vocabulary and grammar knowledge. It is important to note that these two approaches to teaching reading –intensive and extensive reading should not be seen as being in opposition, as both serve different but complementary purposes (Carrell and Carson, 1997; Nuttall, 1996).
More Recent research on teaching reading has shown that a combination of top-down and bottom-up processing (interactive reading) is almost always a prior ingredient in successful teaching methodology because both processes are important (Nuttall, 1996 cited in Brown, 2000).
2.3.2 Foreign Language Reading
For many students if not all, reading in a foreign language is a different experience in comparison with the same process in their first language which may even result in less understanding. Now the question is that whether reading problem in a foreign language is simply a problem of knowing words and grammar of that language or it is a problem of reading ability (Alderson, 1984). Regarding the question, Alderson (1984) asserts that the reason students cannot read adequately in English is that they cannot read adequately in their native language in the first place. Jolly (1978) also claims that success in reading a foreign language depends on one’s first language reading ability rather than the level of the student in the second language. He states that reading in a foreign language requires the transference of old skills, not the learning of new ones; therefore, the reason why students cannot read in a desirable fashion is that they either do not possess the old skills or because they have failed to transfer them (cited in Alderson, 1984).
Yorio (1971) takes a contrary view. He believes that the problems of second language readers are due to lack of familiarity with the new language, and this inadequate knowledge of the target language prevents them from using the essential textual cues in reading. In this view, interference from the first language makes the problem of second language reader even more complex.
In a more elaborative approach Celce-Murcia (2001) states that L2 readers generally have weaker linguistic skills and more limited vocabulary than do L1 readers. They do not have an intuitive foundation in the structures of the L2, and they lack the cultural knowledge that is sometimes assumed in texts. L2 students may also have some difficulties recognizing the ways in which texts are organized and information is presented, leading to possible comprehension problems. At the same time, L2 students, working at least with two languages, are able to rely on their L1 knowledge and L1 reading abilities when such abilities are useful. L2 students often come to class with a range of motivation to read, different from many L1 students’ motivation. Also differences between EFL and ESL settings result in different reading outcomes. These differences play major roles in establishing goals for reading instruction and specifying the levels of reading ability that constitute successful learning in a given curriculum.
2.4 Reading Comprehension
Most researches on reading now focus on the effective reading strategies that increase students’ comprehension. Guthrie (1996) argues that most researchers study a single cognitive strategy, rather than conducting a long-term study of multiple strategies. As Guthrie puts it:
Engaged reading is based on motivational and cognitive characteristics of the reader who is intrinsically motivated, builds knowledge, uses cognitive strategies, and interacts socially to learn from text. These engagement processes can be observed in student’s cognitive effort, perseverance, and self-direction in reading.
It is the teacher’s responsibilities to motivate reading by selecting the appropriate materials and especially for those at the early stages of learning. Guthrie and Humenick (1996) performed a meta-analysis of studies that manipulated several aspects of intrinsic motivation support for reading. These findings suggest that “meaningful conceptual content in reading instruction increases motivation for reading and text comprehension”. This motivation-supporting practice showed that students who were provided choice of text performed higher on reading tasks than those with no choice. The third practice was using interesting texts. This conforms to Hedge’s proposal that in selecting task texts, teachers should seek interesting texts and consider variety of topics. Readers’ interest can be revealed by setting “a reading interest questionnaire” where students check the fields that suit their interest, i.e. short stories, thrillers, science fiction, etc. Since “each learner will have different strengths to build on and different weaknesses to overcome”(Hedge, p.205).
2.4.1 Theories of Reading Comprehension
Bottom-up processing: in this processes, readers first recognize a multiplicity of linguistics signals (letters, morphemes, syllables, words, phrases, grammatical cues, discourse markers) and use their linguistic data-processing mechanisms to impose some sort of order on these signals. These data-driven operations obviously require a sophisticated knowledge of the language itself (Goodman, 1970; cited in: Brown, 2000).
Top-down processing: all reading involves a risk- a guessing game, in Goodman’s words because readers must through a puzzle-solving process, infer meanings, decide what to retain, and not to retain and move on. This is where a complementary method of processing written texts is imperative: top- down or conceptually driven processing in which we draw on our own intelligence and experience to understand a text (Goodman, 1970; cited in: Brown, 2000).
2.4.2 Definitions of Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension traditionally refers to a reader’s complete understanding or full grasp of meaning in a text. However, according to Yang (2002) this is a broad definition and causes some confusion. Scovel (1998) states that, “Comprehension is not an absolute state where language users either fully comprehend or are left completely in the dark; rather, comprehension involves an active, dynamic, and growing process of searching for interrelationships in a text” (cited in Yang, 2002, P. 2). He defines comprehension as the reader’s understanding of proposition -the basic unit of meaning- in the text. Since the proposition consists of words, sentences, or paragraphs, readers’ cognitive levels of comprehension can be graded based on these propositions. That is, one person might only engage in lexical comprehension (words), while another may get involved in syntactic comprehension (sentences), the level of which is obviously higher than the former.
According to the reader’s purposes in reading and the type of reading used, reading comprehensions are often distinguished. They are commonly referred to as: “literal comprehension” which is reading in order to understand, remember, or recall the information explicitly contained in a passage; “inferential comprehension” that is reading in order to find information which is not explicitly stated in a passage, using the reader’s experience and intuition, and by inferring; “critical or evaluative comprehension” takes place to compare information in a passage with the reader’s own knowledge and values; and reading to gain an emotional or other kind of valued response from a passage which is called “appreciative comprehension” (Richard, Platt, & Platt, 1992).
RAND Reading Study Group (2002) defines reading comprehension as “the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language” (P. 11). They consider three elements for reading comprehension: “1) The reader who is doing comprehending, 2) the text that is to be comprehended, 3) the activity in which comprehension is a part” (P. 11). They further state that three elements define reading comprehension as a phenomenon that occurs within a large socio-cultural content that shapes and is shaped by the reader that interacts with each of the three elements. They maintain that understanding requires acknowledging that it is a cognitive, linguistic, and cultural activity.
2.4.3 Influential Factors in Reading Comprehension
Although comprehension of a text is a mechanism of communication from writer to reader, it is subject to variety of variables. According to the definition stated by RAND Reading Study Group (2002), reading comprehension involves factors related to the text, the reader, and the activity.
At the first place, comprehension comes from the representations of the ideas in a text that readers construct as they read. These representations are influenced by text features and are related to genre and structure, or the way in which content is organized (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002) and to language features, such as vocabulary and syntax (sentence structure and complexity) and the author’s writing style and clarity of expression (Armbruster, 1984; Freebody & Anderson, 1983, as cited in Lehr et al., 2005).
Reading comprehension is also affected by non-linguistic factors which can be either internal or external. Internal factors include reader’s cognitive and affective variables such as: intelligence, learning style, motivation, self-esteem, etc. External factors include the physical environment of reader, the approach and materials used in instructions, and the teacher-student instructions (Cooper, 1993). Similarly RAND Reading Study Group (2002) states that all readers bring to their reading differences in competencies, such as oral language