The Effect of Using Short Stories on Secondary School Students’ Critical Reading
Christian University of Indonesia Jakarta, Indonesia
Critical reading skills are very important in both academic and everyday lives. These skills enable individuals to detect bias, prejudice, misleading opinion, and illogical conclusions, in any oral or written discourse. English education, therefore, should contribute to the development of students’ critical reading skills. This study aimed at investigating whether or not short stories use effects students’ critical reading skills. It focused on comparing between short stories and non-literary texts in developing critical reading. The participants were sixty-fourteenth-grade English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students dividing into two groups: an experimental group and a control group. Short stories were used to teach the experimental group, whereas non-literary texts were used to teach the control group. To achieve the goal, data was collected using a critical reading test. The findings revealed that the post-test mean score of the experimental class is 75.30 and the post-test mean score of the control class is 68.14. The hypothesis test showed there is a significant effect short story use. The value of Sig. of equality variances (0.379) was higher than Sig. α (0.05). Based on the findings, it was concluded that there is a significant effect of using short stories in improving tenth-grade EFL students’ critical reading skills. This study pointed out that short stories can be an effective tool to improve critical reading.
Keywords: critical reading, short stories, non-literary texts
Critical reading skills are very essential in both academic and everyday lives. These skills enable individuals, including students, to evaluate every oral they listen to or written discourse they read. Kress (2003) argued that in the present information era people are demanded to be more critical because people are bombarded with information coming from so many sources. In line with this, Pardede (2011) suggested that EFL students confront many kinds of text (e.g., advertisements, editorials, opinion columns, propaganda bulletins, and political statements) in their daily life. These texts attempt to influence students’ thinking and behavior. With critical reading skills, they will be able to detect misleading advertisement claims, recognize the best values, and avoid spending their money foolishly. In addition, critical reading is the key to thinking productively and the most essential part of the reading education (Cifci, 2006). Critical reading is not limited only to comprehend a text but also to think and determine what is true and false in the text (Ozdemir, 1997, pp. 19), to interpret (Bagcı &Sahbaz, 2012, pp. 2) and to assess the opinions or knowledge (Candan, 2003, pp.105). Ozdemir (2002) accentuated that critical reading is a skill that should be used throughout life. Therefore, helping students to master critical reading in the EFL classroom is very important to prepare them to become critical readers in their lives.
Despite the high importance of critical reading, various EFL practitioners tend to assume that students generally have a low capacity to be critical (Macknish, 2011) or even uncritical at all (Buckingham, 1992). In the Indonesian context, the result of Hayati’s (2010) study voiced similar concerns. She found that EFL teachers seemed to face a challenge in terms of Indonesian students’unfamiliarity with problematical things and questioning assumptions when attempting to apply critical pedagogy. This was confirmed by Kirkpatrick (2007)who found that the goal of EFL reading in the college curriculum in Indonesia seemed to be very instrumental: to simply understand the information of a text. In other words, the curriculum of ELT programs in Indonesia tends to focus only on reading on interrogating the text without extending the interpretation beyond the text. It was supported by the findings of other studies (Cahyono& Widiati, 2006; Sulistyo & Suharmanto, 2007; Floris & Divina,2009) which indicated that reading activities to promote students’ critical reading skills are not yet common in Indonesian EFL classes, and EFL reading instruction is still delimited to the purpose of enabling students to comprehend expository texts which are commonly used in textbooks.
These findings indicate that the main factors causing the students’ low capacity of critical reading cover the reading teaching goal, method, activities, and materials selection. Kohzadi et al. (2014) believed that literary texts can be used to promote students’ critical reading and thinking skills in the EFL classroom. Mahdi and Ibraheem (2013) posited that “non-literary texts are based on precision [and] reason and can be characterized by more or less logical argumentative progression” (p. 24). Thus, students can develop their critical reading skills through non-literary texts because these texts encourage them to think logically. Among the various genres of literary texts, short stories are the most suitable to use in English teaching due to its shortness (Pardede, 2011). Therefore, this study aims to investigate the effect of short stories in developing EFL students’ critical reading skills.
Critical reading is essentially a reading process involving critical thinking. To perceive the nature of critical reading, therefore, necessitates an understanding of the meanings of reading and critical thinking. Current theories indicate, that in addition to the notion that views reading as a process of extracting meaning from a text, reading is also seen as a process of connecting information in the text with the knowledge the reader brings to the act of reading. In this perspective, reading is “a dialogue between the reader and the text” (Grabe, 1988,p. 56) which necessitates the reader to analyze and evaluate information and ideas. In other words, the reader reads critically.
That idea is supported by Kurland (2000), who defined critical reading as a careful, active, reflective, analytic reading which involves reflecting on the validity of what one has read in light of his prior knowledge and understanding of the world. It is also in line with Huijie’s (2010) definition which describes critical reading as “a high-level reading process which entails the ability to read with analysis and judgment” (p. 40). In addition, Pardede (2011) define critical reading as “an active and purposeful process of comprehending, questioning, and evaluating printed material and in order to react intelligently to the writer’s ideas”. Synthesizing these definitions, critical reading can be understood as an active process of constructing meaning from the texts by involving interpretation, making inference, analysis, giving judgment, and evaluation.
