Reading activities in Swedish EFL textbooks: An analysis of reading activities as a tool for the development of reading strategies

Full text

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Spring 2020

Faculty of Education and Society

Department of Culture, Languages and Media

Degree project in English Studies and Education

15 credits, Advanced level

Reading activities in Swedish EFL textbooks:

An analysis of reading activities as a tool for the

development of reading strategies

Läsaktiviteter i svenska EFL-läroböcker: En analys av läsaktiviteter

som ett verktyg för utveckling av lässtrategier

Karolina Fontasiewicz

Manal Dahdouli

Masters of Arts/Science in Secondary Education 300/330 hp Examiner: Shaun Nolan Advanced level degree project in the major subject (15hp) Supervisor: Björn Sundmark Date for the Opposition Seminar 2 June 2020

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Contributions

During this study, both authors equally contributed to the different stages of the working process. These stages include:

- Deciding on a subject matter

- Formulating the aim and research questions

- Finding and selecting relevant research and material - Analysing the material

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Abstract

In traditional EFL classrooms, teachers often tend to rely on textbooks where the reading material is a text usually followed by reading activities. Consequently, this material does not really provide students with the reading strategies necessary to become succesful readers. Successful readers should posess the ability to apply appropriate kinds of reading and reading strategies and to do that the teacher needs to provide the students with the right teaching material. Therefore, this degree project analyses three EFL textbooks for upper secondary school in the Swedish context, namely Context 2, Pick & Mix 2 and Viewponts 2. The present study explores if the reading activities in the textbooks provide learners with the opportunity to develop their reading skills by including different kinds of reading and reading strategies. Moreover, the researchers use a qualitative content analysis and criteria to conduct their study. The results reveal that the textbooks do consist of reading activities which allow for different kinds of reading. Two of the textbooks analysed, Pick & Mix 2 and Context 2, entail activities which require the readers to be able to use the majority of different kinds of reading. One textbook, however, shows lack of activities that allow learners to train their skimming ability. Finally, the textbooks do not provide learners with sufficient reading activities that include the three processes: before-, during- and after- reading.

Keywords: EFL textbooks, reading activities, reading strategies, different kinds of reading,

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Table of Contents

1.

Introduction ... 5

2.

Purpose and research questions ... 7

3.

Theoretical background ... 8

3.1 Teaching Reading ...

8

3.1.1 Krashen’s Input Theory ...

8

3.1.2 Different kinds of reading ...

8

3.1.3 Reading activities ...

10

3.2 EFL Textbooks ...

11

3.2.1 Benefits and drawbacks of textbooks ...

11

3.2.2 EFL textbooks in the Swedish context ...

12

4.

Method ... 14

4.1 Qualitative content analysis ...

14

4.2 Data collection ...

15

4.2.1 Checklist and open-ended questions ...

16

4.3 Selection of EFL textbooks ...

16

5.

Results... 17

5.1 Overview of the three textbooks ...

17

5.2 Checklist ...

18

5.3 Open-ended questions ...

19

6. Discussion ... 25

6.1. To what extent do the reading activities in the Swedish EFL textbooks

model the development of generic reading strategies? ...

25

6.2. To what extent do the textbooks expose the learners to different reading

purposes and kinds of reading? ...

27

7. Conclusion ... 30

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1. Introduction

For learners of English as a foreign language (EFL), being a skilled reader is key to reaching a high proficiency level. This requires teachers to provide the right type of material so that their students have the opportunity to develop their reading skills. Studies have shown that what makes a reader successful is their ability to combine the appropriate reading strategy to the reading purposes (Lundahl, 2012; Green, 2014). Subsequently, this requires the ability to be flexible in one’s reading. Before-, during- and after-reading activities are a way to teach reading strategies that can facilitate the development of the reading comprehension process (Williams, 1984; Urquhart and Weir, 1998; Gibbons, 2009; Yazar, 2013). Another

perspective to consider when it comes to teaching reading is the “reader purpose perspective” (Enright et al., 2000, p.4)which includes ‘reading for learning’ and ‘reading for information’ (Carver, 1997; Urquhart and Weir, 1998; Enright et al., 2000). The “reader purpose” is what determines the kind of reading a task requires and therefore, the type of reading strategy needed (Alderson, 2000).

In the English syllabus for upper secondary school, the core content affirms that learners should have the opportunity to improve their “Strategies for listening and reading in different ways and for different purposes” (Skolverket, 2011a, n.p.). Moreover, the syllabus states that the students should be able to show their “understanding of spoken and written English, and also the ability to interpret content” (Skolverket, 2011a, n.p). This means that the students need to possess the ability to understand the texts they read, not only in the context of the language itself, but also understand and analyse the messages that are conveyed through the texts (Skolverket, 2017). Additionally, according to Yazar (2013) teachers tend to let learners read through the passages and complete the reading activities without engaging in making students aware of the reading strategies that are helpful. Implementing reading strategies in the lessons is crucial in order for the reading lessons to be effective (Yazar, 2013). Therefore, the chosen material needs to provide learners with opportunities to develop their reading strategies.

