Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Students' Perceptions of Using a Novel as Main Material in the EFL Reading Course

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Students' Perceptions of Using a Novel as Main Material in the EFL Reading Course

Article excerpt

Abstract

The study looked into the possibility of using a novel as main material in a college EFL reading course. It focused on evaluating the effectiveness of novel-teaching based on students' subjective perceptions. For this purpose, two classes of non-English majors read and received instruction on an unabridged novel for one semester. A pair of questionnaires were used to measure students' perceptions and attitudes prior to and after the novel class. Analysis of the pretest and post-test shows that after a semester-long novel-reading process, students demonstrated improvement in attitudes, confidence, interest, and their own perceived reading ability. The results are of pedagogical significance to EFL teaching in that they present how well a novel was received in an EFL class, the benefits it offered as well as the difficulties it entailed to the reading process.

Keywords: novel, main material, novel-reading, college EFL reading

1. Introduction

One major goal of the college EFL reading courses is to cultivate reading autonomy in the students. Such autonomy is developed through not only sufficient reading proficiency but also sustained reading interest and adequate knowledge of reading resources (Tsai, 2007). Since most EFL learners have their primary contact with the target language in the classroom, what is introduced in the class decides for the most part what they may utilize in the out-of-class context. It is thus important to "empower foreign language students to make effective use of the potential language-learning materials that exist around them" (Ryan, 1997, p. 215), to help find out prospectively motivating resources that the students can use when the EFL courses end.

Among the varied materials for reading, newspapers, magazines, and books are often brought into the instruction in many ESL/EFL programs (Cuban, 2001; Day & Bamford, 1998). Courses involving extensive reading or literature-based instruction mostly feature graded readers and young adult literature (Day & Bamford, 1998; Paran, 2008). In Taiwan, language learning magazines and bilingual newspapers are also common supplementary or outside reading materials (Tsai, 2007). Authentic book-length novels, however, despite their popularity in the recommended material list for pleasure reading, are rarely used to supplement textbooks, much less being central to the regular EFL curriculum.

Although researchers have suggested various benefits of introducing authentic novels in the language classrooms (Gareis, Allard, & Saindon, 2009; Hismanoglu, 2005; Lazar, 1990; Vandrick, 1997), using an original, unabridged novel as the primary course material may seem "too radical a leap from tradition" (Gareis et al., 2009, p. 145). The fact that a novel does not lay out curricular items in a certain sequence as a textbook does may be regarded a drawback by the teacher; its long text and large amount of new vocabulary can be daunting to students who are used to shorter passages in traditional textbooks (Gareis et al., 2009; Lazar, 1990). Therefore, a novel is considered best for readers of high-intermediate to advanced levels of English to truly enjoy the reading experience (Gareis et al., 2009; Hismanoglu, 2005). Nevertheless, as Tsou (2007) observes, reading novels for pleasure is teachable even with students of lower levels of reading proficiency. With careful selection of the right works and proper guidance, the obstacles can be minimized to make novels a pleasant alternative to textbooks (Brunes, 2009; Gareis et al., 2009; Jou, 2006).

This study, based on the notion that novels present an authentically valuable source of reading for EFL students, looked into the possibility of using a novel as the main course material in a college reading course. It focused on evaluating the effectiveness of novel-teaching in terms of students' subjective perceptions instead of their objective linguistic gains. The research questions include:

1) Are there changes in the students' attitudes toward novel-reading and in their perceptions of using a novel as textbook after the entire reading experience? …

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