentence “Business had been slow since the oil crisis.” which has already alluded to the relation between the goods and oil. “Showroom” (in American culture, a place for selling new cars) and “elegance”, which appear later in the passage further reinforce his inference about what is going on in the showroom. However, to a reader who comes from a country rich in oil or from a country where cars are not as popular as in the United States, or a reader who knows little about showroom, non-comprehension or misinterpretation may arise due to non-possession of the above schema, even though he has a perfect understanding of the surface meaning of the passage.

To further illustrate the role of cultural content schema in EFL reading, consider the following passage, which is often cited as a concrete example in the schema theory literature. Ship Christening Schema contained in the passage is diagrammed in Figure 2-2 on page 19, as a possible representation.

Suppose one reads a passage, which reads as follows:

Queen Elizabeth participated in a long-delayed ceremony in Clydebank, Scotland, yesterday. While there is still bitterness here, following the protracted strike, on this occasion a crowd of shipyard workers numbering in the hundreds joined dignitaries in cheering as The HMS Pinafore

slipped into the water.

A better understanding of the passage makes necessary a reader’s possession of the cultural content schema of Ship Christening in some western countries, which may contain six parts: (1) being done to bless a ship, (2) being chaired by a celebrity, (3) taking place in a dry dock, (4) being done just before the launching of a new ship, (5) breaking the bottles of champagne on the bow, etc.. (Anderson and Pearson, 1984) If a reader has a preexisting cultural content schema as such, he or she may form the following mental picture: “HMS Pinafore” fits the <ship> slot, “Queen Elizabeth” fits the <celebrity> slot, it ‘slipped into the water’ conform to the <just before launching> slot. Though there is no mention made of a bottle of champagne being broken on the ship’s bow, this ‘default’ inference is easily made.

Figure 2-2 (Anderson and Pearson, 1984)

To get an idea of how a model of schema activation of this type might work, Anderson and Pearson (1984) gave the following two sentences:

Princess Anne broke the bottle on the ship.

The waitress broke the bottle on the ship.

For the first sentence, the <celebrity> slot, the <ship> as well as the <breaking bottle> slots are matched and a ship christening interpretation is coming to a reader’s mind, if there is anything omitted at the end of the sentence, the reader may infer that it is an ellipsis for “on the bow of the ship”. The second sentence, however, for most readers, will not imply a ship christening but rather a scene in the ship’s dining room. This inference is in harmony with the schema-activation model because a waitress will not fit in the <celebrity> slot and thus there is less evidence for a ship christening interpretation.

For a Chinese reader, whose schema about nominating a ship is often composed of beating drums, playing music, letting off firecrackers and cutting the ribbon, the above passage may turn out to be difficult to comprehend. Thus, as the case stands, a good comprehension of a reading passage entails the interaction between the reader’s relevant cultural content schemata and the incoming new information in the passage, lacking such schemata may result in reading short-circuit.

2.4 Cultural Content Schema and EFL Reading Short-circuit

The discussion so far has made it clear that what a reader knows about the target culture is a principal determiner of what he or she can comprehend, the less he knows about it, the more likely reading short-circuit will occur. By reading short-circuit we mean the situation in which the reader can not figure out any information or message from the text he is reading, namely, he fails to understand the text he is reading. Of course, there are many reasons for the occurrence of reading short-circuit, among which are the reader’s limited language control as well as his or her non-possession of the pertinent cultural content schemata to comprehend the text. The results of Clarke’s experiments (1980) to find out whether native Spanish readers transferred their reading skills to an ESL context not only implied some transfer of language skills, but also suggested that limited language ability interfered with the employment of fluent interactive strategies. Based on such findings, Clarke proposed a “short-circuit” hypothesis, suggesting that limited language proficiency short-circuits the normal approach to reading. Here in this section of the thesis, attention is focused on another factor which Rumelhart considered to be of greater significance than the reader’s limited language control for understanding and resolving the problems of reading short-circuit, i.e., the reader’s lack of appropriate cultural content schema or failure to activate appropriate schema to make sense of the reading passage.

Take for example the passage quoted and discussed by Bernhardt (1984, P326):

They gave me a chance. They sent me a card saying I should come to the board and I went to the board. At the board they were very nice. They took my card and said: “Hm.” I also said: “Hm.” “Which leg?” asked the official. “Right.” “Entirely?” “Entirely.” “Hm,” he said again. Then he looked through some papers. I was allowed to sit down. Finally the man found what seemed to be the right paper. He said: “I think there’s something here for you. A nice circumstance. You can sit during it. Shoe shiner in a public lavatory on the federal square. How would that be?” “I can’t shine shoes. I’ve always been obviously bad at shining shoes.”

The passage originally written in German was used for testing the American students who learn German as a foreign language. Though the language was rather simple and the readers can interpret the surface meaning well, yet due to lack of cultural background knowledge on the part of the readers, incomprehension or miscomprehension still occurs. An undergraduate senior student who had just returned from one year of study in Germany and who had met many people there trying to avoid military service, misinterpreted the passage as: A guy who did not want to get drafted did something to his leg to shun it. But the man at the desk, instead of letting him go, told him he had to shine shoes. And the other guy still tried to get out of military service by telling the man at the desk that he’s not good at shining shoes. While a less-experienced student, who also read the passage, constructed it with the following: “I don’t know. I think it’s probably a joke that I don’t understand. I don’t understand why it’s a big chance for the man to shine shoes in a lavatory.” Evidently, the second student has no relevant cultural background knowledge within his cognitive framework. Thus, the passage was regarded as illogical and, therefore, a joke. Apparently, misinterpretation and incomprehension of the two readers respectively result from their lack of the pertinent cultural content schemata on living conditions in post-war Germany, the treatment and the predicament of returning German soldiers, and so on. As a result, short-circuit in comprehending the above passage will ensue.

For Chinese students, EFL reading short-circuit arises not only due to their lack of appropriate background knowledge about the customs, the living conditions of the target culture, as shown by the above mentioned example, but also due to their little knowledge about the culturally loaded words, which more often than not are employed to reflect the attitudes, the values of the people using them. Xu Guozhang (1983) gave a ready example snow to explain

what he meant by a culturally loaded word. The word has its three different references in a tropical culture, a temperate culture and an arctic culture respectively. In a tropical culture snow as a physical state of water may make no sense at all; in a temperate culture weathermen distinguish three snows (heavy, medium, light); the Eskimos in their arctic culture, it is said, make a distinction of as many as thirty snows.

