Readability in reading materials selection and coursebook design for college English in China

Lu, Zhongshe (2002) Readability in reading materials selection and coursebook design for college English in China. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

This thesis studies the application of readability in reading materials selection and coursebook design for college English in an EFL context in China. Its aim is to develop rationales which coursebook writers can utilise in selecting materials as texts and as a basis for designing tasks.

This study, through a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods, argues that readability is applicable in the EFL Chinese context, and readability plays a important role in determining the selection of materials and the task design for college English. As the term readability is used in a more comprehensive sense which includes text factors as well as reader factors, existing measures of readability should be critically examined. Objective and statistical measures such as readability formulae need to be refined in line with recent research into the relationship between lexico-grammar and discourse organisation, and with recent research into second language/ foreign language acquisition. Ease of reading can be manipulated by highlighting the use of discourse signals in the text, and by raising high order questions. It is argued that high-order-tasks such as "thinking skill" activities facilitate students' interaction with the text and the development of language awareness.

The application of three highly regarded formulae and the analysis of language features of the chosen texts indicate that word difficulty and sentence complexity are significant in materials selection. However, the findings in the questionnaires and interviews show that readability formulae in use today ignore the critical functions of discourse signals and organisation. Nor do they consider cognitive processing factors such as exercise design, readers' interest, motivation and prior knowledge which play an equally important part as word difficulty and sentence length. Consequently, the suggestion is that both objective and subjective research methodologies are necessary in setting up new criteria. Objective statistics gained from appropriate readability formulae serve as an index to the difficulty of a text in terms of language. However, subjective opinion from experienced teachers on reader factors functions as an aid, and exercise design functions as an adjustment to students' comprehensibility. Among the three, exercise or task design deserves more exploration and experimentation from coursebook writers.

Process-based and activity-centred approaches are suggested in raising questions and designing tasks, because they focus on the reader and emphasise developing students' interpretation of the relations between forms and meanings. It is argued that they lead students into the process of learning - learn to learn, which is the ideal goal of English teaching, to which coursebook writers of college English have so far paid insufficient attention.

Therefore, new criteria for materials selection and coursebook design for college English are proposed:

• The textbooks have to meet the requirement stated in the National English Syllabus.

• The chosen passages have to be authentic.

• The chosen texts have to be interesting in topic, and substantial in content.

• The texts have to be right in difficulty level from the linguistic point of view.

• The tasks designed should provide students with opportunities to make use of their

prior knowledge to interact with the text.

• The exercises should lead the students to deeper, more personal engagement.

It is hoped that these criteria will function as basic guidelines for future coursebook writing in college English.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Supervisors:Carter, R.A.
Uncontrolled Keywords:college English, EFL, textbook readability, textbook design, coursebook design
Faculties/Schools:UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English Studies
ID Code:1160
Deposited By:Ms. K EVANS
Deposited On:08 Mar 2010 14:35
Last Modified:08 Mar 2010 14:35

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