We are sincerely thankful to the Almighty God for bestowing on us the knowledge and foresight towards the completion of this project. We are also greatly indebted to Dr. John Aning in the English Department, University of Education, Winneba, for his guidance and constructive comments throughout all the stages of this research project.
We also wish to express our profound gratitude to Mr. James Nsor and Mr. Frank Asilivi, both in the Department of English, University of Education, Winneba.
Finally, we register our sincerest thanks to our families, parents and to all friends and colleagues who in diverse ways contributed to the successful completion of this project.
This work is dedicated to Researchers and Students of the Queen’s language across the globe.
This study seeks to investigate the causes of the poor performance of five senior high schools’ students inthe Comprehension of English. It is a case study of the Wa Municipality. The purpose is to find out whether indeed the senior high students perform poorly in English comprehension and why.
In carrying out this task, about fifteen English Language teachers and three hundred students were sampled from five senior high schools in the Wa Municipality for the study. The research design used here is a case study and the instruments used for collecting the data were test item and questionnaire. From the test conducted for 15 teachers of English, ten out of the fifteen selected teachers representing 66% percent indicated that reading difficulty among students is one of the factors contributing to the abysmal performance of senior high school students in English comprehension. Many students find it difficult to read hence their inability to understand comprehension passages.
With regard to the issue of text books in schools, thirteen out of the fifteen selected teachers constituting eighty-six percent said that there is lack of text books in schools. While fourteen respondents representing ninety-three percent indicated that insufficient vocabulary hinders students’ performance in comprehension of English.
This chapter consists of the background to the study, the statement of the problem, the purpose of the study, objectives to the study, the significance of the study, the research questions, the organization of the study, and the limitations of the study.
Background of the study
Reading comprehension is seen as the “intentional thinking during which meaning is constructed through interactions between the reader and the text” Durkin (1993). Reading indeed is seen as both a language and a cognitive process. It is as well a social process too. Reading is an act of communication Geoffrey Gogovi et al (2015:13). A reader communicates with a writer in a text during reading. The concept of reading helps students deduce understanding from a text. A teacher must have the command over the processes of reading to enable him or her teach well. Reading can easily be put as a process in which a person receives and interprets a message from printed materials or a text. Reading comprehension is a process of extracting information from a text into meanings, starting with the information from the text, and ending with what the reader gains. Reading comprehension is the act of concurrently deriving and processing meaning through the interaction and involvement of language (Snow, 2002, p.11). Extracting meaning from a text is to understand what the author has written directly or indirectly. Constructing meaning is to interpret what the author has written based on the reader’s general or previous knowledge. The goal of reading comprehension is to help students understand written language. Students who understand properly monitor their understanding as they read.
As argued by Goodman (1976) reading is a psycholinguistic predicting game where the reader actively interacts with the text to extract meaning. Reading can be seen as the recognition of printed or written symbols, which serves as a catalyst for the recall of meanings in a text. Reading plays a vital role in our lives. In this era of the internet, reading maintains its significance as an important skill for learners of every language (Alderson, 1984).
Grabe and Stoller (2002) opine that reading is the capacity to construct meaning from a printed text and assimilate the message well. Numerous factors contribute to students’ poor performance in reading comprehension. Comprehension is about understanding; once one fails to decipher the text being read, comprehension is marred. However, several factors can as well influence one’s comprehension. Sub-vocalization of words affects understanding. Instead of reading silently, some students pronounce words aloud which hinders their concentration G. A.K Gogovi et al (2015: 130). It can also be explained as a process of translating alphabetical symbols into a form of language for decoding. The inability of students to transmit the orthographic spellings of words into speech sounds hinders their comprehension. This boils down to the students’ phonemic and phonological awareness of words and their sounds. The phonemic awareness is a kind of phonological awareness where the student is able to hear and control sound within words demonstrated by syllabifying the words into their various units or sounds (Carolyn et al 2007:15).
Reading comprehension could also be properly monitored if tackled using the appropriate pedagogy. Teaching pedagogy is a process of disseminating knowledge through teaching in the classroom. Reading is a very significant activity through which knowledge is imparted to people. In the words of Wilson (1974), reading is the ability to simulate printed materials in a text. It is a simulating process through which printed words are translated as a process of extracting meaning from the material and practicing it in our daily lives. Brook G.L. (1989) perceives reading as a cognitive process involving the interpretation of symbols perceived through the sense organs.