Besides the word snow, horse, and color terms, which may have no counterparts in other cultures, culturally loaded words also embrace: (1) words with different connotations in western culture and Chinese culture, such as: dog, dragon, lion, owl, peacock, east wind, west wind, sea gull, girl friend and boy friend, individualism, freedom, democracy, materialism, etc.; (2) words characterizing western culture: enlightenment, allegory, melodrama, soliloquy, epic, classicism, utopian literature, impressionism, etc.; (3) figures in western literature: Shakespeare’s Romeo, Juliet, Shylock, Antonio, Hamlet, Othello; Defor’s Robinson and Friday; Dicken’s Pickwick; Thackeray’s Rebecca; Hardy’s Tess; Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer; Mary wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as Stowe’s Uncle Tom, etc.. The category may also includes unique figures in Greek myth: Zeus (the chief deity), Poseidon (god of the sea and of horses), Prometheus (a Titan stealing fire from Heaven for the benefit of mankind), and Athena (the goddess of wisdom, skills and warfare), etc.. Without a good command of these culturally loaded terms, the Chinese readers can in no way comprehend the following simple sentences:

You are a luck dog.

A black hen lays a white egg.

She is a bit of a dragon around this place.

I was not Pygmalion, I was Frankenstein.

They were eager to take the young peacock down a peg.

Oil is the Achilles’ heel of the trade picture now.

Consider another text given by Baudoin et al. (1977, P184):

Although housewives still make up the majority of volunteer groups, male participation is reported on the rise nationwide as traditional distinctions between men’s work and women’s work begin to fade.

The short-circuit arising in reading the text was, according to Rivers and Temperley (1978), also due to the lack of knowledge of the culturally loaded phrase: volunteer groups. Though the lexical items volunteer and groups were unquestionably understood by one student, the concept

of volunteer groups (mainly, female, unpaid social workers) was clearly not understood since he wondered if these women had volunteered to be housewives.

In a similar vein, when encountering the simple sentence “It’s really Catch-22, isn’t it?” in an extensive reading passage entitled Is Being Single Still out of Line, my 97 school year postgraduates came to short-circuit. The reason is that they knew nothing about Catch-22, a novel written by an American writer, Joseph Heller (1961). Therefore they may fail to understand the connotative meaning of the phrase, which, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (1996), is “a paradox in a law, regulation, or practice that makes one a victim of its provisions no matter what one does”. After my brief elaboration of the novel as well as my brief explanation of the phrase, they came to understand the implied meaning of the sentence, i.e., the heroine’s plight when people in her village questioned her about her personal life.

In like manner, Chris Weller, the coach of Women’s Basketball Team of Maryland University also used this phrase in recalling the opportunity of Women’s basketball match in the 1960s. Her words was quoted by New York Times on March 31, 1989:

“The girls had ‘honor teams’”, she recalled, with just a trace of scorn, “You could play six games a year. I asked why and they had no arguments. It was a Catch-22. You had no interest so you couldn’t have a gym so you had in interest.”

Euphemism and taboos may also fall into the category of culturally loaded terms. Lack of knowledge about them will also give rise to reading short-circuit. Since in almost every culture there are always certain things and behaviors people do not talk about due to various reasons, supernatural or because of such behaviors’ violating its moral codes. Thus when these things have to be mentioned, people talk about them in very roundabout ways, or through deliberate circumlocutions, i.e., euphemistically to neutralize the unpleasantness. Taboos, as asserted by Ronald Wardhaugh (1992), cover a wide range of subjects: sex, excretion, bodily functions, religious matters; and politics, etc.. Euphemisms, the results of “dressing up” certain areas in life to make them more presentable are perhaps more obvious in western culture than taboo words, and may cover even wider range of subjects, including the subjects of death and dying, unemployment, and criminality.

Take for example, to avoid direct mention of death or dying, a rather unpleasant subject, statistics show 106 euphemistic words or expressions are used, including to pass away, to be no more, to be gone, to go west, to meet one’s Maker, to return to dust/ earth, breathe the last

breath, etc.. In the speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx, Engels said, “On the 14th of March, at a quarter t three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think.” The euphemistic expression ceased to think implying “died” showed Engels’ deep sorrow on Marx’s death and his great respect to Marx.

With the social development euphemism has permeated politics, economy, education as well as other aspects of human life. As a result, there appeared many euphemistic words or expressions. For example, rather than saying garbage collector, plumber, gardener, people prefer to say sanitation engineer, sanitary engineer, landscape architect etc. to beautify certain occupations.

Thus, without a good command of euphemistic words and expressions of these kinds and such cultural content schemata, the readers’ proper understanding of the implied meaning conveyed by the author in the written text can on no account be achieved.

The above analysis of cross-cultural experimentation on the relationship between cultural content schema and EFL reading lends support to the assertion that EFL comprehension is a function of cultural content schemata. If the reader possesses the appropriate schemata assumed by the writer, he or she makes sense of what is stated and effortlessly makes inferences intended. If he does not, or if he makes the inferences based on the content schemata of his own culture, he distorts meaning as he attempts to accommodate even explicitly stated propositions to his own preexisting knowledge structures and reading short-circuit may ensue. The above analysis also makes it clear that activating, building and expanding the students’ existing cultural knowledge of a topic prior to reading by provision of vicarious or real experiences becomes an essential part of EFL reading instruction.

Chapter Three Implications of Cultural Content Schema

Given the importance of cultural content schema to EFL reading comprehension, as attested in Chapter Two by schema theory and a growing body of empirical research based on schema theory, we focus, in this chapter, on the implications of cultural content schema for EFL reading pedagogy to help make EFL reading teaching more effective and achieve the immediate goal of EFL reading teachers, which, as suggested by Carrell and Eisterhold in 1983, is to minimize the reading difficulties and to maximize comprehension by providing students with for EFL Reading Pedagogy

culturally relevant information.

3.1 Implications for Classroom Activities

Research in schema theory in general and in the functions of cultural content schemata in EFL reading comprehension in particular carries certain classroom implications to build and activate students’ cultural background knowledge. Some suggested activities that are of great value include: pre-reading activities, vocabulary instruction, while-reading activities as well as post-reading activities.

3.1.1 Pre-reading Activities

Available research has suggested an affirmative answer to the question of whether we can improve students’ reading proficiency by helping them build and activate their cultural background knowledge on the topic prior to reading through pre-reading activities (Carrell, 1984). Thus a number of organized pre-reading approaches and methods have been proposed in the literature for facilitating reading through activation of cultural background knowledge. Stevens (1982) demonstrated that the reading comprehension of a text about the battle for Alamo was significantly facilitated by giving experimental groups of tenth grade boys a prior guest lecture on the Taxas war (relevant background information which did not include what would appear later either in the text or in the multiple-choice comprehension questions about the text), while giving control groups a prior guest lecture on the American Civil War.