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One of the most common teaching materials in the Swedish EFL classrooms are textbooks. They aim to efficiently teach the four language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing (Rynanta and Ruslan, 2013; Goméz Rodrigues, 2015). However, recent studies have shown that the use of textbooks is not efficient enough for the development of learners’ reading skills (Brown, 2009; Lundahl, 2012; Dogan and Zekiye, 2015; Radic-Bojanic and Topalov, 2016). For example, textbooks lack variety in the input they provide, and teachers find that the reading activities are also lacking (Brown, 2009; Dogan and Zekiye, 2015). Consequently, this can be problematic as Goméz Rodrigues (2015) remarks that many English teachers are dependent on textbooks and some rely on them entirely.

This has also been noticed by one of the authors of the current study at her partner school, where teachers rarely produce their own material and the textbooks are the main source of instruction. Nevertheless, this has not been observed by the second author at her partner school, where the teachers do not use textbooks as often. Instead, they use other material for teaching and would sometimes use parts of a textbook for grammar practice.

Finally, the criticism towards dependency on textbooks in the classroom is shared by the Swedish National Agency of Education (Skolverket, 2011b). The school policies state that it is highly significant to provide learners with the right kind of input by using different types of teaching and learning materials for the development of their reading abilities (Skolverket, 2011a; Skolverket, 2011b). Hence, this study aims to explore the reading activities in three Swedish EFL textbooks for upper secondary school. The purpose of this analysis is to see whether these activities function as a tool for developing reading skills by supporting the learners’ reading process and allowing for different kinds of reading.

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2. Purpose and research questions

The purpose of this degree project is to analyse textbooks and how efficient they are when it comes to developing learners’ reading skills. By conducting a qualitative content analysis, this study distinguishes the ways in which learners’ reading skills can be developed through the reading activities provided in three Swedish EFL textbooks. In addition, the study explores two different factors that are significant for learners’ development of their reading skills. The first one focuses on reading activities and their connection to the development of reading strategies. The other factor investigates if textbooks allow for different kinds of reading. Therefore, the research questions are as follows:

● To what extent do the reading activities in the Swedish EFL textbooks model the development of generic reading strategies?

● To what extent do the textbooks expose the learners to different reading purposes and kinds of reading?

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3.

Theoretical background

This section presents several relevant theories that are the basis of the present study. It includes previous research on second langugae acquisition, kinds of reading, reading

strategies and the use of textbooks. Additionally, it provides a description of the key concepts in this study. Finally, it connects the research to the ideas presented by the Swedich National Agency of Education.

3.1 Teaching Reading

3.1.1 Krashen’s Input Theory

There are different approaches to language acquisition and there are many opinions among the researchers as to which method is more efficient than others. Krashen (1983) is famous for his Input Hypothesis which claims that new language is best acquired through understanding messages in the target language that are constructed of linguistic structures that have not been acquired before (p.43). He states that the acquisition occurs in a meaning-focused

environment when “real messages of real interests are transmitted and understood” (p.43). According to the Input Hypothesis the learners would benefit mostly from meaning focused instruction, such as reading, as it exposes the reader to a great amount of comprehensible input where the focus lays on understanding the message which, according to Krashen (1989), is the most efficient way to learn vocabulary and spelling (p.440). It leaves space for

incidental learning. Consequently, Krashen (1989) states that the language is acquired through stimulation of the language acquisition device (LAD, a part in the brain where language acquisition occurs) which only happens when the learner is exposed to comprehensible input. He suggests that any other form of instruction does not occur in the LAD and therefore it has no impact on language competence.

3.1.2 Different kinds of reading

Research shows (Carver, 1997; Perfetti, 1997; Goldman, 1997; Enright et al., 2000) that the two main purposes of reading in the area of academic language abilities are ‘reading for the basic idea’ or ‘reading to learn’. This is in line with one of the perspectives included in teaching reading: “the reader purpose perspective” which considers different purposes for engaging in the reading activity. The purpose of reading specifies what kind of reading is required to complete it.

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In traditional language classrooms, teachers often tend to focus on so called ‘careful reading’ (Urquhart & Weir, 1998). This is the type of reading that is usually associated with study. However, Urquhart and Weir (1998) state that in everyday life people adapt different kinds of reading depending on the kinds of texts they choose to read in their free time. Usually in their free time, people choose texts that do not require a high standard of comprehension, therefore focusing on careful reading in the classroom can downgrade the value of other kinds of reading. Furthermore, classroom reading can have an impact on reading habits outside of school and ‘careful reading’ is not always necessary as not all texts “contain a finite amount of information accessible to all readers” (Urquhart and Weir, 1998, p.87).