Reading comprehension is the ability to identify phonemic expressing of words in a written text. The students know that they can read once they can transmit writing into speech sounds. Reading is by far more than just the ability to pronounce words in a text. The primary objective why we read is to obtain information as well as decipher or understand a text; some students have poor fundamentals of reading.
Until fairly recently, the WASSCE English paper used to comprise two comprehension passages. This underscores the importance the examining body places on comprehension. A candidate who therefore performs well in the comprehension component will in no doubt increase his/her chances of success in the other components of the English language paper. English language is a requirement needed to enable graduates of senior high school secure admission into any of the tertiary institutions, both government and private. Without a good mastery of English language, it will be extremely difficult for students to gain admission into any tertiary educational or vocational institution. Poor mastery of English language will impair effective communication of the senior high school graduates in real life.
Statement of the problem
English Language is a vital subject in Ghana. It is a core subject that all students at the senior high school level are expected to offer. English language is the lingua franca in Ghana and the medium of instruction in all the second cycles and tertiary institutions in the country. This study seeks to explore the performance of candidates in the comprehension component of the English Language paper. The study will also make recommendation towards rectifying this problem. Reading comprehension indeed posts a major challenge to Senior High School Students.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to explore the performance of Senior High School Students in the comprehension component of the English Language paper in five senior high schools – Islamic Senior High, Wa Senior High, Wa Technical Institute, T. I. Ahmaddiyya Senior High and Wa Technical Senior High in the Wa Municipality. Numerous factors indeed influence learners reading comprehension in Senior High School.
Significance of the Study
The study seeks to provide strategies for the appropriate teaching of the comprehension component of the English Language paper. The findings of this research work could be used as a useful guide for English language teachers, particularly those teaching at the Senior High School level. The study could also be used by students as a reference material for their studies. It could be used by the general public as a useful tool that can help improve upon their understanding of written discourses.
The researchers anticipated some challenges in relation to the methods of data collection and analysis vis-à-vis the general behaviour of the students during the interaction period. One limitation is that in the course of the intervention some students did not actively participate in the reading comprehension test for fear of bombing in the test. Some students also knowingly or intentionally absented themselves from school or class during the test intervention period. The researcher was also constrained by limited time. The study was therefore restricted to five schools – Islamic senior high school, Wa senior high school, Wa Technical Institute, T. I. Ahmaddiya senior high school and Wa technical senior high school. Sufficient time would have enabled the researchers to cover several schools to make the findings the most representative of the views of all students who have English Comprehension problem.
Objectives of the Study
Specifically, the study seeks to:
1. Find out how students in five selected senior high schools in the Wa Municipality perform in Comprehension of English.
2. Explore students’ challenges in Comprehension of English.
3. Examine the methods of teaching comprehension in schools by English Language teachers.
4. Find solutions to students’ challenges in reading comprehension.
To achieve the desired objectives, the following research questions were formulated:
1. Why do students perform poorly in Comprehension of English?
2. What factors account for the poor performance of students in Comprehension of English?
3. What are the available measures to improve reading comprehension in senior high schools?
Definition of Terms
- Reading comprehension: Reading comprehension is the act of deriving and processing meaning through the interaction and involvement with language (Snow, 2002, p.11).
- Academic Performance: It refers to how well or badly an individual student scores in each specific examinable subject in an examination.
- Decoding: Secondary school learners’ ability to recognize words and associate meaning with them.
- Disability: This is students’ lack or restriction or inability to perform a mental or physical activity in the manner within the range considered normal at a given age or sex in a school setting.
- Reading Difficulty: This includes problems in reading habits, word recognition, comprehension, word groupings and punctuations.
Organization of the Study
The study is organized into five chapters. Chapter One comprises the background to the study, the statement of the problem, the purpose of the study, the limitations of the study, the objectives of the study, the research questions, the significance of the study and the organization of the study. Chapter Two consists of the theoretical framework and the review of literature. Chapter Three discusses the various methodological issues concerning data collection. Chapter Four looks at the data analysis. Chapter Five covers the summary of the findings, conclusion and recommendations.