Besides such lectures as did by Stevens, direct teaching of appropriate cultural background information may also include various other kinds of pre-reading activities: viewing movies, slides, pictures; field trips; demonstrations; real-life experiences; classroom discussions or debates; plays, skits, and other role play activities; teacher- text, or student-generated predictions about the text; text previewing; introduction and discussion of special vocabulary to be encountered in the text; key-word/key concept association activities; and even prior reading of related texts (Hudson,1982; Carrell, 1984; Wilson, 1987).

As a pre-reading activity, we think, Pre-reading Plan (PReP) of Langer (1981), merits special mentioning and can be used for reference in our EFL reading teaching practice.

The PreP is a three-step assessment/instructional procedure, which uses a

discussion-based activity in the assessment stage which allows the teacher, as well as the students, to define the amount of information the students have about a particular topic and how this information is organized. During this stage, the teacher becomes sensitized to the language the students use to express their ideas and assesses how much additional background information is needed in order to facilitate comprehension of the text.

According to Langer (1981,P89), in preparation for the discussion, the teacher using PReP examines the text and selects a key word, phrase, or picture to stimulate group discussion. If, for example, the text deals with the U.S. form of democratic government, the teacher might choose Congress, checks and balances, or bicameral. A detailed picture of a courtroom scene might be used for a text about the judicial system. The teacher tells the students the topic they will be reading about and then begins the PReP, which involves three phases:

1. Initial associations with the concept. In this first phase, the teacher introduces a key word, concept or picture to stimulate a discussion and says “Tell anything that comes to mind when…” (e.g., “…you hear the word ‘congress’). Then the teacher jots each response on the blackboard. Maybe one student may respond “important people”, another may say “Washington, D. C.”. Thus the student have their first opportunity to see which associations already exist between the key concept and their prior knowledge.

2. Reflections on initial associations. By asking the students questions, such as, “What made you think of …(the response given by a student, say ‘important people’ or ‘Washington, D.

C.’)?” the students become aware of their existing schemata, they also have the opportunity to accept, reject or revise their own initial associations and to integrate them into a more accurate schema of the target concept.

3. Reformulation of knowledge. The teacher’s question of “whether you have any new idea about …(e.g., ‘congress’)?” in this final phase provides the opportunity for students to verbalize any changes or modifications of their associations through the discussion.

The PReP helps the teacher to probe what kinds of cultural content schemata the students have already possessed and helps the students link their prior existing cultural background knowledge with concepts in the text, thus setting up appropriate cultural content schemata about the reading passage.

Previewing short sections of the text to allow students to formulate hypotheses about the text may also help refine and extend students’ cultural content schemata. The benefits of previewing techniques, as pointed out by Swaffar (1981) are that by taking advantage of contextual clues---titles, headings, pictures, students are encouraged to draw inferences prior to

reading. In like manner, Carrell and Eisterhold (1983) discussed the importance of text previewing activities for ESL readers because of the potential cultural-specificity of text content.

These pre-reading activities, together with the comprehension questions of some texts following the passage that may be used of as pre-reading questions, function to motivate students to read for a purpose and to get students to predict, which prior existing knowledge to access and, within a general content area, what the text will be about.

Putting the PReP method into practice, when teaching the reading passage entitled Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrast to my 98th postgraduates, I did not ask them to prepare the lesson before class. I first asked them the question “What comes to your mind when you hear ‘the American Civil War’?” Some students told the class ‘1861-1865’, others said ‘Abraham Lincoln’, still others responded ‘the American north and the American south’. Then I gave them a brief demonstration about the cause of the war, some detailed information about the two counterparts of the war: the Union and the confederacy of which Grant and Lee represented respectively. After that I asked the students to make predictions about the content of the passage based on the title. Such activities helped the students relate what they previously knew about the war and what the text would be about, thus they were more motivated and more interested in reading the passage to confirm their predictions.

The pre-reading activities of the above mentioned kinds can achieve two goals, according to Carrell (1984): building new background knowledge and activating existing background knowledge.

3.1.2 Vocabulary Instruction

The previous discussion on the functions of cultural content schema in EFL reading comprehension as well as on the reading short-circuit due to lack of appropriate cultural content schema bears out the importance of vocabulary instruction with emphasis on culture-loaded terms and expressions as an essential component of pre-reading activities. However, Carrell (1984) showed us that merely presenting a list of new or unfamiliar vocabulary items to be encountered in a text, even with definitions appropriate to their use in that text, did not guarantee the induction of new schemata. Then there arises a pertinent pedagogical question: How to give instruction on the cultural loaded terms?

Research in memory (Stevick, 1976, P107) suggested that words are stored and remembered in a network of associations. Thus when teaching vocabulary, Beck and Mckeown

(1983, P91) proposed to group words around a global semantic category. For example, the

category eating include the words obese, glutton, devour, appetite, fast, wholesome, nutrition,

famished, edible. The category people include the words accomplice, virtuoso, rival,

philanthropist, novice, hermit, tyrant, miser. Actually when teaching 92’ students of the

seven-year program the lesson entitled A Miserable, Merry Christmas, I employed such a method.

Before starting vocabulary instruction, I asked the students to brainstorm the words or

expressions associated with the word Christmas. They said Christmas cards, Christmas tree,

Christmas shopping, Christmas gifts, Santas Claus, chimney, stocking. Then I further expanded

the associations of the word in question by giving words like Christmas carols, Christmas

pudding, pie, turkey, etc.. These groupings help the teacher organize the instruction and allow

the students to build relationships among the words, a factor we believe will enhance their

forming new content schemata, which in turn lead to more chance of reading comprehension

success.

In a similar vein, Hanf (1971), McNiel (1984), Pearson and Johnson (1978), and others

suggested that a class-constructed semantic map can be of use to teach students to see how new

concepts can be defined and related to other concepts. In order to map the meaning of an

individual concept, the teacher may wish to include words telling properties, categories, and

examples. Begin by having students list related terms that come to mind. Then, put them

into a diagram in which the relations of property, category, or examples are indicated. A

possible pre-reading map for the concept “natural resource”, as illustrated by Judith Westphal

Irwin (1986) in Figure 3-1may serve as a model of semantic mapping in vocabulary teaching.

Brainstormed terms: valuable, rocks, trees, nature, water.