Research shows (Urquhart & Weir, 1998; Green, 2014; Enright et al., 2000; Yazar, 2013) that there is a need to teach different kinds of reading depending on the purpose. Carver (1997) distinguishes between two types of reading: ‘rauding’ and ‘reading to learn’. Rauding is the type of reading used for gaining basic understanding of a text. ‘Reading to learn’ has the purpose of gaining a total understanding of a text, including its important points and supporting details of the text. Accordingly, Green (2014) claims that there are two main dimensions that reading can be divided into. The first is, the previously mentioned, ‘careful reading’, where the reading process is linear as the reader follows the text from the beginning to the end and reads for a holistic understanding of the text. Careful reading is often

associated with ‘reading to learn’ due to the fact that the reader has to process a whole text trying to acquire the majority of the information found in the text (Urquhart and Weir, 1998). The second dimension, contrary to careful reading, is ‘expeditious reading’ i.e. a non-linear process where the purpose is to pick out the key information out of a sea of information. Expeditious reading can be further divided into three forms: ‘scanning’, ‘skimming’ and ‘search reading’ (Urquhart and Weir, 1998; Yazar, 2013; Green, 2014;). Firstly, scanning refers to a very specific purpose of reading, for instance, to find a specific number or a name. This is the kind of reading required, for example, while reading signs to arrive at a specific direction. Secondly, skimming, is a kind of selective reading or reading for a gist where the purpose is to find out what the text is about, but avoiding the details. This type of reading can be used to, for example, find references when writng an academic text. Usually skimming, can be followed by careful reading, when the reader finds the information that they need.

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The third, search reading, is the kind of reading usually used for completing assignments which require answering questions. What distinguishes search reading from skimming is that in search reading the information the reader requires is already determined. Scanning,

skimming and search reading are often put in the category of “reading for information” (Enright et al., 2000) and are important for learners in academic context due to the fact that search reading abilities are crucial in order to succeed in the academia. Finally, what makes a reader successful is their ability to combine the appropriate reading strategy to their purposes along with the text type and this requires the ability to be flexible in one’s reading (Lundahl, 2012; Green, 2014).

3.1.3 Reading activities

The core content in the syllabus for English in upper secondary school provides teachers with the guidelines for what the teaching should entail. “Strategies for listening and reading in different ways and for different purposes” (Skolverket, 2011a, n.p.) is one of the main goals regarding reception in the Swedish syllabus for English. This means that the teacher needs to provide their students with appropriate instruction in order for the students to be able to develop their reading skills by developing reading strategies.

According to Chen and Chen, and Sun (2010), for EFL students “extensive and effective English reading exercises are key techniques for improving general reading comprehension” (p.1367). Research shows that there are three main types of reading activity processes: ’before-, during-, and after-reading’ (Urquhart and Weir, 1998; Yazar, 2013; Sheeba, 2018). The first activity process, before-reading focuses on introducing the text to the learners, where the purpose is to predict the content. Before-reading activities also aim for: activating the learners prior knowledge, to interest and motivate learners, to give them an overall gist of the topic, and to introduce them to the language forms that will be used (Gibbons, 2009, p.87; Yazar, 2013). The second process, the during-reading, aims at making the developing process explicit and clear (Urquhart and Weir, 1998; Gibbons, 2009; Yazar, 2013). The purpose of during-reading activities is to allow students to: understand a text’s structure, understand the purpose and content, and stimulate their critical thinking skills (Gibbons, 2009;Yazar, 2013). The last process the after-reading, allows learners to observe the details in a text, reflect on it, and relate it to their own experience and knowledge on the subject matter (Gibbons, 2009; Yazar, 2013).

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3.2 EFL Textbooks

According to Radic-Bojanic and Topalov (2016), the function of a textbook is to provide “learners with necessary knowledge, language skills and information about English speaking countries, and preparing them for interaction with people from foreign countries and of different cultural backgrounds” (p.138).As one of the most common teaching materials in the classroom, textbooks aim to provide teachers with the input needed for the language

development of their learners (Harmer, 2007). Textbooks combine a grammar framework while they supply cross-curricular themes and a task-based methodology (Hutchinson and Gault, 2009).

3.2.1 Benefits and drawbacks of textbooks

Previous research has highlighted many benefits of using a textbook in the classroom. In the case of teachers, it is time efficient as they do not need to spend time researching and

producing their own materials to use in the classroom. Instead, they can focus on the teaching part (González, 2006; Richards, 2019). Furthermore, there is a feeling of security for teachers as textbooks are written by experts and have been through some sort of evaluation process (Richards, 2019; Mustofa and Martina, 2019). The utilization of textbooks leads to a feeling of security for novice teachers as they consider it to be a convenient framework and can use it whilst becoming acquainted with the needs of each learner (Radic-Bojanic and Topalov, 2016).

In regard to students and their learning development, there is a sense of reassurance with textbooks since they are viewed as reliable in regard to the input they provide and as

something concrete to be taken home for further study (Parrish, 2004). In addition to that, the use of a textbook can give a sense of achievement as learners get the chance to check off each chapter that is worked with and finished (Harmer, 2001). Moreover, textbooks entail material that teachers might be lacking if they would not be using one, for example, many pictures and graphic materials can be found in textbooks (Gonzalez, 2006). Additionally, Richards and Rodgers (1986) explain that the layout of a textbook is designed in a way that the proficiency level of the text progresses with each reading passage. In their research into how the language skills are integrated in coursebooks, Dogan and Zakiye (2015) found that the most improved skill amongst students was reading.