Theoretical Framework and Review of Literature
The study looked at three theories or models of reading. That is, the schema theory, the reader response theory and Piaget’s cognitive theory. The schema theory is the most prominent representational theory for reading comprehension for researchers and educationists during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Schema looks at the reader’s background knowledge, that is, by considering the role of the background knowledge in Comprehension of English. Schema theory is also viewed as a psychological framework that covers both top-down and bottom-up processing of reading comprehension.
According to Gunning (1996), schema is an organized knowledge that one perceives about people, events and their surroundings. In the words of Kitao (1990) schema theory involves interplay between the reader’s background knowledge and the text which results in comprehension. Anderson & Pearson, (1984) and Rumelhart, (1980) argue that schema theory with regard to comprehension is only about the bottom-up process manipulated by phonemic level of letters, words and the text; it is also about the top-down process where the learner calls on his or previous knowledge or experiences on the passage or topic and his problem-solving technique.
According to Piaget, cognitive development is that aspect of development that deals with thinking, problem solving, intelligence and language. He further argues that cognitive development is a combined result of maturation of the brain and the nervous system and the experiences that help shape the individual’s adaptation to the environment. He contends that cognitive development in all children will go through a predictable and qualitative distinct levels or stages. These stages are from concrete operational thought to formal operational thought. The stages are useful in this study in that adolescents’ reading abilities and social or emotional adjustment in secondary schools depend on how successful they went through these early stages in life (Lerner, 2000).
Piaget again emphasizes that the order in which the periods occur is approximately fixed but a child’s rate of progress in them is not and the age at which each stage is negotiated varies from child to child. The stage progression portion of Piaget’s cognitive development theory has important implications on reading development stages (Chall, 1983). First, reading process is developmental and no child skips a stage. Second, different children may take different lengths of time and experiences to complete their development. The schemata (mental structures) aspect of Piaget’s theory is in line with reading definition of reading beyond the lines in this study.
Indeed, of all the numerous collection of alternative ways to the assessment of reading comprehension, the reader response theory has also made a vital impact on the huge corpus of assessment instruments in the past three decades. With regard to Rosenblatt’s literary theory (1995), the reader response theory places emphasis on the reciprocal relationship between the reader and the text. The reader brings to bare his or her cultural background and socialization to the text and the life experiences the reader brings to the text (Rosenblatt, 1991).
This chapter further presents the review of relevant and related literature on the study. The search was conducted through the perusal of abstracts, academic journals, major educational databases, web pages, and suggestions by some educational authorities. The researcher also evaluated previous related studies, observations, opinions and comments related to this research. This chapter is further segmented into five parts. The first segment looks at the meaning of reading comprehension. The second segment presents the methodological skills and strategies involved in delivering reading comprehension. The third segment considers the factors that hinder reading comprehension. The fourth segment discusses the remedies to the problems of reading comprehension. The last segment however looks at the summary of the reviewed literature.
Research is an essential part of academic practice (Edu-Buandoh and Johnson 2013). It is a systematic investigation and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and new findings. The research intended here is a case study. According to Walsh (2001) cited by Edu-Buandoh and Johnson (2013) a case study is an investigation of a single individual, event or situation; the researcher studies a single example or case of a phenomenon.
According to Edu-Buandoh and Johnson, (2013) quoting Drew (1980), research is “a systematic way of asking questions, a systematic method of enquiry.” Drew further states that the “aim of research is to solve a problem and also to expand knowledge”.
There are various factors hindering the effective teaching and learning of reading comprehension in senior high schools. Ojo (1993) argued that the major cause of students’ poor performance in comprehension of English is their inability to read confidently. This is largely as a result of the lackadaisical attitude of learners toward reading. Teachers must take the challenge to solve these problems. In the words of Folaranmi (2007) the government should involve teachers in the formulation of the educational policies in the country. This is so because teachers are at the helm of affairs as regards their implementations. Akinbade (2007) opines that a good environment promotes effective learning in schools. A serene environment promotes learning and contributes to absorption and retention.