Map: Economic Resources

Example Example Example something the

such as gold

Figure 3-1 Class-Constructed Semantic Map for “Natural Resource”

(Judith Westphal Irwin, 1986)

Pearson and Johnson (1978), and Pearson and Spiro (1982) also encouraged teachers to use analogies, comparisons, even metaphors in an attempt to get students to “stretch” their semantic concepts and build bridges between what students already know about a concept and what they may need to know in order to read and comprehend a particular text.

Employing above mentioned methods to teach culture-loaded words, we think, may make vocabulary instruction more effective and more productive.

3.1.3 While-reading Instruction

Students’ active thinking, prediction having been aroused by the various kinds of pre-reading activities as well as by vocabulary instruction and their cultural specific schemata essential to the understanding of the text having been built and enriched, naturally comes while-reading phase of the reading instruction.

Rather than read and paraphrase the reading text in the traditional bottom-up model, the teacher should ask students to avail themselves of the schema theory reading model to have their prior cultural background knowledge interact with the incoming information of the passage.

During their reading, the teacher may help them put into practice the effective reading skills previously designed according to the texture and the content of the reading material. The teacher should insert questions such as: “ After reading the third paragraph, stop and make a picture in your mind. Does the new information conform to what you predict beforehand? Discuss it within your group (often four or five members).” “Then predict what will happen in the next paragraph.” Such teacher-posed questions or assignments as studies (e.g., Beck et al., 1982; Fielding et al., 1990; Morrow, 1984a, 1984b, 1985, 1986; Neuman, 1988) bore out (1) consistently focus on text structure or central text content; (2) encourage students to connect background knowledge to text ideas to make inferences, predictions, and elaborations; or prompt students to ask their own questions about the text. Students’ self-generated questions may also make students more actively participate in the interaction with the incoming information.

In other words, during the while-reading phase EFL students need to be taught to process texts interactively—moving back and forth between bottom-up and top-down processing–-reading texts using appropriate background knowledge but constantly checking and rearranging that knowledge as necessary to fit the details encountered during reading (Carrell,

1984).

3.1.4

According to Tierney and Cunningham (1984), under the assumption that post-reading activities will provide for the retention, reinforcement, extension and / or application of previous learning from text, teachers are frequently encouraged to consider post-reading activities an integral part of reading to learn. In the literature on reading comprehension, post questioning, group and whole class discussion, post-reading map and post-reading writing are among the most prevailing post-reading activities, which can also be used to expand students’ cultural content schemata.

As an elaboration of post-reading map, after I had given reading instruction of the above mentioned passage entitled Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrast, a diagram of the American Civil War was drawn on the blackboard as shown by Figure 3-2 on page 33.

After this part of activity, we can ask students to write a summary on the passage in question. This assignment provides students with an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned from the text and fit the new information into their previous cultural content schema about the American Civil War. Thus such a schema gets further expanded and a full understanding of this war is achieved. Activities of these kinds are designed not only to review text ideas but also to impart message about how readers construct meaning from what they read. In addition, having students provide written summaries will help teachers to discern problem areas in comprehension.

Post-reading Activities

3.2 Implications for a Shift of the Teacher’s Role

The relationship between cultural content schema and EFL reading as well as the classroom implications it carries makes necessary a shift of the teacher’s role from merely imparting linguistic knowledge to giving more emphasis on enriching students’ cultural background knowledge, as suggested by Stevens (1982, P 328): “ A teacher of reading might thus be viewed as a teacher of relevant information as well as a teacher of reading skills.” The reading teacher should, therefore, first of all have a good command of the cultural background knowledge. He or she should then try his or her best to probe what kinds of problems the students have in

dealing with culture-laden passage. Finally he or she should also make effective use of various kinds of classroom activities to help them build and enlarge their cultural content schemata and make their cultural content schemata interact with the incoming information to achieve real comprehension and promote their reading proficiency.

In other words, instead of the dominator of the reading class, the teacher should be a facilitator and an organizer of learning and a coequal with students. He or she holds the ultimate authority and bears the ultimate responsibility for meaning as suggested by schema theory. He or she also carries the responsibility for making the students the real comprehenders of real world reading. Besides the classroom activities, the teacher should also give after class assignment on extensive reading about the target culture to compensate for the brief encounter of the culture in reading class, making outside classroom reading an effective extension of inside classroom reading and making the two complement each other. Only in so doing can the students retain their reading interest and be trained to be independent readers without the crutch of the teacher in real life reading.

In addition to helping the students expand their cultural content schema, the teacher should also carry the responsibility of selecting reading materials to bring out real reading about the target culture.

3.3 Implications for Material Selection

With what has been discussed so far about cultural content schemata and the building and activating of appropriate cultural background knowledge, it becomes evident that actual selection of reading materials is of utmost importance to achieve real reading comprehension. Students may learn to build and activate relevant cultural background knowledge when the following are taken into consideration in the selection of reading materials.

3.3.1 Authentic Texts

Since what the students will encounter in real life reading will be genuine material/ discourse, we must provide them with authentic texts. By authentic is meant, in this sense,

those reading materials which are unmodified, longer, and conceptually complete, rather than those that are short, conceptually incomplete ones, i.e., the simplified texts.

Although there may be instances where simplification or modification is justified, there are several arguments in favor of the use of unsimplified materials. For instance, according to Fillmore (1981), when reading material is simplified or modified, it is often changed in ways that may make the material difficult. Many cohesive features tend to be eliminated in simplification, thus such texts do not necessarily aid comprehension and may, in effect, impede it. Furthermore, as proposed by Clarke and Silberstein (1977, P 136), the reading materials and activities should reflect the “real world” activities; while the modified materials may not reflect any real-world tasks.

Bearing such an argument in mind, rather than select simplified materials, the reading teachers may choose those authentic ones which will provide opportunity for students to read in depth in a content area, for “the more of a content area students are exposed to, the greater will be their building of appropriate background knowledge.” (Carrell, 1984) Then the students can employ such schemata in making sense of the new information and achieve comprehension of the reading texts.

According to Bernhardt (1984, P328), natural materials, i.e., the non-grammatically sequenced, non-linguistically manipulated materials, as argued extensively by Krashen and Terrell, accompanied by ancillary materials designed to provide culturally accurate background are essential, since readers need historical, economic, and visual information in order to approach the reading texts with adequate schemata for comprehending them. Comprehension materials, therefore, should be accompanied with ancillary materials provided either directly to students or to the teachers for classroom presentation.