Short Stories, or the”narrative that can be read at one sitting of from one-half hour to two hours, and that is limited to ‘a certain unique or single effect,’ to which every detail is subordinate” (Abrams, 1970, p. 158) seems to be the most suitable literary texts to use in EFL classes. Since it is short and aims at giving a ‘single effect’, there is usually one plot, a few characters; there is no detailed description of the setting. So, it is easy for the students to follow the story-line of the work.
According to Khuankaew (2010), integrating literary works into classes can develop critical thinking. This is due to the fact that the exposition in literary texts is not directly expressed that to get the texts meaning, readers should make an inference. Hall (2005)posited that the process of reading literary texts is a ‘bottom-up’ process which activates readers’ prior knowledge and incorporates novel information with existing knowledge. Such process encourages thoughtful and critical thinking. While reading a literary work, students are also involved in problem-solving tasks of literary texts via resolving conflicts. They also need to apply their analytical skills to relate different elements of a literary work, including the themes, setting, characters, plot, allegories, symbols, motifs, and points of view.
In addition, integrating literary works into classes to develop critical thinking is also supported by the fact that literary works can have more than one meaning. This makes literature tough resources for reflective analysis. Hall (2005) added that the process of reading literary texts is slower than others as readers are more attentive and more reflective. Reading literary works promotes critical thinking because the readers of literary texts are often trying to understand something beyond the text, and they tend to speculate on potential future developments (Langer, 2000). Fisher (1999) hypothesized there are strong pedagogical reasons for developing thinking skills through the use of literature. Based on the results of studies comparing more able, literate children with less able ones, he stated that successful learners have: (1) knowledge of literary forms, purposes, and genre, including meta-linguistic knowledge; (2) skills and strategies for processing literary knowledge, including the ability to question, interrogate and discuss narrative texts; and 93) ability to apply and transfer their learning and knowledge to other contexts.
Method for Teaching Critical Reading Skills Using Short Story.
As previously indicated, in addition to the reading materials, another key factor causing the students’ low capacity of critical reading is the teaching method. Wallace (1992) suggested that to effectively teach reading, including critical reading, in EFL classrooms, the activities should be divided into three stages: pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading stages. In the pre-reading stage, the students are encouraged to form and write their own questions, predictions, and hypotheses concerning the story they will read. This aim is to let the students to think about the story rather than to answer the given questions that control the way of reading the text. They could be asked to make their own statements for supporting or refusing what the story is about before reading. This stage can also encourage the students to predict, for instances, what will happen and how the story will end, make hypotheses for predicting a text.
The during-reading stage aims to provide the students the opportunity to interact with the text. During this stage, the teacher guides the students to take notes about the events, ideas, feelings, values, cultures presented in the story; summarize information; and record their reactions and opinions. Therefore, the activities in the while-reading stage should aid the students to aware of, characters, incidents, time, and cultural perspectives in the story. Teachers can help by placing the text in its historical, biographical, and cultural context.
In the post-reading stage, teachers help students to think critically by providing each of them chances to evaluate his/her adequacy of questions, predictions, and hypotheses formed in the pre-reading stage and to reflect the interpretation formed in the while-reading stage. In short, the post-reading activities focus on a wide range of questions that allow for different interpretations (Pardede, 2010).
Various current researchers and educators have revealed that literary texts can be an effective means of promoting students’ critical reading skills, and due to its shortness, short stories are the most suitable literary genre to use in EFL classes. Reading short stories, students can develop their critical reading skills because these texts encourage them to think analytically, logically and reflectively. Analytical, logical and reflective thinking are needed to infer the indirect expressions commonly used in short story, to solve the problems presented in the conflicts, to relate the different parts of a literary work,including the themes, setting, characters, plot, allegories, symbols, motifs,and points of view for fully understanding the story, and to evaluate authors biases. However, to get empirical data concerning the effectiveness of using short stories to develop students’ critical reading skills, studies are needed to conduct. This study aims to investigate the effect of literary texts on developing EFL students’ critical reading skills.
This study is quasi-experimental research design investigating the effect of short stories use on EFL students critical reading skills. Conducted in a state senior high school in Jakarta in2014/2015 academic year, the participants were 64 tenth-graders who were selected via convenience sampling. Due to administrative restrictions, the participants were grouped using non-random sampling technique, i.e. by treating X MIA-1 the experimental group and X MIA-2 the control group. Each group consisted of 32 students.
Short stories were used to teach reading to the experimental group, whereas the control group was taught by using non-literary texts. Although the groups were taught using different texts, the method of teaching was the same, i.e. the method of teaching adapted from the framework proposed by Wallace (1992) which was divided into three stages: pre-reading stage, while-reading stage, and post-reading stage. The activities in the pre-reading stage include previewing, questioning, anticipation guide, pictorial context, and pre-reading vocabulary. The while-reading stage covers the activities of annotating and analyzing. The post-reading stage includes summarizing and reflecting activities.
