Reading within language as a subject: a key-area within the broad aim of making ready for the knowledge society Irene Pieper Institut für deutsche Sprache und Literatur, Universität Hildesheim A. Introduction: reading within LS Reading has long been considered a key area within LS. Curricula usually focus on reading as a specific area of learning or domain of competences, often next to writing, speaking and listening, reflection upon language. Research on the socialisation in reading and on the acquisition of reading competences has long pointed out, that there are various agencies that influence these processes. Especially the family is considered a very important environment for decisive encounters with text from a very early age on. Nevertheless, formal reading instruction is largely taking place in school and it is within LS that the aim of sound abilities in the area of reading comprehension is most explicitly put. What is most essential within reading? I would like to offer first a rough decription not from the curricula but from a catalogue that offers an attempt to define a minimum standard: In order to arrive at a clear description of what students who leave school at grade 9 or 10 and aim at vocational training should be able to perform an initiative of the "Bundesanstalt für Arbeit" and other bodies in Germany developed criteria. These criteria describe basic skills in maths, language and economics (see: Nationaler Pakt für Ausbildung und Fachkräftenachwuchs – Kriterienkatalog (4/2006)) For reading the minimum standard quite simply reads: „Die Jugendlichen können Texte lesen und verstehen.“ The young adults can read and comprehend texts. Indicators for the standard are: - she/he masters basic reading skills - she/he can work out the meaning of words - she/he can reconstruct the core meaning of a text and can retrieve information from it according to a specific goal - she/he knows and makes use of methods of textreception: make notes; summarise texts and paragraphs - she/he can make use of various sources of information. Though we will probably agree upon the basic standard “can read and comprehend texts” we will at the same time acknowledge that it will have to be worked out what this means. The indicators at least mention procedures that are meant to be performed. A.1: Being able to read is more than mastering strategies What is to be achieved in the field of reading? Especially since PISA the notion of reading literacy has been prominent in Europe and beyond: “Reading literacy is understanding, using and reflecting on written texts, in order to achieve one's goals, to develop one's knowledge and potential, and to participate in society.” Accordingly, reading literacy has been named a key-competence within knowledge-based societies. The acquisition of knowledge is very often based on the use of text in a broad sense – including texts that operate with different sign systems (combination of text and diagrams…). A competent reader is – according to the PISA-definition – able to make use of text with regard to goals she or he sets herself/himself including the development of knowledge. She or he can make use of texts so as to be able to participate in society and culture. The contexts of reading are formulated in an abstract manner. Their specific form will depend on individual tasks the reader sets herself/himself. It is already clear from this definition that a narrow approach which isolates reading strategies from the “what” and “what for” does not cover the whole field of reading literacy. It is especially within LS that a broad spectrum of reading activities is aimed at. A central task within the teaching of reading strategies is to enable students to use them in accordance with specific texts and reading goals. One of the hardest issues is to work out which tool to use for which purpose. Thus, metacognition, which offers access to experience previously made and to actual behaviour, plays a key-role. Within the current context it might be worthwhile to point out that applying strategies is not an aim in itself. It should serve the purpose of the construction of meaning and of making use of texts for other purposes. A.2: Reading for pleasure and study: Learning to read is often linked to encouraging broad reading activities beyond school contexts. Within many European countries it is broadly accepted that within the subject attempts should be made to encourage students’ reading beyond school and for pleasure. Thus, the program of study of the National Curriculum for England states: “during key stage 3 and 4 (age 14 and 15) pupils read a wide range of texts independently, both for pleasure and for study. They become enthusiastic, discriminating and responsive readers, discriminating layers of meaning and appreciate what they read on a critical level.” (NCfE, 34) To support reading practices for personal enrichment also reflects the conviction that reading motivation is an important factor for entering into the process of constructing meaning from text and for the development of reading competences. As part of LS this also means that a wide range of texts should be offered with regard to both theme and formal features. A.3 Variety of genres: Introducing students to various genres is a common aim of reading education and should enable them to tackle texts in manifold contexts and for manifold purposes more and more independently Making students aware of genre-specifics is an important aspect of reading education from primary onwards. However, a central task is to avoid schematic use of genre-knowledge that does not help the interpretation of texts. A.4: Progression: A reading-curriculum has to care for the development of content knowledge (genres but also content related to language in a broader sense), the acquisition of procedures and strategies and the development of dispositions and attitudes over the years and also over the bridge between primary and secondary education The LS-curriculum also has to address the issue of progression: to arrange a reading curriculum in a cumulative manner depends on careful diagnosis. In general the thematic scope as well as the complexitiy of the texts which are read will differ and broaden. However, text complexity again depends on context (abilities and interest of the reader; ways of introducing the text in class; specific aims that are followed). Examples of fascinating interactions on complex literary texts even in primary education illustrate how relative the criterion “text complexity” is. B: Integration of knowledge