Krashen’s “narrow reading” (1981) provides another kind of authentic texts. Narrow reading refers to reading that is confined to a single topic or to the texts of a single author. Krashen argues that “narrow reading, and perhaps narrow input in general, is more efficient for second language acquisition (Krashen, 1981, P23).” He asserts that narrow reading facilitates language acquisition because vocabulary and structure tend to be recycled by the writer; so it provides a built-in review. What is more important, from the perspective of schema theory, narrow reading allows appropriate schemata to be repeatedly assessed and further expanded. Moreover, “narrow reading in topics of obvious relevance and genuine interest to students is also potentially highly motivating, making them persist in their efforts at comprehension.” (Carrell, 1984)

Besides the natural materials of Krashen and Terrell, narrow reading of Krashen, there are other possibilities of selecting materials, one of which is to develop materials along the lines of those proposed by Paulston and Bruder (1976) who recommend using texts with local setting and specialized low frequency vocabulary, including local newspapers, pamphlets, brochures.

3.3.2

When selecting authentic materials as suggested in 3.2.1, we should make sure that these materials will interest the students and carry some cultural information, thus making these materials integrate language instruction with cultural components to a greater extent to enable students to learn language in a cultural context and at the same time expand their cultural schemata about certain topics. EFL reading teachers may follow such guidelines as follows (Dunnett, et al., 1981) when selecting reading materials. Guidelines for Material Selection

1. Examine each new textbook carefully to determine whether it takes an intercultural point of view.

2. Try to identify the cultural aspects inherent in the textbook and list them by chapter or units. Are they positive or negative? Mixed?

3. Examine the exercises carefully. Determine if they will assist you in drawing students into intercultural activities.

4. Check to see if the vocabulary items, examples, grammar structures, drills, etc., are placed in some meaningful cultural context.

5. Examine photographs and illustrations, if any, to see if they are culturally related. 6. Carefully examine dialogues, if any, for their cultural content.

7. Go back and re-examine those textbooks that take a strong inter-cultural point of view for possible cultural bias. Are they objective? Do they stereotype or over-generalize about U.S. or foreign cultures?

3.4 Principles in Developing Students' Cultural Awareness in the

Classroom Settings

Discussions so far about cultural content schema and its implications for EFL reading

pedagogy have evinced the importance of developing students’ cultural awareness in the classroom settings. It is of great significance to devote, say, one-third of the EFL reading lesson time to increasing the students’ cultural input and to developing their curiosity towards the target culture, making building and activating students’ cultural content schemata one of the fundamental goals and one of the essential parts of EFL reading instruction.

However, in so doing, care must be exercised to such issues as what kind of cultural knowledge to develop and how to cultivate and what’s the basic procedure of cultural input, etc.. Since the discussion on the practice of cultural input is just at its initial and experimental stage, it has not yet formulated a system, and no syllabus for cultural input has come into being. Based on what has been suggested by Stern, H. H. (1983), Joyce Merrill Valdes (1990), Shu Dingfang (1996) and others, the following basic principles should be taken into account in developing students’ cultural awareness in classroom settings.

3.4.1 Step-by-step Principle

Like every teaching activity, culture teaching should proceed in an orderly way, step by step, and be divided into three stages: beginning, intermediate, advanced. Specifically speaking, the instruction should start from introducing the cultural customs in everyday life, moving to the differences in meaning and usage of words, phrases and idioms due to cultural differences to make students fully aware of the different cultural connotation of these words and idioms, finally moving to the differences in modes of thinking and ways of expressing in words. The teacher, in this practice, plays an extremely important role. He or she must be aware of the general level of his or her students, and constantly adjusting to it the scope and depth of his or her cultural instruction. In this sense, we might go even a step further to suggest a nationwide systematic program for culture teaching.

3.4.2 Principle of Appropriateness

As discussed throughout this thesis, the readers’ lack of pertinent cultural content schemata accounts for a large proportion of non-comprehension in actual reading. Thus, they merit more attention than ever before in reading teaching. However, it does not necessarily follow that the linguistic knowledge should give way to development of cultural knowledge, for

the fundamental goal of today’s EFL reading pedagogy is still learning English language through reading. Cultivating students’ cultural knowledge in reading does not entail over-stress on culture with little or no consideration, even to the exclusion of the linguistic knowledge, but rather, culture input should be considered an extension, as well as a supplement of the linguistic knowledge. It should be within the framework of EFL reading teaching aiming at enhancing students’ learning of linguistic knowledge and improving their reading proficiency.

Hence, to bring much fruition to reading teaching, the teacher should strike a proper balance between linguistic teaching and culture teaching when teaching culture. One point that must be borne in mind is that the cultural knowledge imparted should be appropriate and pertinent to the content of the text and to the understanding of the text.

3.4.3 Principle of Mainstream

The content of the term “culture”, as we have known, is very rich and complex, ranging from the fields of geography, history, economy, science, literature to even psychology and the like. Under each kind of culture branch out subcultures: western culture, eastern culture, the hippies, Yuppies, the beat generation, the single parents, nucleus family, gay party and drag-taking, etc.. Which is to be taken in and which brushed off? In the case of language teaching, to teach the target culture to EFL students well, according to Marquardt (1967), the teachers should be well read of the literature of the target culture themselves, and distinguish from different subcultures which are favorable to students’ mental growth and give priority to the common core of culture, i.e., the mainstream shared by most English speaking western cultures. One more point deserving our attention when making efforts to instill necessary background knowledge of the target culture is that we should by no means brush aside our home culture, which plays two important roles (Shu Dingfang, 1996): (1) serving as a tool for comparison with the target culture to further delineate the major features of the target culture;

(2) by adjusting students’ home culture psychology, developing their active attitude toward the target culture to bring into full play their initiative and activate their motivation in learning the target culture. Thus the two cultures at issue must be simultaneously and fully attached great importance to in EFL reading pedagogy in China.

Conclusion

To conclude, reading as shown by schema theory discussed in this thesis is a psychological process involving both bottom-up processing and top-down processing and the interaction between the text and the reader, between the new information of the reading text and the pre-existing cultural background knowledge of the reader’s. The present thesis attempts to reveal the relationship between cultural content schema and EFL reading to evince the importance of cultivating students’ cultural background knowledge in EFL reading instruction, an aspect

often neglected in EFL reading teaching practice. The thesis also attempts to put forward certain implications of cultural content schema for EFL reading pedagogy.

Although the thesis has its limitations, it will, we hope, cast some light on EFL reading teaching and draw the attention of EFL reading teachers, text developers as well as linguists to the importance of cultural content schema to EFL reading comprehension to call for some change in EFL reading instruction and the design of a systematic culture teaching syllabus to make EFL reading teaching more effective and fruitful.

