Authors: Atsushi Fukada, Kazumi Hatasa, Chieko Kano, Hilofumi Yamamto
Research has shown that learning to read in a foreign language fluently requires, among other things, extensive practice in content-oriented reading. (See Masuhara, Fukada, Kimura, and Takeuchi 1996 and literature cited there.) In typical Japanese classrooms, however, students are given very few opportunities to engage themselves in the act of reading, i.e. running their eyes through a piece of text to comprehend the message behind it. There are a couple of obvious reasons for this. One, typical Japanese curricula are so tightly packed with content that instructors simply cannot afford to take silent reading time in class. Two, since learners read at various speeds, it is not very efficient to have them read together in class. But at the same time it is obvious that if they don't engage themselves in reading, they will not develop reading fluency. (Note here that activities like going over the vocabulary and grammar points contained in a reading passage may be reading-related activities but certainly not the act of reading per se.)
It is this very dilemma that CATERS has been designed to resolve. In a nutshell, CATERS is a computer-based reading laboratory system. It offers an environment in which learners can choose reading materials that match their own interests and proficiency level. Since it is a computer-based system, it offers individualized reading instruction, solving the two problems mentioned above. One important feature of the system is a set of "help" functions listed below that learners can call up at any time if they need them.
When learners read at a level slightly higher than their current level, they may run into obstacles making it difficult to get to the message behind the text. In such cases, they could utilize various reading strategies to deal with such difficulties, but if that doesn't work, CATERS is ready to provide the necessary help instantaneously, which would allow them to continue their content-oriented reading. As the name suggests, this system was originally developed for teaching Technical Japanese, but works equally well for non-technical materials.
The operation of this program is very simple. When the students start up the program, they are given a list of reading materials. Upon choosing one from the list, the reading passage of their choice is presented on the screen. From this point on, the program does nothing but to let the students read the passage for comprehension unless they have some trouble with the passage and request help.
A reading laboratory is not very useful unless it has a large library of materials. The developers of CATERS hope that when it is officially released on the Internet, people will join in the effort to expand the library of reading materials, making CATERS a more and more attractive system.
The following 13 titles have been produced.
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