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However, there are still some drawbacks of textbooks that several researchers claim need consideration. For example, Allwright (1981) argues that since language acquisition is such a complex process, being reliant on a textbook could not accommodate every student’s needs in their learning development. In their study, Dogan and Zekiye (2015) come to the conclusion that teachers find the reading activities in the textbooks lacking. Furthermore, a challenge that teachers must be made aware of is that textbooks can neglect the importance of introducing the text to students in order to activate their prior knowledge of a certain subject matter (Rivas, 1999). Additionally, Brown (2009) criticizes teachers who only use textbooks because they lack variety when it comes to the input they provide. He argues that although the subject matter is usually diverse, texts such as prose fiction, poetry and news articles are often

missing (Brown, 2009). Lastly, Lundahl (2012) asserts that one should not be reliant on a textbook as it does not encompass all of the aspects covered in the syllabus for English in the Swedish upper secondary school.

3.2.2 EFL textbooks in the Swedish context

There are few studies about how Swedish teachers use textbooks in the EFL classroom. The majority of the studies that can be found focus on teachers who work at elementary or secondary school. The most recent one from the Swedish National Agency of Education is from the year 2006 and its results show that teachers in the English courses were the most dependent on textbooks (Skolverket, 2006). However, in recent years, experienced teachers have moved towards other types of teaching material. For example, Allen’s (2015) findings showcase that experienced teachers are more interested in using digital tools and novice teachers, who are more skilled in finding digital resources, are more comfortable with traditional teaching materials such as textbooks.

However, the Swedish National Agency for Education asserts that, although the use of

textbooks is appropriate, there is also a need to make sure that it is not used on its own and the teacher incorporates other material (Skolverket, 2011b). The steering documents emphasise this by stating that:

The education is organised such that students in order to be able to search for and acquire knowledge, have access to guidance and teaching materials of high quality,and also other learning aids for a modern education where there is access to libraries, computers and other technical aids (Skolverket, 2011, p.13.).

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This means that teachers must ensure that the textbooks chosen for the courses are carefully selected and should even be complemented with other teaching material (Mukundan, 2007; Brown, 2009; Lundahl, 2012; Ayu, 2018). Finally, it is important for teachers to make sure that their students are given the opportunity to develop their reading skills in order to be able to meet the requirements of the English courses (i.e. English 5, 6 and 7) in upper secondary school (Skolverket, 2011a)

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4.

Method

This study uses a qualitative content analysis. To answer the research questions, the authors decided to use two instruments in order to carry out the analysis: a checklist and open-ended questions. Since checklists are seen to be inefficient for a thorough analysis (Mukundan, 2007; Wahab, 2013), open-ended questions were added in order to get an insight in some details of the analysis. Finally, this section describes the method used for conducting this study, including data collection process, criteria used for the analysis and the process of selecting material.

4.1 Qualitative content analysis

According to Krippendorff (2004) content analysis is “a research technique for making replicable and valid inferences from texts (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of their use” (p.18). Thus, content analysis is the method adapted in this study as its purpose is to analyse textbooks and make valid conclusions regarding the provided input for developing learners reading abilities. Furthermore, the researchers use analytical constructs to be able to answer the research questions based on two domains; the text and the context. The analytical constructs in this research derive from existing theories and previous research (Krippendorff, 2004, p.173) on reading ability development.

White and Marsh (2006) claim that the data collected for a content analysis needs to be “chunked” (p. 29) in order to present an in depth analysis of the results. In addition to that, White (2000) states that breaking down the data into chunks creates the possibility to explore other aspects of a question or a checklist. Thus, the present study uses a checklist to

investigate the reading activities in three textbooks. However, to get an in depth result section, it also utilizes open-ended questions.

The use of a qualitative method is appropriate for this study because its purpose is to explore the reading activities in the textbooks, which contribute to the quality of the material used for teaching reading (Rynanta and Ruslan, 2013). Additionally, qualitative research derives from a humanistic tradition. It is beneficial due to the fact that it is inductive, which indicates that one studies the patterns of data in order to gain insight instead of using data with the purpose of confirming or refuting a hypothesis (Taylor et al, 2015). Another advantage of using a

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qualitative approach is that it allows for a flexibility when conducting a study (White and Marsh, 2006).

In addition, the study takes a similar approach to a summative qualitative content analysis since the main focus is to create opportunities which allow for the content to be understood from its contextual usage (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005). This means that the study identifies and quantifies the content of the analysed texts (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005). However, quantifying in this case does not mean to infer meaning, but instead it examines how the activities are used in connection to developing learners’ reading strategies.

4.2 Data collection

In the current study, the researchers conduct a detailed content analysis of reading activities in

Context 2, Pick & Mix 2 and Viewpoints 2, based on the criteria adopted from Cunningsworth

(1995), Soori, Kafipour and Soury (2011), Mukundan, Nimehchisalem and Hajimohammadi (2011), Wahab (2013), McGrath (2016), and Richards (2019). The study uses instruments in the form of a checklist and open-ended questions. The purpose of constructing a checklist is to gain an overall view of how the reading tasks are set up in each of the textbooks.

Furthermore, according to Mukundan (2007) and Wahab (2013) using checklists to analyse textbooks is inefficient because some of the critieria in the checklists can be vague. Adding another instrument in the analysis adds credibility and opportunity for a more thorough analysis of the textsbooks. Therefore, in addition to the research questions posed and

checklist, the authors chose to add open-ended questions to narrow down some aspects of the analysis. For instance, the first question “How do before-reading activities prepare learners for reading comprehension?” gives an insight in one of the reading processes that is not as common as after-reading activities. Subsequently, it is valuable to see how the analysed textbooks incorporate the before-reading activities. Furthermore, the second question “What kinds of reading are required to complete the activities?” is posed to make the different reading activities more visible in the analysis. Additionally, it takes into account after-reading activities and what is required in them.