The Meaning of Reading Comprehension
Reading can be done for various purposes. Some read to derive pleasure and satisfaction while others read for information. Reading comprehension is the identification of printed or written symbols, which aids in the recall of meanings formed through the reader's previous experiences. The concept of reading helps students to extract meanings from a discourse. A teacher has to understand the process of reading to enable him or her teach reading comprehension effectively. Reading can easily be defined as a way in which a reader receives and interprets information from a printed text or document. Reading is also a medium through which information is derived from a text and processed into meanings, starting with the message in the material, and culminating with what the reader deciphers. Reading is not merely a physical or visual contact with written symbols. It is rather a way of decoding, interpreting or making meaning from these symbols Sakyi–Baidoo (2003).
Reading has a long rich history in the life of humankind. Al Regeb, (2009) & Al Khawaldeh, (2011) both affirm that reading enhances readers’ knowledge. It develops and equips them with the requisite vocabulary that helps them to interact with others, and improves their language skills.
Research has it that there is interplay between reading and comprehension as regards to academic achievement. Students who truly understand texts gain a deeper comprehension of the text. This enables them to relate the knowledge to what they have previously learnt. A good reader is someone who is able to understand what is read and is able to respond creatively and critically to the text, have a holistic understanding of the text. That is, being able to comprehend texts as a whole, and not just individual sentences and paragraphs and connect the text with oneself (the reader), with other texts, with the world and life in general.
Adewole (2001) posits that the goal of any reading process is to build a strong foundation that is beneficial to students throughout their lives in their academic pursuit. Reading is a vital form of extracting information required in teaching and learning situations and in everyday life. Krashen (1993) argues that one learns to read by reading, not through drill and practice, but by free will, with this, learners become readers.
Reading is the quickest and easiest way of raising people’s educational status (Hung & Tzeng, 2001). Reading also lubricates the brain cells for proper development, broadens one’s horizon, reinforces language skills, develops reader’s organizational abilities, improves one’s ability to control one’s temper, and prepares one towards enduring frustration.
Goodman (1976) and Smith (1973) both indicate that reading is a communicative process, not just the sum of various decoding and assimilating ideas in the text. Better still, reading is a way of restructuring the author’s ideas and information.
Reading is initially seen as a mere process in which the readers simply decode the written symbols without recourse to their prior knowledge to interact with the text (Clarke & Silberstein, 1977; Ruddell, 1976).
According to Carter (2002) reading is the foundation for all spheres of learning. Children with the skill of reading are able to gather and make use of the information gathered in different ways. Reading as a skill is acquired in a certain order, through an interaction with the reader, the material and the context to enhance the development of literacy. The contemporary view of reading is based on mental processes, putting an emphasis on the student with the competence of combining information with prior knowledge and able to manipulate processes hence making it child-centered.
As pointed out by Onukaogu (2002) reading is the pivot of literacy and that lack of it, there can never be understanding of issues. Reading is everything. It expands one’s range of learning, as a result, the more learners learn, the more they expand their background knowledge he or she attains.
Reading comprehension is the thinking process used to make meaning out of what a person reads (Block, Gambell, and Presley, 2002). Research has shown that teachers spend little time teaching comprehension strategies. Instead, they focus on asking literal questions, assigning workbook pages and giving instructions (Block and Israel, 2005).
According to Haris and Hodges (1995: 35) “Reading comprehension is the construction of the meaning of a written or spoken communication through a reciprocal, holistic interchange of ideas between the interpreter and the text”. What this seeks to portray is that meaning lies in the reader’s understanding of text which is influenced by the learner’s previous knowledge and experiences.
According to Wilson (1974) reading is the process of interpreting printed information from a text. It is a simulating process by which encoded words are translated and processed to construct meaning from a material for use in our daily activities. Brook G.L. (1989) considers reading as a mental process comprising the interpretation of signs received with the help of the sense organs.
Methods and Strategies of Teaching Reading Comprehension
Teaching method is the process of carrying out teaching process in the classroom or the pedagogical skill use in imparting knowledge onto students in a classroom set up. It is also the means through which the teacher attempts to impart the desired knowledge onto the students. This is also seen as a way the teacher organizes and uses the teaching techniques or skills, the content, teaching aids or resources to meet the desired objectives.
