SARAH LALLY WRITES
Most classes test reading comprehension with multiple-choice or true-or-false questions. But a new study suggests that the most effective method for checking understanding is not practice tests, but summarisation.
According to ‘The Influence of summary writing on the development of reading skills in a foreign language’ by Martgorzata Marzec-Stawiarska from the Pedagogical University of Krakow (2016), summarising involves building a text’s ‘macrostructure’ – essentially, forming its gist.
The study aimed to see whether summarisation helped reading comprehension in students learning English as a second language (ESL), and if it also helped in learning the language itself. The students read English at B1 and B2 levels. Researcher Malgorazata Marec-Stwiarska administered pre- and post-experiment tests on the control and experimental groups.
The control group did practice tests from the First Certificate in English examination booklet. In contrast, the experimental group wrote summaries for ten English texts after reading in class. The teacher returned each summary with feedback, assessed for content and language skills. The groups had no statistical difference between them after the pre-test. However, the post-test results showed that the summary group scored higher, implying better understanding.
The study suggests that, when compared with more common comprehension techniques, summarising teaches students to read more effectively. When summarising, students must recognise important information and delete the insignificant, as well as organise, generalise and construct the main idea. Summaries also require students to put effort into their work. While some students in the control group might have come unprepared to class on some occasions, members of the summary group had to do all their homework or face the consequences.
The study also suggests that teacher feedback is helpful in encouraging ESL students’ reading comprehension. Detailed feedback was very effective in giving students the tools to improve their summary and language skills.