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Criteria and open-ended questions for the analysing of the reading activities

Criteria for reading activities Open-ended questions

The reading activities follow the three types of reading activities:

Before -, During-, After - reading

The reading activities expose students to different kinds of reading purposes (scanning, skimming, searching, careful reading)

1. How do the before-reading activities prepare learners for

reading comprehension?

2. What kinds of reading are required to complete the

activities?

4.3 Selection of EFL textbooks

The textbooks chosen for this project are Contexts 2 (Holmberg and Culter, 2012), Pick &

Mix 2 (Phillips and Phillips, 2015) and Viewpoints 2 (Gustafsson and Wivast, 2018). Each of

them is developed for the English 6 course (the English course in the second year of upper secondary school). Furthermore, these textbooks are deemed to be appropriate for this study since they are written with the current Swedish steering documents in mind.

Firstly, all of the textbooks are published by Gleerups publishing company. The reason for which these books were chosen is because Gleerups is a Swedish company and their material is developed in close cooperation with schools, teachers and students in order for the

textbooks to be at the best quality (Gleerups, 2020). The textbooks chosen are published after the current version of the curriculum for upper secondary school was implemented thus, the material is in current use. Additionally, each of the textbooks chosen have been published in different years to be able to notice if there is any difference in the reading tasks provided in them. Moreover, the books have different authors which allows for a greater variation in the treatment of reading activities.

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5. Results

This section presents the findings of this study. Firstly, it summarises the content and structure of each textbook analysed. Secondly, a checklist is presented. The checklist shows an overview of the reading activities and different kinds of reading that can be found in the three textbooks. Lastly, the open-ended questions are answered to get a more precise result of the analysis.

5.1 Overview of the three textbooks

Context 2

The authors of Context 2 state that the textbook was created mainly to “show how English works in context” (Cutler and Holmberg, 2012, p.3). The context is considered from a local and global perspective. Therefore, the texts provided take into account the style and language form of whatever context they derive from. Moreover, there are fifteen chapters of varied topics where the starting point is the text which is followed by a shortly written bibliography of the author. Afterwards, there is a section of after-reading activities which include between two to three exercises.

Pick & Mix 2

Philips and Philips (2015) claim that the textbook was constructed in accordance with the curriculum for upper secondary school and the syllabus for English 6. They affirm that Pick &

Mix 2 was created in order to provide learners with:

A wide range of interesting subjects and each chapter gives the student plenty of opportunities to practice the four major skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing (Philips and Philips, 2015, n.p.).

The textbook is divided into ten chapters with different sections for the four language skills. Each chapter starts with a Warm-up section in which the readers are introduced to the topic of the chapter, in the form of short texts or questions. The chapters include between one to two texts followed by reading exercises.Finally, the authors suggest two ways of utilizing the textbook (Philips and Philips, 2015). The first one focuses on a traditional approach where the teacher works with the textbook and its chapters in the order they occur. The second way is to select and mix whatever chapters the teacher sees fit to improve a certain language skill.

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18 Viewpoints 2

This textbook was created in line with the requirements in the syllabus for English 6 in upper secondary school as well as municipality adult education. It is an updated version of a

previously published Viewpoints 2. Its purpose is to provide new authentic texts and text genres in order to interest students and develop their analytical ability. The textbook contains six themes which are set up to a successive progression in the language difficulty. Each chapter is divided into different sections based on the four language skills. The textbook was updated with examples of different text types. The last theme of this textbook is composed of literature classics which can be worked with separately from the other chapters successively increasing the proficiency level, but it can also be used together with the other chapters.

5.2 Checklist

Table 2

Overview of criteria

Criteria Context 2 Pick & Mix 2 Viewpoints 2

The reading activities expose

students to different kinds of reading purposes (scanning, skimming, searching, careful reading)

Before reading activities are included

During reading activities are included

After reading activities are included

Note: The overview of the criteria comprises all of the reading activities found in the three

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5.3 Open-ended questions

How do the before-reading activities prepare learners for reading

comprehension?

In Context 2, there are opportunities for before-reading activities for the text. All of the texts provided are introduced by a couple of questions or a quote. For example, chapter seven is composed of a text called “High Dive” by Ian Sample, Dr. Nick Kanas and William Speed Weed. There is a quote by Speed Weed before students read the text. Additionally, in chapter eleven, there is a text “The Confessions of a Sports Fanatic” by Soumya Bhattacharya which introduces the text by posing a discussion question.

Figure 1

Before-reading activity in Context 2

Note: Picture from Context 2 where students are introduced to the text with a question.

(Holmberg and Cutler, 2012, p.140)

There are none during-reading activities to be found in Context 2.The majority of the activities provided are after-reading activities and each text is followed by two to three activities.

Pick and Mix 2, does not provide the reader with before-reading nor during-reading activities.

The activities supplied are the after-reading activities.

