West’s Important Principles for Improving Reading West thought that there were two main ways in which the reading text could be improved so that to make them more understandable and interesting for the learners. The first was to simplify the vocabulary by replacing old-fashioned literary words by their more common modern equivalents.
For example, West discovered words like plight, mode, isle, sought, and groom. He replaced them by more commonly used words like state, way, island, nothing, and servant. This principle can be called the lexical selection principle was to become a dominant one during the next twenty years. This principle also echoed the ideas of palmer who, working in Japan, had put forward similar ideas to make the teaching English easier for the Japanese students.
West was trying to develop, ultimately ‘International English’ particularly in the form of informative texts. Later such a variety of English did develop which is now popularly called simple English and can be heard from the voice of America in its special programmes, and can be read in the form of simplified versions of literary pieces.
West’s second principle of reading ability could be called a lexical distribution principle, which is perhaps more important than the first one. This principle points out to the fact that: “Not only were there too many new words overall, but they occurred too closely together in the current readers. Almost every sentence contained a new word with the result that both the teacher and the taught were frustrated and tired of the frequency of new items with the result that none of them could be practiced, properly.”
In the light of these principles, West developed his own reading materials which were later known as New Method Readers by Michael West, and became very popular. West compared his simplified materials with four readers in current use at both the Primary and First Reading Book levels.
In the New Method Readers which Michael West adopted or wrote himself, the overall number of new words dropped from an average of 420 to 236 in the First Reading book and from an average 450 to 208 in primers. In the New Readers, instead of meeting a new word in every sentence, the children would practice five or six sentences with each new word.
West’s first experiment with the New Method Readers compared the children in class 2 of a severely disadvantaged school with one of the best schools in the province. On entry the disadvantaged children knew on the average 9.5 letters of the English alphabet in seventeen and a half weeks, they had gained the equivalent of two and a half years and were comparable to class IV children of the better school who were using the old materials.
The second experiment was more impressive with a gain of two and a half years in only ten weeks. The starting point here was higher and all the children were literate in Bengali, which had not been the case in the first school.
Research of this kind is full of uncontrolled variables of one kind or the other. Nevertheless, the main point was clear enough. The children made better progress in the reading with texts that did not introduce too many new words too quickly.