Thus, for the context of a European framework of reference it has been pointed out that a narrow view on competences in the sense of refering to a set of strategies only is insufficient. Instead it has been stressed that a connection is needed of “knowledge, skills and attitudes/dispositions as components and cultures developed by schools” (Coste et al. 2007, 50). I have slightly adapted a table of Tina Samihaian to the case of reading (see Samihaian 2006 / Coste et al. 2007) subject: LS knowledge skills dispositions and attitudes (specific methods and strategies) reading (texts and media from) content related to text (various genres; pragmatic and non-pragmatic; various cultural backgrounds; texts from various domains of knowledge; multi-modal texts) including a broader knowledge of language (grammar and vocabulary) reading strategies and methods for text reception in a variety of contexts and for a variety of aims contexts of learning that have a potential for encouraging creativity and responsibility, critical thinking, and for participation in various interactions learning to learn (methods and strategies; self assessment) transferable procedures based on using communication in learning metacognition C. An example from a German textbook / grade 9 The example I propose here should illustrate how the various aspects of knowledge form an integrative part of reading competence. Bertold Brecht: Mr Keuner and the flood tide Mr Keuner was walking through a valley when he suddenly noticed that his feet were walking through water. Then he realized that his valley was in reality an arm of the sea and that high tide was approaching. He immediately stood still in order to look around for a boat, and he remained standing as long as he hoped to see a boat. But when no boat came in sight, he abandoned this hope and hoped that the water would stop rising. Only when the water reached his chin did he abandon even this hope and begin to swim. He had realized that he himself was a boat. The stories by Bert Brecht on Mr Keuner are often dealt with in German classrooms. This one I personally consider as being less tough than others. It is read as a parable and in the case I refer to used to introduce students in grade 9 / age 15 to this genre. At the same time it is used to enhance discussion on human existence in society. The chapter is called “Do I know what man is?”, the sub-heading: “What to do?”. The issue is identified as being relevant to 15-year olds, but as is often the case in school contexts, a task introduced by the institution... What do students learn when dealing with this text? Students should – that is the suggestion here – follow the chronology of what is told: What does Keuner do first, what then? Students are also asked to note the reasons for his behaviour. The last sentence of the text is read as a key to the understanding of the message. One could call this method: close reading and it forms part of the skills in the domain. It is encouraged by the short length of the text that does not allow for skimming or even summarising the text – which are very important skills in other contexts. Via close reading students could realise that the text does not make use of much description but sticks to the essential. This may be read as a key also to the parabolic character of the text. Students can identify key words that are repeated (water, valley, boat, hope). They can work out especially that Mr Keuner’s hopes are insisted upon (4). Why doesn’t he go straight back when he realises that high tide is approaching? Instead he is passive and only gets round to save himself after giving up hope. The last sentence identifies Keuner with the boat he had been waiting for, thus surpassing the concrete reference of ‘boat’, and can serve as a key to developing correspondences between what is said and what is meant. Here students as well as all other readers will have to make inferences and develop an interpretation: The parable hints at correspondences between what is said and what is meant (knowledge on content, related to text-genre). But the latter is not made explicit in the text. What kind of situation could one think of? The didactic genre of the parable will draw somehow on the human condition within society. Thus, the parable invites to identify a situation the text might in fact be talking of. It does, however, not only ask for such an identification. A discussion in the sense of “reflecting on written texts” might well focus on the Brechtian way of problematising “hope”. Normally with positive connotation and considered a strength hope here is a trait that has to be given up before the individual can solve the problem and avoid catastrophe. Students could certainly elaborate on that and the parable would offer a context of learning that encourages reflection (disposition and attitudes). One could go further and link the reading of this text to context knowledge which could be offered on Brecht and his materialist worldview. This would certainly be appropriate in upper secondary. Various modes of text could be used to introduce this context – posing other challenges of reading comprehension to the students. Students could finally reflect on what they did in order to interpret the parable. Such a metacognitive process would help for dealing with more texts of the genre in the future but also, in more general terms, for dealing with indirect modes of speech in various contexts, for example in the field of political rhetorics. C. Texts and reading competences in LS The example I elaborated upon can be considered as being rather at the heart of the subject especially in those contexts where literature forms an integral part of the LS-curriculum. The text is not only read as an example of the genre but also as a text that should be reflected upon in relation to value driven concepts. For quite some time the variety of texts has been broadened, since PISA also stressing noncontinuous texts. This definitely enlarges the scope of reading instruction within LS. The same textbook I draw the example from includes a chapter on nature where the issue of climate change is tackled via several diagrams on emissions in international comparison. It could well be argued that broadening the scope of texts calls for approaches in school that explicitly cross the border domains in such a way that domain specific language competences are identified as being an issue in other subjects, too. The following example will deal with the case of reading in a language-across-the-curriculum approach.