Prior to the experiment, students in both groups were asked to do the pretest to measure whether the students in both groups had the same level of critical reading skills. After seven sessions of teaching (each session lasted in 100 minutes), both groups took the post-test to measure the effects of the use of short stories and non-literary texts to the participants’ critical reading development. Each test was designed to test four main elements of critical reading skills: distinguishing facts from opinions, making inferences, drawing conclusions, and recognizing an author’s purpose. Based on two passages, two types of questions were provided: multiple choices questions, and open-ended questions. The multiple choices consisted of 20 questions (2 points for each correct answer), whereas the open-ended questions, designed to ask students for sharing their opinions regarding the passages, consisted of 2 questions (10 scores). To determine the reliability, both tests were tested with 16 students who were not the participants of the study. Using the reliability coefficient Cronbach’s alpha, the reliability of the critical reading test was 0.78. Since the value was higher than 0.7, the instruments were reliable enough to assess students’ critical reading skills. The data were analyzed through software package SPSS 22.0. Independent-test analysis was used to determine whether there were any differences between the critical reading skills of participants in the experimental group and that of the control group.
As shown by Table 1, the mean score obtained by the control group (67.74) was a bit higher than that of the experimental group (63.90). However, the differences not significantly different. Thus, before the experiment, the students in both groups had relatively the same level of critical reading skills.
Table 1. The Participants’ Initial Level of Critical Reading Skills
The comparison of the results of the pretest and the posttest of the control group showed that the gain score is 0.40 (See Table 2). This indicated that the use of non-literary texts did not significantly promote the students’ critical reading skills.
Table 2. The Control Group’s Critical Reading Skills Development
Quite different from the comparison of the results of the pretest and the posttest of the control group, the comparison of the experimental group’s pretest and the posttest showed a quite high gain score, i.e. 11.40 (See Table 3). This indicated that the use of short stories enhanced the students’ critical reading skills quite significantly.
Table 3. The Experimental Group’s Critical Reading Skills Development
As shown by Table 4, the results obtained from the independent sample t-test showed there was a significant difference in the scores for the use of the use of short stories (M=75.30) and non-literary texts(M=68.14) on conditions t (62)= -3.252, p= 0.002, and the value of Sig. of quality variances (0.379) was higher than Sig. α (0.05). This suggested that the use of the use of short stories had an effect on students critical reading skills. Specifically, the results suggest that when short stories are used in teaching reading, the students critical reading skills well developed higher than when non-literary texts are used.
Based on the results of the independent sample t-test, it was concluded that the Ho, stating there is no significant effect of using short stories to students’ critical reading skills, was rejected.
Table4. The Results of the Independent Sample T-Test
The results of this study reveal that the participants developed their critical reading skills after participating in the teaching of critical reading by using short stories and non-literary texts. The findings revealed that both texts did enable the participants to develop their critical reading skills. However, the results indicated that the critical reading skills of the participants in the the experimental group were significantly higher than that of the control group. It revealed that there was a significant difference between the mean score of the students in the experimental group and that of the control group. This suggested that using short stories positively affected the critical reading skills of the students in the experimental group.
These results could be explained by the fact that reading short stories aids students to read more critically and these texts also encourage them to think more logically. Additionally, literary texts require readers to read and understand something beyond the subject matter presented in the text. This is in line with the findings of Kohzadi, Azizmohammadi, and Sanadi (2014) which revealed that the use of literary texts in an EFL classroom improved students’ critical reading skills because the characteristics in literary texts support them to be more attentive and more reflective about what they had read. These findings also supported Chi-An & Shu-Yin’s (2009) proposition that literature reading promote critical reading skills as it involves students’ ability to recall, retrieve, and reflect their prior knowledge in order to be able to judge the literal or implied meaning,differentiate facts or opinion, understand narrator’s tone, locate issues, to infer the causal-comparative between event and action, to be able to perform with different point of view, to make moral reasoning and fair judgment about what the students’ read and the other aspect related to students’ real life.
Based on the findings and discussion provided in the previous sections, it can be concluded that short stories can be used as an alternative instructional material to improve students’ critical reading skills. In relation to this, EFL teachers are recommended to employ short stories in their classrooms to help students develop their critical reading skills. Despite that, due to administrative and time restrictions, this study has some limitations. First, the participants of this study were students of the same grade at a single school. To get more valid results, further study is needed to investigate the effect of using short stories to develop critical reading skills at different levels of language proficiency, comparing gender, comparing children and adults, and comparing learners with different learning styles. In addition, investigating the students and teachers’ views of using short stories to develop critical reading skills is also recommended.
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Note: This article was presented in The UKI English Education Department Bimonthly Collegiate Forum held on Friday, April 10, 2015