Teaching techniques are the required skills or styles through which a lesson is delivered (Adjei-Mensah et al 2001: 28). To ensure effective learning, the teacher ought to make use of his or her questioning technique effectively to elicit the appropriate feedback of the student. The traditional approach to the handling of reading comprehension is centered on the behaviourists’ theory seen as a process largely teacher-centered, techniques handled separately and barely considers the learner as the center of interaction, Carter (2002).
According to Sakeyfio (2000) reading comprehension is best tackled by categorizing the questions into content, derivative and appreciative. With content questions, the answers are recoverable from the text. That is, the answers are gotten direct from the passage. As regards to the derivative questions, where the students need to scrutinize the questions in order to be able to make implied deductions from facts stated in the passage. She again explains that, with respect to appreciative questions, students are required to react pertinently to the language and structure used in the texts in a technical and or literary way.
In the words of Gborsong (2011), comprehension implies the ability to understand or relate what one is being told. To understand comprehension, one needs to have a wider stock of vocabulary. He further argues that, meanings of words are gotten in context. This, he categorized into verbal context , physical context and kinds of context clues.
Also, Gborsong, (2011) puts reading comprehension into categories. Thus, reading for understanding, where the reader skims the text for the subject matter, extracting the information which involves the reader’s judgment and criticisms. The information you are seeking should moderate your reading. However, he posits that bad reading habits like movement or turning of the head from side to side, movement of lips, pointing at words with one’s fingers or pencil should be avoided because they hamper comprehension.
Brigitte. A. M, Cynthia L and Bamett. B.S (2007: 29) devised the following methods of teaching comprehension effectively. The phonemic awareness is one of the techniques or strategies for teaching. This has to do with the ability to respond to auditory impulse, identify and manipulate isolated sounds in spoken words and paves the way to learning to read (Block and Israel, 2005: 29). Taking students through the phonemic technique helps to develop their word reading and comprehension skills (Adler, 2001:10).
The teaching of comprehension can be quite complex, hence, teachers need to ensure that students have basic decoding and fluency skills and sufficient vocabulary and background knowledge for the text to be read. They need to choose texts appropriately—the right level of difficulty and a good balance between narrative, informational, and other genres. And they also need to be knowledgeable about various comprehension strategies. Beyond these, perhaps, teachers need to be aware of the appropriate level of guidance or scaffolding students need in the process of reading and learning to use various comprehension strategies. Pearson and Gallagher (1983) propose a model of instructional support, called the Gradual Release Responsibility Model (GRRM), that is considered very compelling and that, it is hoped will be seriously considered in our own approach to instruction. The model stipulates three levels or phases of teacher–student responsibility in any sort of learning. With the initial phase, the teacher takes on the crux of the responsibility for the lesson as she or he models for students, the processes and strategies that students are to learn. In essence, this is done by the teacher describing the process or strategy, presenting analogies of the process from other tasks with which students are familiar with, implementing and displaying the process for students to view on their own. In the course of the modeling, the teacher comments on his or her own implementation. In other words, what the teacher is doing and what he or she is thinking about. This process is often called thinking aloud. The teacher takes that which is normally abstract and makes it visible through actions and verbalizations. The teacher may have to model the process in this way several times for several days. The second phase of the model is joint responsibility, where both the teacher and students take the responsibility for the task implementation. They may both do the task altogether or do different portions of the task. Or students may engage in the task under the guidance of the teacher who observes, gives feedback and evaluation, and encourages students to work hard. Again, the guided practice may require a number of attempts over several days. Throughout the second phase of the model, the teacher is slowly pulling away from the task, allowing the students to take responsibility. The third and final phase has the students in complete control of the implementation of the process. However, they work independently with minimal support from the teacher, unless requested. The goal for the students is to develop skill and their own collection of reading strategies. At this point, the students have developed ownership of that strategy and should be able to apply whenever they feel necessary. Comprehension is not something that happens automatically in the mind of the reader as he or she engages with print, even though it may seem that way to adult proficient readers. Reading comprehension is an active, thoughtful, strategic, and multidimensional process that readers employ to take in new meaning from the written text and fit (or file) it into their existing knowledge structures (files). It is a process by which human beings learn. It is the job of teachers to help students become aware of, or acquire, and employ this process in their own reading.