IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Day Two – Plenary: Reading the world and the word – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

I attended the plenary and various sessions throughout the day which I have summarised in a series of posts through the day, one post per session.

If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.

What is happening?

When people called out ‘She’s reading’, Gabriel said: ‘She’s looking at a book, but is she reading?’ We can’t make that assumption!

Gabriel says when you look at the literature, the research seems to have become stagnant. Many of the references seem to come from the 1980s. We are currently flooded by texts of different sorts all around us, and we are doing students a disservice if we continue teaching students reading in the way we have been doing. Reading facilitates access to the world, but we have to learn how to do it.

What is reading?

Here are 10 statements which Gabriel got as responses to this question from students and teachers:

Which do you believe to be true? For me, I think it’s 9 and 10, though we spend a lot of time on doing the others in the classroom.

What is the main idea?

Reading is not a receptive skill!

What are the two main factors in reading?

Reading is a complex and active skill. It involves the interplay of both the text and what the reader brings to it. Reading has a two-dimensional nature – it’s not just the text itself.

Fill in the blanks

We need to adopt an interactive approach, combining the reader’s background knowledge with the context of the text, its purpose and the reasons for reading it.

If you’ve been able to read these three texts, we can assume you’re a good reader. So Gabriel will give us 2 minutes to complete a reading test.

The test

We don’t need to understand the vocabulary in the text to be able to answer these comprehension questions.

But what is this text about? We don’t know right now, but with the meaning of only two words, we can understand the whole text.

Blar = text, plume = student

As we read the text again, we really could understand the whole thing. It’s fascinating to notice what your brain is doing as you decode each of these texts.

This is the original:

Give the text a title

When we read it, we couldn’t figure it out. But by adding a single image, it makes the text more transparent.


Returning to the 10 assumptions at the beginning having completed those tasks, would you change anything?

Intensive or extensive?

Research has consistently shown that it is one of the most effective methods of language acquisition, particularly reading for pleasure. {I certainly found this!] However, we don’t do enough of that in the classroom.

We need to stop looking at processes in different boxes, to work with the mediation of the teacher to use a range of different tools to create meaning.

Decoding and comprehending

Decoding is a mechanical process which we can be trained in. Even the most dyslexic of students, given the most attainable of tasks and support, will be able to comprehend a task.

Lower order or higher order

Are we just working at lower order engagement? (Blogging chuffing) Or operating at higher levels?

If students don’t like reading, maybe it’s our materials. Why should they enjoy it? What’s there for them to like?

Making reading more 3-dimensional and a socio-cultural practice

Benefits of extensive reading

Here’s a summary by Donaghy (2016):

  • Students become better readers
  • Learn more vocabulary
  • Improve writing
  • Improves overall language competence
  • Become more motivated to read
  • Develop learner autonomy
  • Become more empathic

But why don’t teachers use extensive reading?

  • Most syllabi don’t require ER.
  • It’s not tested in exams.
  • Syllabi and textbooks only focus on intensive reading.
  • Teachers claim they don’t have time to do ER.
  • ER means giving more control over learning to students. Some teachers aren’t comfortable with this.

Leather and Uden, 2021

If we’re always focusing on intensive reading, we’re not giving our students the tools to talk about extensive reading. In real life, we don’t ask people about synonyms for words they read, we have intelligent conversations about what we’ve read. We don’t do this in the classroom.

The view from neuroscience

Reading changes the way your brain works for the better.

Reading is an empathy workout. It activates parts of our brain connected to what we’re reading about.

How do we understand?

Not by looking at individual words, sentences – that’s what’s we do in the classroom.

By using contexts of various sorts:

  • Grammatical context within sentences – words change meaning according to the grammatical category they belong to. Learners can use what they know from their other languages to help them to make meaning.
  • Semantic context within sentences – lexical meaning is determined by the meaning of other words in a sentence. In many approaches to teaching reading, the norm is pre-teaching vocabulary. We spend time eliciting, students get to the first word they don’t know, and still ask us what the word means. Words get their meaning from the other words around them.
  • Situational, pragmatic context – why is this text relevant? Why was it written? For what purpose? Meaning is determined by the context in which language is used. Unfortunately, much of the reading we do in the classroom is reading to learn more vocabulary or grammar.
  • Intercultural context – meaning that is situated within the context that lies in the artifices, mentifacts and socifacts of a particular culture.
  • Schematic context – organised chunks of knowledge derived from our fund s of knowledge and previous experience. This can be the basis of our strongly held beliefs, and can sometimes conflict with our beliefs and what we read.
  • Sociocultural context – the way that reading activity is deployed in a particular sociocultural and historical context. How reading is seen and considered in that context.

There’s so much that goes into reading! Are you actually tackling all of these contexts? If not, you’re doing the students a disservice.

A two-dimensional model of reading

That’s what happens now: pre-reading, while reading, post-reading.

Pre-reading is typically discussing the topic, with a question or two, and then they look for the answer in the text to check whether they are right or not. Is that a reading or a pre-reading activity? Reading! Before that, they answered a question out of the blue.

A different reading sequence


Prior knowledge: Activate the student‘s background knowledge. For example, this is a picture. Make a telescope out of a piece of paper, make it as narrow as you can. Look at the picture through the telescope from left to right and top to bottom.

This is from museum education, Burton (2018). This is way of training the eye to read in this direction – students might be used to reading in a different direction, or only short texts.

Then ask students ‘what did you notice in the picture?’

Prediction: When students predict, comprehension is facilitated.

Show two images – what is the connection? Add one more image – what is the next connection? Add another image – what is the next connection? This creates rich discussions.

Preview: Give a discussion task. Then a title for them to complete. There’s an example below.

Students are now interested and intrigued by the text. They want to know what they’re going to read.

While reading

Vocabulary: Find the opposite of the word in the text. The word in the rectangle is the opposite. The ovals are synonyms. The oval closest to the text is the nearest synonym.

Questions: The questions can only be answered if the students have understood the text, but don’t repeat what’s in it.

Archaeological dig: They have evidence that something might be there. With a brush, they slower uncover the object. We’re doing the same, but with language. Help students understand how the text works and why the text was constructed in this way.

Grammar and vocabulary and connectors are covered in the ‘focus in organisation’.

Post reading

Let the students manipulate and appropriate the text, so they feel ‘I can do this’.

Oral summary: Work in pairs. Share a similar story (real or imaginary). Then works it’s another pair. The the other pair your partner’s story. Is it a true story? Students will look at the text and organisation and capitalise on this.

Written summary: Write the letter which was in the original photo.

Comparing themes: Use this wheel to discuss what was happening.

Sociocultural praxis

This is Reading not as a skill, but as mediated sociocultural praxis. Not just taking things from the text, but taking control over what they take from it.

  • Intentionality / reciprocity
  • Transcend the here and now.
  • Meaning in every single activity.
  • Multi-modality
  • Respecting what society values related to reading – social and individual

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