Recent years have already witnessed an encouraging moving away of EFL reading pedagogy from the idea that comprehension involves abstracting meaning that is in some sense present on the page to recognizing the creative contribution made by the reader. Global reading method, which has its base on schema theory, as adopted in some universities, for instance, has already brought about some better results.

What we need now, according to Carrell (1984), is more research based on the above mentioned classroom implications of schema theory, especially on those of cultural content schema, to determine how these work in practice and to work out a satisfactory syllabus for cultural input within the province of EFL reading teaching. We believe, with the joint efforts of EFL reading teachers and linguists, the active role of students’ cultural content schema in reading process will receive its due emphasis in EFL reading instruction and be made an integral part of EFL reading teaching. Only in so doing can students be trained to be independent readers in future real life reading.

--The End --- -- 

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Teaching, Cambridge University Press World Publishing Corp, 1986

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Steffensen M. S., Joag-Def C. and Anderson R. C., A Cross-cultural Perspective on Reading Comprehension, Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 15 (1): 10-29, 1979 Xu Guozhang, Culturally Loaded Words and English Language Teaching, 《现代外 语》,1983, 5

庄智象《文化与阅读理解》,《外语界》, 1988,3

束定芳 《语言与文化关系以及外语基础阶段教学中的文化导入问题》,

《外语界》,1996,1

Abstract

As a vital means of getting information from the written language, reading has long been taken as the core of EFL teaching pedagogy in China, with cultivating the students’ reading proficiency as its ultimate goal. Though great efforts have been made to achieve this end, few satisfactory results have ever been obtained. There are, of course, many various factors accounting for such failure, including the individual differences of the students---intelligence, motivation, attitudes; the teaching experiences, the teaching methods of the reading teacher as well as the reading materials themselves, etc. But the central point at issue is that the teachers have failed to take into consideration the active role played by the students in a reading task, especially their cultural background knowledge, or cultural content schema, as is termed by schema theory. Thus, the relationship between cultural content schema and EFL reading

teaching with its implication for EFL reading classroom becomes the main concern of this thesis.

In addition to an introduction and a conclusion, the thesis is composed of three chapters. Chapter One provides a general survey of EFL reading teaching.

Over the past thirty years, reading comprehension has always been a topic of frequent discussion in foreign language literature and a great deal of research has been done on the process of reading, which leads to the emergence of many models concerning the reading process, among which are the bottom-up model, top-down model and schema-theory model. The one which has exerted the greatest influence on EFL reading teaching in China, however, is the bottom-up model, which holds that reading is a unidirectional process, each word, each well-formed sentence and each well-formed text passage has a meaning “often conceived to be ‘in’ the text, to have a separate, independent existence from both the writer and the reader.” (Carrell and Eisterhold, 1983) The reader, on the other hand, is just a passive recipient of the incoming information who brings nothing to the reading task. Based on such an assumption, “problems of second language reading and reading comprehension are viewed as being essentially decoding problems, deriving meaning from print.” (Carrell, 1989) Such a traditional view influences not only the aims of EFL reading instruction, the design of EFL reading textbooks, but also the procedure of EFL reading teaching.

The goals of EFL reading teaching are of two kinds: the ultimate goal, which is to promote the students’ comprehension from the text as well as their ability to comprehend from the text, and the staged goal, which is to improve the students’ basic language skills of vocabulary and grammar. The goals are so classified on the assumption that if the students’ language knowledge is increased, their reading comprehension will be automatically improved accordingly. EFL reading lessons with goals as such turn out to be learning language through reading, rather than give instruction on reading comprehension.

Overemphasis on staged goal gives rise to the following defects of most textbooks in use which are designed to improve the students’ linguistic knowledge. (1) many texts are simplified to be within the linguistic range of the students at different levels of the language in order to make the students understand easily, but only to miss some important cohesive devices, resulting in a distortion of the original proposition; (2) many texts are over-explicit: they spell out too many details so that there is no room for inference and hence no chance for the students to practice this important skill; (3) some texts are less informative and often contrived with the desire to include numerous examples of a specific teaching items (e.g. a tense). Such written texts are used as a means for new vocabulary and /or grammar structure.

Influenced so much by the conventional view of the nature of EFL reading process, the reading teachers have long been emphasized exclusively on the language to be comprehended rather than on the comprehender. It is the teacher who dominates the reading class, taking the students through a text on a word by word, phrase by phrase basis, explaining points of vocabulary, syntax, style and content along the way. The students, on the other hand, never participate actively in the reading process, thus leading to their poor performance in important national examinations: CET Band 4, CET Band 6 and EPT, etc., with the scores got out of the section of reading comprehension only averaging to less than 50%.

Chapter Two is focused on the analysis of cultural content schema and its effects on EFL reading from schema-theoretic perspective with some elaboration on this theory.

The term “schema”, according to Anderson and Person (1984), is an abstract knowledge structure which the reader brings to the text while reading. It is abstract in the sense that it summarizes what is known about a variety of cases that differ in many particulars. It is structured in the sense that it presents the relationships among its component parts. The role of background knowledge, according to Carrell (1984), has been formalized as schema theory, which holds that any text, either spoken or written, does carry meaning by itself; rather, a text only provides direction for listeners or readers as to how they should retrieve or construct meaning from their own, previously acquired knowledge. Such knowledge is called the reader’s background knowledge; the previously acquired knowledge structures are called schemata, which are of two broad types: formal or textual schemata and content schemata.

Schema theory research has borne out the importance of background knowledge within a reader-centered psycholinguistic processing model. Comprehending a text, according to this theory, is an interactive process between the reader’s background knowledge and the text. Efficient comprehension calls for the ability to relate the textual material to one’s own knowledge. Schema-theory model of reading process asserts that the process of interpretation is guided by the principle that every input is mapped against some existing schema and that all aspects of that schema must be compatible with the input information. The principle results in two basic modes of information processing: bottom-up processing and top-down processing. The former is evoked by the incoming data, the features of which enter the system through the best fitting, bottom level schemata. As these bottom schemata converge into higher level, more general schemata, these too become activated. Therefore, bottom-up process is also called data-driven, whereas, top-down processing occurs as the system makes general predictions based on higher level, general schemata and then searches the input for information to fit into these partially satisfied, higher order schemata. Hence, top-down processing is called conceptually-driven. To achieve successful comprehension, the two modes of information processing should be occurring at all levels simultaneously.

One of the most obvious reasons why a particular content schema may fail to exist for a reader which leads to non-comprehension of various kinds, as suggested by Carrell and Eisterhold (1983), is that the schema is culturally specific and not part of a particular reader’s cultural background. Research by Gatbonton and Tucker (1971) substantiated that due to cultural misunderstandings, EFL students drew incorrect assumptions when reading unfamiliar texts; however, when provided with pertinent cultural information, their performance increased significantly.

