An exploration of how English first language teachers teach reading to grade three learners in multilingual contexts.
Msimango, Welile Ntombifuthi.
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Reading plays a pivotal role in terms of learners' comprehension and understanding of what is taught in schools. Reading, as part of nation building, provides rapid and ready access to new information and knowledge that will help us in life-long learning (DoE, 2008, p.5). In the context of South Africa, where the legacy of apartheid can still be felt almost 20 years after its collapse, having literate learners becomes particularly important. This is more so the case considering the linguistic diversity of South Africa – many learners in multilingual schooling contexts of South Africa encounters reading difficulties as they are taught in a language foreign to their mother tongues. If learners cannot read there is a greater likelihood of poor academic achievement. It was therefore the intention of this study to explore how teachers who speak English as a first language teach reading to Grade Three learners in multilingual contexts. The study examined the methodologies Grade Three teachers employed in teaching reading, as well as the support they offered to Grade Three learners generally and also specifically to those learners who may not speak English as a first language. This study followed a qualitative approach and was interpretive in its paradigm. The study's methodology was that of a case study of three Grade Three teachers in one public primary school in Durban. Observations were conducted, so as to offer detailed descriptions of Grade Three teacher's actions, behaviours, and full range of interpersonal interactions between teachers and learners. The researcher also interviewed and observed teachers teaching reading. The findings revealed that teachers who speak English as a first language, in a multilingual school, experience several challenges in teaching reading to Grade Three learners - such as: teachers having to ask a lot of questions because children battle with comprehension, it takes time for English second language learners to grasp phonic sounds, and teachers have to spend a lot of time helping struggling readers. Hence a sound whole-school approach around reading can greatly smooth the process of teaching. The study found teachers who were not only competent in the teaching of reading, but who also ensured that support was given to all their learners, particularly those whose mother tongue is not English. Some key factors that helped them to overcome their challenges were: the availability of reading materials, knowledge of the reading process, planning and consistency across the grade, support from school management and the preparation of intervention strategies. The teachers also employed a variety of methods and strategies while teaching, thereby ensuring comprehension and support for the learners. The study recommends that schools should take reading seriously since it had been proven that many South African learners have poor reading abilities. This means that a whole-school approach towards reading is required. If learners are able to read well, all subjects in the school benefit.
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