In Viewpoints 2, each text is accompanied by before-reading activities in form of questions. These questions have as a purpose to introduce the reader to the topic of the text and lets the learner think about their own experience of subjects that are included in the text in order to

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facilitate the comprehension. For instance, before reading the text “More than meets the eye” the reader is asked the following questions:

Figure 2

Before-reading activity in Viewpoints 2

Note: This reading activity includes discussion questions in order to introduce readers to the

text (Gustafsson and Wivast, 2018, p.9).

What kinds of reading are required to complete the activities?

In the textbook Context 2, there are a few exercises that ask the learner to showcase their understanding of the main ideas of the text. The learner is expected to demonstrate their ability to comprehend the key points of the text through activities such as “Writing” where students are supposed to construct their own questions and therefore, are required to skim through the text ( p. 13). Also, these types of tasks allow for careful reading because the learner would need to understand the text as a whole. In addition, a “partner” is supposed to answer questions about the content of the text which means that he or she needs to ‘read to learn’.

Figure 3

After-reading activity in Context 2 - writing

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the text through a writing exercise (Holmberg and Cutler, 2012, p.13)

Context 2 provides learners with several opportunities to demonstrate their ability to find

details in the texts. After reading the text, there is a task called “Explore the text” where learners are asked to find quotations, dates, names or finish the sentences. For instance, chapter five includes a text called “My Son the Fanatic” which has an after-reading activity where the pupil is required to find quotations that summarise the sentences provided. The requisite is that students need to scan and search read through the text in order to complete the task.

Figure 4

After-reading activity in Context 2 - Exploring the text

Note: A common pattern in the after-reading exercise in Context 2 where the reader is asked

to show their comprehension of the text (Holmberg and Cutler, 2012, p.66).

In Pick & Mix 2, the reading sections contain “General understanding”, “True or false” and “Between the lines” questions that give learners the possibility to train different kinds of reading. Some of the activities give the opportunity to show understanding of the gist of the text as they require a summary of what the text is about without the need of going into details.

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Other questions require searching for details in the text and some require careful reading to understand the whole text. It can be seen in the following examples from “General reading” section for the text “More than meets the eye”:

Figure 5

After-reading activity in Pick & Mix 2

Note: This after-reading exercise in Pick & Mix 2 gives the opportunity for students to show

their understanding of the text through questions (Phillips and Phillips, 2015, p.12).

The first question provided in the example, “In one sentence, what would you say that the text is about?” does not allow for a detailed presentation of the story presented in the text. The reader needs to show the ability to understand the gist of the text thus, it is seen to require the ability to skim.

Moreover, the reading activities in Pick & Mix 2 allow for the understanding of details from the text. Some of the questions presented in the picture above require the reader to find specific information in the text. For example, question three “What did Joe notice as he walked through the mall?” allows for search reading in order to find the appropriate answer. The last question can require careful reading ability in order for the learner to be able to process the whole text and “In what way does John Doe think we need to change?”.

Another example of reading for information can be seen in a chapter about English literature where the readers are asked for specific information. For example, “What did the Anglo-Saxon invaders bring to Britain?” (p.203). The answer to this question is “epic poetry” (p.195) which is a detail in the text that can be found through scanning.

In Viewpoints 2, the reading activities are divided into understanding and analysing sections. These activities contain true or false questions or multiple choice questions, as well as, open

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ended questions for a more detailed analysis of the text as a whole. For example in the true or false questions the learners have the opportunity to read for information due to the fact that the questions allow for scanning and search reading. It can be noted in the following example: Figure 6

After-reading activity in Viewpoints 2 – Understanding the text

Note: The picture above showcases a common section in the after-reading activities provided

in Viewpoints 2. It is for learners to demonstrate their comprehension of a text through a true or false exercise (Gustafsson and Wivast, 2018, p.15).

For instance, while answering the first question, the reader can scan through the text to find the information about Dave’s profession.

Furthermore, many of the “analysing the text” questions require the reader to understand details from the text as well, to be able to carry out the analysis. For example, question three to the text “More than meets the eye” is as follows:

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After-reading activity in Viewpoints 2 – Analysing the text

Note: The picture above requires learners to demonstrate their understanding by analysing the

text (Gustafsson and Wivast, 2018, p.15).

To answer this question the information about what the main character of the story thinks about different kinds of people needs to be found in the text which requires the ability to scan. The second and the seventh questions appear to require the ability to read carefully as they ask for an analysis of several points from the texts and it would require understanding the majority of the text to be able to answer these questions.

Finally, it appears that the reading activities in Viewpoints 2 do not provide the reader with the possibility to find the gist of the text. The activities focus on scanning, search reading and analysis of the text.

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6. Discussion

As previously stated, the aim of this study is to explore the quality of the reading activities in Swedish EFL textbooks and how they work as a tool for improving learners’ reading skills. The data collected highlights a number of patterns and topics which are first summarized and then discussed in line with the research questions.

The results show that not all of the three textbooks expose students to different kinds of reading purposes which allow for different kinds of reading (i.e. careful reading, scanning, skimming and search reading). Context 2 and Pick & Mix 2 provide the learners with the possibility of displaying all of the generic reading strategies. However, Viewpoints 2 does not include any activities that focus on skimming. Moreover, the three textbooks do not include all of the three reading activities (before-, during-, and after-reading).

6.1. To what extent do the reading activities in the Swedish EFL textbooks

model the development of generic reading strategies?