Based on schema theory and research, the rest part of the chapter is focused on the functions of three specific kinds of cultural content schemata in EFL reading comprehension, namely, the functions of cultural customs, religion and cultural-loaded words, including euphemism and taboos. It also deals with the EFL reading short-circuit resulting from the reader’s lack of appropriate cultural content schema of the above kinds. The research findings of Johnson (1978), Stefffenson et al. (1979), Rumelhart (1980), Carrell (1981), and Anderson

and Pearson (1984) confirm that a good comprehension of a reading passage entails the interaction between the reader’s relevant cultural content schemata and the incoming new information in the passage. Lacking such schemata may result in reading short-circuit, by which we mean the situation in which the reader can not figure out any information or message from the text he is reading, in other words, he fails to make sense of what he is reading.

The analysis of cross-cultural experimentation on the relationship between cultural content schema and EFL reading attests the assertion that EFL comprehension is a function of cultural content schema. The analysis also makes it an essential part of EFL reading instruction to activate, help build and expand the students’ existing cultural knowledge of a topic prior to reading by provision of vicarious or real experiences. Thus Chapter Three is focused on the implications of cultural content schema for EFL reading pedagogy.

The implications for classroom activities of cultural content schema give rise to some suggested activities that are of great value, including pre-reading activities, vocabulary instruction, while-reading activities as well as post-reading activities.

Available research has suggested an affirmative answer to the question of whether we can improve students’ reading proficiency by helping them build and activate their cultural background knowledge on the topic prior to reading through pre-reading activities (Carrell, 1984). Thus a number of organized pre-reading approaches and methods have been proposed in the literature for facilitating reading through activation of cultural background knowledge, among which Pre-reading Plan of Langer (1981) merits special mentioning and can be used for reference in our EFL reading teaching practice.

The Pre-reading Plan is a three-step assessment /instructional procedure, which uses a discussion-based activity in the assessment stage which allows the teacher, as well as the students, to define the amount of information the students have about a particular topic and how this information is organized. During this stage, the teacher becomes sensitized the language the students use to express their ideas and assesses how much additional background information is needed in order to facilitate comprehension of the text. The Pre-reading Plan helps the teacher to probe what kinds of cultural content schemata the students have already possessed and helps the students link their prior existing cultural background knowledge with concepts in the text, thus setting up appropriate cultural content schemata about the reading passage.

The importance of vocabulary instruction with emphasis on cultural loaded terms as an essential component of pre-reading activities has also been borne out by the previous discussion on the reading short-circuit due to lack of proper cultural content schemata. Research in memory (Stevick, 1976) suggested that words are stored and remembered in a network of associations. Thus when teaching vocabulary, Beck and Mckeown (1983) proposed to group words around a global semantic category. In a similar vein, Hanf (1971), Pearson and Johnson (1978), McNiel (1984) and others suggested that a class-constructed semantic map can be of use to teach students to see how new concepts can be defined and related to other concepts. Employing such methods to teach cultural-loaded words may make vocabulary instruction more effective and more productive.

Rather than read and paraphrase the reading text in the traditional bottom-up model in

while-reading instruction, the teacher should ask students to avail themselves of the schema theory reading model, having their prior cultural background knowledge interact with the incoming information of the passage by constantly inserting teacher-posed questions. Students’ self-generated questions may also make them more actively participate in the interaction with the incoming information.

According to Tierney and Cunningham (1984), under the assumption that post-reading activities will provide for the retention, reinforcement, extension and / or application of previous learning from text, teachers are frequently encouraged to consider post-reading activities an integral part of reading to learn. In the literature on reading comprehension, post questioning, group and whole class discussion, post-reading map and post-reading writing are among the most prevailing post-reading activities, which can also be used to expand students’ cultural content schemata.

The relationship between cultural content schema and EFL reading and the classroom implications it carries make necessary a shift of the teacher’s role from merely imparting linguistic knowledge to giving more emphasis on enriching students’ cultural background knowledge. A teacher of reading, as suggested by Stevens in 1982, might thus be viewed as a teacher of relevant information as well as a teacher of reading skills. The reading teacher, therefore, should first of all have a good command of the relevant cultural background knowledge and then try his or her best to probe what kinds of problems the students have in dealing with culture-laden passage, finally he or she should also make effective use of various kinds of classroom activities and outside classroom activities assigned to help the students build and expand their cultural content schemata to achieve real comprehension and promote their reading proficiency.

It also becomes evident that only by frequent encounter of authentic texts can students learn how to handle real world reading after leaving the EFL reading classroom. By authentic is meant, in this sense, those reading materials that are unmodified, longer, and conceptually complete, rather than those that are shirt, conceptually incomplete ones, i.e., the simplified texts. Natural materials, i.e., the non-grammatically sequenced, non-linguistically manipulated materials as argued extensively by Krashen and Terrell, accompanied by ancillary materials designed to provide culturally accurate background are essential, since readers need historical, economic, and visual information in order to approach the reading texts with adequate schemata for comprehending them. Comprehension materials, therefore, should be accompanied with ancillary materials provided either directly to students or to the teachers for classroom presentation. Krashen’s “narrow reading” provides another kind of authentic texts, which refers to reading that is confined to a single topic or to the texts of a single author.

Guidelines for material selection are also to be followed to assure that these materials carry some cultural information, thus making these materials integrate language instruction with cultural components to a greater extent to enable students to learn language in a cultural context and at the same time expand their cultural schemata about certain topics.

Discussions so far about cultural content schema and its implications for EFL reading pedagogy have evinced the importance of developing students’ cultural awareness in the

classroom settings. In so doing, however, care must be exercised to such issues as what kind of cultural knowledge to be activated, how to cultivate it and what’s the basic procedure of cultural input, etc. Some basic principles should be taken into account in developing the students’ cultural awareness in classroom settings, among which are step-by-step principle, principle of appropriateness, principle of mainstream. Our home culture must not be brushed aside. The two cultures at issue must be simultaneously and fully attached great importance to in EFL reading pedagogy in China.

