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New project strengthens English literacy

Published: 8 January 2019

Most of all online information is written in English, but language-specific critical reading abilities have proven inadequate among Swedish youth. A new research project at Luleå University of Technology aims to address this problem by strengthening English literacy for school students and their teachers.

– Although there have been concerted efforts to address reading difficulties when reading in Swedish, little attention has been paid to reading in English even though 56 percent of texts on the Internet are in English, says Lydia Kokkola, professor at Luleå University of Technology .

Participating in a global society

A number of international tests, such as PISA, show that although Swedish youths still rate well on knowledge of English, their ability to read critically is poor. Skills such as recognizing bias and reading between the lines are major challenges, even for many English teachers. These are skills that are crucial in today’s information age.

– We live in an information age: if we cannot obtain and understand information, many aspects of our society will be threatened and individuals will suffer. This affects everything from the way we vote, the way we earn money and how we form social networks. English is dominant online, which means that all Swedes need to learn to search for and interpret material they find in English if they are to fully participate in society, says Lydia Kokkola, and notes that English reading comprehension is not just a problem that is evident among school students – teachers are also experiencing difficulties.

Inadequate knowledge

–The challenge for English teachers is less about improving pupils’ general language competences and more about improving their metacognitive awareness of their reading practices and language specific textual features. Our current research findings indicate that teachers also struggle with these matters, particularly recognizing bias, says Lydia Kokkola and continues.

– These are difficult skills, and we need to work together to improve them. Everyone is caught off guard on occasion. Collaborations between teachers and researchers are the best way to build an environment where we can share skills and knowledge about how to read deeply, and to translate that collective ability into something that can improve teenagers skills.

The project is named 21st century literacy competencies for 21st century Sweden and has been awarded more than 3 million kronor from the Swedish School Research Institute.

– I feel humbled and excited in equal measure. Humbled because I recognise how many excellent scholars did not receive funding and excited because of the opportunities it creates. We applied for funding from many sources, but it was the SkolForsk money that I most wanted, says Lydia Kokkola.

The study is a continuation of the project Matching reading strategies with purpose and text types that will end in summer 2019. In addition to Lydia Kokkola, Eva Fjällström and Adrian Rodriguez are included in the research group. All of them employees at Luleå University of Technology.

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