Meltzer and Hamann (2005) state that in order for the learners to improve their reading skills it is not enough to provide them with reading material, but the reading must be supported by other activities that facilitate the comprehension of the text. To help learners improve their interaction with the texts, the teacher should implement different kinds of activities that would function as scaffolding for the learners’ reading ability progress. These activities are the before-, during-, and after reading activities. The research conducted in this paper shows that all of the EFL textbooks analysed provide after reading activities. However, the analysis shows that before reading activities can be found in two of the EFL textbooks, Context 2 and

Viewpoints 2, whereas Pick & Mix 2 does not contain any at all. During-reading activities are

completely absent in all of the EFL textbooks analysed.

According to Gibbons (2009), before-reading activities “support overall text meaning by building up relevant field or topic knowledge and so prepare learners to read the text” (p. 87). There are several activities that can serve as before-reading activities. For example, the reader can encounter some questions that introduce the reader to the topic and the theme of the text, as can be seen in the example from Viewpoints 2 (Figure 2). This kind of activities can be related to personal experiences which is “a powerful way to build up engagement with the text” (Gibbons, 2009, p.89). Before-reading activities help students gain an idea about what

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kind of text it might be, what language they might encounter in it, and what information they can get from it. Context 2 and Viewpoints 2 provide the readers with the chance to try to preview what they will read. However, before-reading activities do not appear in Pick & Mix

2. Although the chapters are introduced with a “Warm Up” section, it introduces the learner to

the theme of the chapter not the texts provided. Before-reading activities can decrease the disadvantages that non-native speakers encounter in reading tasks (Williams, 1984; Urquhart and Weir, 1998; Gibbons, 2009; Yazar, 2013). Although they may not understand everything they are enabled to predict the meaning and notice language structures.

Additionally, during-reading activities “aim to make explicit the unconscious process and practices that fluent readers use” (Gibbons, 2009, p. 92). Fluent readers can, for instance, understand the meaning and purpose of a text and recognise language and structures without paying too much attention to every word in the text (Williams, 1984; Urquhart and Weir, 1998; Gibbons, 2009; Yazar, 2013). By implementing during-reading activities the learners would be able to make these processes more explicit. Since the activities have as a purpose to focus learners’ attention on the text as they read, it helps learners to self monitor their

comprehension of the text. During-reading activities can be, for example, margin questions that accompany the text and where the reader has access to them without having to browse through the pages. The margin questions can mark specific aspects of the text so that the reader pays attention to them, such as, summaring a certain chapter or “how would you guess the meaning of this word”. Furthermore, Gibbons (2009) suggests that skimming and

scanning can also be a type of during-reading activity since the readers often get stuck on language and they try to understand every word that they encounter. By using skimming and scanning abilities the reader would be able to find language that they already know and that would facilitate the comprehension.

Nevertheless, the results of this study show that none of the analysed EFL textbooks appear to include during-reading activities. This means that it decreases the opportunity for students reading comprehension, especially the students who struggle with reading. The lack of this kind of tasks in the textbooks suggests that the teacher would need to implement them in the instruction by adding some tasks or by simply choosing other reading material that includes during- reading activities.

Furthermore, Freebody and Luke (1990) state that in order to become a fully developed reader, the ability to critically analyse the text needs to be acquired. All texts are “crafted

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objects” (Freebody and Luke, 1990, p. 13) that convey a certain message written by a person with a particular view on the information, regardless how factual and neutral their text might seem. To be able to create one’s own understanding of the information it is necessary to develop critical thinking ability. Freebody and Luke (1990) argue that reading should involve conscious awareness of the ideas and language included in the text. The ways of

implementing critical thinking exercise can be done by using during- and after- reading activities that make the learners analyse the text (Gibbons, 2009).

The analysis of the EFL textbooks in this study shows that all three contain after-reading activities which come after each text. The after-reading activities have as a purpose to analyse the now-familiar text more deeply and to allow for a critical response to what the reader has read (Williams, 1984; Urquhart and Weir, 1998; Gibbons, 2009; Yazar, 2013). “True or false” is a common after-reading activity found in two of the analysed EFL textbooks. The learner is provided with statements or questions about the text where they have to determine whether the statement is true or false. According to Gibbons (2009) these kinds of tasks should not be too easy for the learner and should require learners to analyse the text and the information they found. In Pick & Mix 2 the statements are a mix of questions that can be easy to answer and some questions that would require a better comprehension of the text. For example, to determine whether the statement “The term “American Dream” is about being free to develop both materially and spiritually” requires an understanding of what the term really means and how the text explains it (p.12). Therefore it can be seen as a question that requires analysing ability. Similarly, the “true or false” activities in Viewpoints 2 follow the same pattern.

6.2. To what extent do the textbooks expose the learners to different reading

purposes and kinds of reading?

The terms of the different kinds of reading are set by the purpose of reading (Aldersson, 2000). This means that the reading activities provided in a textbook also determine the different kinds of reading (Aldersson, 2000). Furthermore, this notion is exemplified and confirmed by the results of this study. For instance, the reading activities in Viewpoints 2 do not ask of learners to showcase their ability to comprehend the key points of a text, therefore, skimming is not required from them.