In conclusion, reading as shown by schema theory analyzed in this thesis is a very complex

psychological process involving the interaction between the text and reader, between the new information of the text and pre-existing cultural background knowledge of the reader. To make EFL reading instruction more fruitful, linguists and EFL reading teachers must exert joint efforts to equip the students with appropriate cultural content schema and help put the active role of the students into full play, making them independent readers in real life reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

摘              要 

 

    英语阅读既是一种语言活动,又是一种复杂的心理活动,是读者综合运用多层次的语言知识(包括词汇知识,语法知识)及背景知识,通过逻辑推理获取文字信息的一种重要手段。因此,旨在提高学生阅读能力的英语阅读不仅是我国英语教学的核心,也是各类英语标准测试的重要内容。然而,虽然我们对阅读教学投入了大量的时间和精力,但收效甚微,其根本原因在于阅读教师对于阅读过程本质缺乏深入了解和研究,忽略了读者在阅读中的主观能动作用。

   

   第一章简要评介国内英语教学的历史与现状,着重指出在传统的“自下而上”

阅读观的影响下,英语教学在教学目的的实现、教材的选用、教学过程等方面存在的局限与不足。 

   持传统阅读观的学者,如Gough(1972),Adams(1982)认为,阅读是一个按顺序进行的线行过程。 它从眼球注视印刷符号开始,被眼球感知到的视觉形象被输入大脑,大脑依次识别出字母、字母串、词之后,再将其转换为语音形式。阅读理解实质上是一个解码或处理字母、词的过程。要真正理解文章的意义, 读者只须识别文中的每一个词,掌握一系列的认词技能,因此,读者在阅读过程中只是机械地接受文字信息,在阅读过程中处于被动地位。 

   在这种阅读观的影响下,以提高学生阅读能力为终极目的的英语阅读教学实际上只注重其阶段性目标的实现,即偏重语言知识的获得。正因为如此,现在通用的多数阅读教材均存在刻意包含某一语法条目,内容单一、简略,信息含量低,题材多为学生所熟悉,留给学生运用各种阅读技巧进行推理判断的空间小等诸多缺欠;而阅读教学过程则缺乏读前活动,更缺少必要的读后活动。阅读课多以教师讲解为主,大量时间用于辨认词义,分析结构和翻译难句。 学生则在教师的讲解下被动地死记硬背单词,生搬硬套语法。无疑,这种以语言教学为直接目标的课堂教学模式会造成学生文化背景知识贫乏,理解能力差的后果。 

   第二章着重论述了图式理论中的文化内容图式,并分析了其与英语阅读的关系。 

   早在1781年, 德国心理学家Kant就提出了图式理论。 他认为,新的信息,新的概念,新的思想只有与个人已有的知识建立了联系才具有意义。为完善这一理论,美国智能专家Rumelhart又提出相互作用理论,Carrel提出了现代图式理论。其主要观点是:人们在理解新事物时,需要将新事物与已知的概念,过去的经历,即背景知识联系起来。 对新事物的理解和解释取决于头脑中已经存在的图式,输入的信息必须与这些图式相吻合。图式理论的阅读模式强调两种基本的信息处理方式。 一种是“自下而上”的处理方式。 输入头脑中的信息起始于最基本的具体图式。 这些具体图式合成较大的高层次图式,从而激活头脑中较大的图式使其发生作用。“自下而上”的方式使读者容易注意到新信息,注意到那些与他们所设想的文字内容和结构不相符的信息。 另一种信息处理方式是“自上而下”的方式。 头脑中的高层次图式预测输入的信息,并对这种信息予以肯定或否定。“自上而下”的方式加速信息的吸收或同化,有助于读者消除歧义;当输入信息有不同解释时,帮助读者作出抉择。 以上两种信息处理方式通常在理解过程的各个层次上同时发生。 图式论者认为,文字本身不具有任何意义,它只是为读者指路,让读者根据自己已具备的知识,去获取、理解意义。所以,有效的理解要求读者具有把文字材料与个人的知识联系起来的能力。读者的图式可分为语言图式、内容图式、结构图式和策略图式四种。

文化内容图式是读者对文章所涉及的文化背景知识的了解程度。文化背景知识主要是关于目的语文化,即目的语国家的文学、艺术、哲学、宗教、生活方式、习俗等方面的知识。近十年来,国外语言学界及外语教学界对于文化内容图式做过不少研究,如,Carrel(1984),Johnson(1981,1982),Steffenson&  Joag-Dev(1984)。这些研究表明在英语阅读过程中,文化背景知识的作用超过

语言知识的作用。阅读时缺乏文化背景知识或不能恰当地运用文化背景知识,阅读理解就会受到严重影响,出现阅读短路。换言之,读者的文化背景知识越丰富,对文章的理解就越准确。研究还表明,组织有关文化背景知识的教学活动可以大大促进学生阅读理解能力的提高。 

第三章论述了文化内容图式对我国英语教学的启示。具体述及四方面内容:课堂教学,教师的作用,教材的选用及文化输入的原则。 

课堂教学应注重引导学生建立文化内容图式,并激活学生已有的文化内容图式,使之与文字信息联系起来,提高阅读效果。读前预测活动是培养学生进行积极阅读而非被动阅读的不可缺少的环节。对文章内容,体裁,作者意图、态度等方面进行的有趣猜测,可激发学生浓厚的阅读兴趣,并激活其已有的文化内容图式;读中活动则是学生作为阅读主体切身体验阅读活动的过程,也是学生将其已激活的文化内容图式与文章新的信息相互作用的实践过程;其间,教师可针对文章内容提出问题,启发学生运用其文化内容图式进行有效推理,完成阅读理解;而阅读课的最后阶段---读后活动是检验学生阅读效果的重要环节,同时也可使学生的文化内容图式得以扩展。 

文化内容图式对我国英语教学的又一启示是如何重新定位教师角色。教师应逐步将阅读课的中心地位让与学生,使阅读逐渐成为学生的“个人活动”,从而充分发挥学生的认知作用。因此,教师的根本任务由单一的语言知识传授转变为语言知识及文化背景知识的传授。这对教师的综合素质也提出了新要求。 

教材选用也应遵循现代图式阅读理论的原则。教材编写应注意涵盖更多的文化信息内容,并多选用实际生活的真实题材,文章力求内容全、篇幅大,给学生留出足够的推理空间。今后教材选用和设计可借鉴Krashen的窄式阅读观。 

阅读课上的文化导入应遵循以下原则:渐进原则、适度原则、主流原则,同时亦不可忽略本国文化。此外,文化导入不应只重视文化而轻视语言,更不应以文化为中心,因为它只是外语阅读教学的延伸和发展。 

总之,图式理论要求阅读教师重视、培养、启动和拓宽学生文化内容图式,并指导学生将已有的文化内容图式与文字信息相互作用,提高阅读效果。但是,要提出一套在理论和实践上都切实可行,完善的阅读课文化导入理论,还需要语言学家和阅读教师的共同努力和探索。 

Figure 3-2 .An Extended Schema of the America Civil War

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