Although Viewpoints 2 provides students with the opportunity for careful reading, the lack of activities that require skimming through a text can be problematic. This is due to the fact that

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skimming allows learners to display their ability to “process a text selectively in order to get the main ideas of a text” (Urquhart and Weir, 1998, p. 301). The difficulty and length of a text can determine whether students need to show basic comprehension which means to locate and identify a key point or (if its an advanced text) several key points (Enright et al, 2000). In

Viewpoints 2, Gustafsson and Wivast (2018) state that the proficiency of the texts progresses

throughout the textbook. This means that the further along a learner gets when working with the textbook, the more difficult it will be to comprehend the overall ideas of the text and so rather than to read carefully, students might be required to skim through the text. Addition-ally, Gibbons (2009) asserts the importance of including activities which allow for skimming (and scanning) as it helps learners who can only read word by word to develop other

strategies which matches their reading purpose (p. 93).

Previously, the main purpose of reading was to explore students comprehension of the text as a whole and so careful reading was the most prefered reading strategy (Urquhart and Weir, 1998). However, a pattern noticed in all of the three textbooks is that they combine different kinds of reading purposes in the same activity. As seen in figure 5, a requirement of the task is that learners must look for the gist of the text and for that careful reading is needed. However, in the same task, learners are also asked to look for specific information in the text as one of the question posed is “What did John Doe notice as he walked through the mall?”. Here it is necessary for a student to use scanning. According to Grabe (2009), combining different purposes of reading allows for different strategies to be developed which is significant as a skilled reader needs to be able to jump from one strategy to another. Furthermore, creating a preference of a specific reading purpose might impact learners reading process outside of the classroom, making them adopt strategies which might not be appropriate or needed (Urquhart and Weir, 1998).

All of the three textbooks have activities where the aim of reading is to locate specific

information. The activities which allow for scanning and search reading are the most frequent ones. Earlier research has highlighted how it was presumed that learners developed this skill through skimming and thus, activities requiring scanning and search reading were neglected (Urquhart and Weir, 1998). However, this is not necessarily true, and in fact research has shown that in order to become a skilled reader, there must also be some training for finding details and specific information (Mikulecky and Jeffries, 2007). Moreover, information in a text could sometimes be too general or too specific and thus, the opportunity to develop students ability to scan and search read is needed (Yusuf et al, 2017).

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Another pattern identified in all of the three textbooks is that they have the same set of reading activities for throughout the books. This is certainly the case when it comes the pre-reading activities in the textbooks, Viewpoint 2 and Context 2. Viewpoints 2 only uses

questions to introduce the text to its readers (see figure 2) while Context 2 is a bit more varied and uses a mix of quotations and questions (see figure 1). Moreover, the after reading

activities in all of the textbooks for the most part consist of the same type of activities as can be observed in figure 1-5. The lack of variation in reading activities, (particularly in the case of the before-reading activities) is problematic as the different kinds of reading are practice in the same way but vary in regard to the theme/topic of the text. Furthermore, it is also

significant to point out that learners have different ways of learning (Lundahl, 2012). A possible reason for it could be that the textbooks for the most part consists of the same type of text types: narrative texts. As stated previously, one of the drawbacks of being dependent of a textbook is that they lack variation of text types (Brown, 2009; Radic-Bojanic and Topalov, 2016). Different text types require different reading purposes and therefore, different kinds of reading. This means that teachers need to provide different types of texts. Additionally, it aligns with the requirements of the curriculum for upper secondary school which emphasizes the need to include a variation of teaching materials in the classroom (Skolverket, 2011).

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7. Conclusion

Being a skilled reader provides a great opportunity for EFL learners to succeed in their

educational life. Subsequently, to become successful readers, learners must have the ability to apply appropriate reading strategies to the purpose of reading. These strategies include before-, during- and after-reading activities that help students develop their reading skills and allow for different kinds of reading. Therefore, it is imperative for teachers to choose the right material that provides the right type of activities for their students. Textbooks are one of the most common materials found in the EFL classroom which means that they should provide the right activities needed for developing reading skills. Hence, this study focuses on the analysis of three Swedish EFL textbooks and whether they supply learners with sufficient reading activities.

By conducting a qualitative content analysis the reasearchers arrive at the conclusion that none of the EFL textbooks included all three reading activity processes (before-,during-,after-reading). Context 2 and Viewpoints 2 include before- and after- reading activities. Pick & Mix

2 only included after-reading activities. None of the textbooks contained any during-reading

activities. Additionally, the EFL textbooks did expose learners to different kinds of reading, such as, “reading for learning” (careful reading) and “reading for information” (scanning and search reading). However, Viewpoints 2 did not provide activities that require the ability to skim through a text, which shows that not all of the generic reading strategies are covered. For future studies, it would be interesting to explore other aspects of developing reading skills such as variation of text types in the textbooks. Furthermore, as this study focuses on textbook analysis, the authors deemed it unsuitable to conduct a field study because the aim was to explore whether the textbooks actually provide teachers with the necessary tools to develop their students’ reading skills. The implementation of these tools would be a separate

dimension in the field of teaching. Therefore, an idea for future studies would be to conduct a field study which investigates how the reading activities in these textbooks are actually implemented in the EFL classroom and how they contribute to developing students reading skills.

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