Sunday, April 27, 2014

Extensive Reading – a summary of an #AusELT chat

EXTENSIVE READING was the chosen topic of the inaugural #AusELT slowburn on Thursday 3rd April 2014.

Unlike the usual one-hour chats, the slowburn was spread out over 12 hours. Participants were free to start and follow whatever conversations they liked on this topic. Read more about the format here:

The chat was kicked off with the question:

Q: What is the value of extensive reading?

  • It allows learners to engage with the text in a meaningful way, which the tiny reading 'bites' in coursebooks don't.
  • I'm a big fan of reading in general so if I can get my students reading in class then I'm all for it!
  • Vocabulary and the unconscious acquisition of language patterns is the biggest plus. Great, convenient exposure to L2.
  • I've done quite bit of exploration on ER with interesting results. One student said " I think in English now" ‏@Ratnavathy
This comment:
  • I think it helps if you are a reader yourself. You understand the need for choice, time, and quiet.
led to a discussion of teacher fears and obsession:
  • I also like the idea of valuing silence in classrooms. Teachers and learners shouldn't see silence as unproductive
  • One of the unintended consequences of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT): fear of silence.
  • I think we touched on this fear before in the chat on writing. Teachers must relax and allow silence to happen.
  • Also a fear of reading 'long' texts, bite-sized things are the norm.
  • It also reflects general obsession with product over process 'comprehension approach' to reading and listening 
Following a statement that, if students are given solid orientation to ER and select appropriate texts, they meet with a lot of success, the question was asked:

Q: What does a "solid orientation" to ER involve? How can we set students up to take advantage of ER?

  • Start with something they've read in their own language.
  • Absolutely need to explain how ER works. Provide research evidence and testimonials from previous students.
Another thread which emerged was around the issue of Classroom management and Scheduling for ER:

Q: At what stage in the lesson would you organise ER?  Better at the end? Or before the break?

  • Different times each day so students can't predict and avoid.
  • I questioned the teacher I observed about her choice to put it at the start. There was 20 minutes ER and the students did not want to put their books down.
  • Once a week, 15 minutes at start of class, student choice. Did it with a CMB (?) class with good student feedback

Q: Should teacher dedicate class time to silent, student-selected ER? How much? Would students complain?

  • They should. Classtime may be the only time students are in an environment which is conducive to ER
    • What is 'conducive'? Not sure lack of opportunity is the issue (bus, breaks, bedtime, bathroom)
    • Time given over to ER, quiet, expected, no judgement because everyone is doing the same thing
  • It's also a good opportunity to develop ER habits that may not have been there before
  • Drop Everything and Read - read texts of personal interest then tell the class what you read
    • Students read what peers had recommended according to their interests
    • Worked so well with reluctant readers because they chose their own texts. Over a few weeks they read a lot.

Q: Day and Bamford say that the teacher needs to be a role model … How can we do this?

  • Read and read and read and love it
  • Let students know you love reading. Read during ER time. Talk about what you read.
  • Show them you are practising what you preach in your own L2 learning
  •  “I've done ER in Japanese along with students. Share my test scores with them too. Why not?” “It's been a while but when I was studying for/taking Japanese LPT we had a kind of team thing going. And sometimes just misery loves company (or empathy if you prefer) after test day. “ @gotanda

Q: What are your views on having students read eBooks in ER time?

  • On one hand might get them reading, but would it need more policing?
  • Depends if they read naturally eBooks or not? Whatever is closest to what they do normally would work best I think

Q: How do you get love for books in English when they hate reading in their first language?

  • Not everyone likes reading even in L1. 'Reading is caught, not taught' (Nutall).
  • Ensure you're not just offering fiction. Pop science, topical writing, bios, etc. can engage where a story might not.
    • “A good mixed diet of junk food, meat and three veges and a sprinkling of quinoa.” @chimponobo
  • I remember seeing a doco where a guy gamified the reading experience with primary kids who hated readings (parents as well). He did like a reading World Cup and each student's reading contributed to team's score. By the end most were engaged. @chimponobo
    • That's a nice idea for competitive classes.
    • I saw that too. He also got students to decide what books the school bought. Mixed success was the outcome if I recall. @trylingual

Q: What are you suggestions for how students should select texts for ER?

  • Have them read 1st 100 words of book. If they don't know more than 3 words, put it back. Then see if they can answer these 2 questions: 1) Do you want to keep reading? 2) Why do you want to keep reading? @kevchanwow
  • Many people like to look at front cover, blurb, get recommendations - we can leverage this in ER programs.
  • Start with something they've read in their own language … and LOVED
  • Students chose own books.
  • Students select their own here. This seems to work well for B2 and upwards.
  • Some of our teachers do excursions to a local 2nd hand bookshop. Students always buy one book, and by choice too!

Coursebook/textbook readings didn't seem to be considered useful as part of an ER program:
  • Textbook readings often don't resemble anything from real life and not motivating to boot.
  • An 'interesting' coursebook text is still nothing like being glued to a thriller.

Q: What types of text students get interested?

  • Genre fiction, such as the thriller, follows rules our students understand, reduces need to build schema.
    • I remember doing an observation once where the teacher started with ER, and one student was completely absorbed in his copy of "Dorian Gray" @Penultimate_K
  • English as it is actually written and not how the coursebook thinks it should be. Natural language patterns.
  • Teachers can influence success of ER by recommending books that work. Not yucky graded classics. Young Adult fiction for example.
  • Graphic novels!
  • Most borrowed from our library = non-fiction. Least borrowed = graded classics (except Sherlock Holmes)
  • Movie tie-ins very popular.
  • Comic books work, but superhero stuff actually riddled with low frequency words.
    • Personally I'd rather read superhero stuff :) Do low frequency words matter less in a visually supported context?
      • Think it depends. Superhero stuff has lots of exposition without visual clues. You know monologuing. That's impenetrable.
      • Visually supported texts sometime interfere with vocabulary acquisition. Had students say, "can't remember the word, can only see the picture"
      • Interesting - at least they remember there WAS a word! Is there research on visuals interfering with word memory?
      • I was always thought visuals enhance memory. Like the usage of mnemonics
    • This was a plenary on using comic books in the classroom  @chimponobo
    • Micky Mouse goes down well.
    • Some students really loved Archie, Betty & Veronica. Longer stories better than strips. Too many idiom gags.
    • There are so many great 'comics' though. Watchmen, Walking Dead, Sandman…Am not thinking of kids, obviously...
    • Persepolis and American Splendor too. Lots to work with there, especially non-explosive movie tie-ins.
  • I have a box set of Roald Dahl books in my classroom for students - fiction & autobiographies. I love Dahl and so do many of my students!
  • I'd love to share more authentic texts that work eg, many texts for "teens" or "YA" are perfect for ER

Q: It sounds like ER is often treated as reading books (or comics) - does it have to be? What else do you include?

  • I love reading short stories, so I often share favourites with students.
  • I find dual language books (first language and second language side by side) in my Thai reading really helpful. @chimponobo

Q: What other types of techniques help students get interested?

  • Giving students time to do book exchanges/recommendations at the beginning of an ER session works well.
  • Also letting students write one line reviews (with 5 star ratings) in the back of books works well
    • I guess now they could do reviews in 140 characters on Twitter as well
  • Used exam as motivation for practising ER in class (to ensure students saw value)
  • Being stubborn? Bring extra books, mags, newspapers, in case students forget
  • Teacher reads what students recommend? Teacher outlines what he/she enjoys and students confer to choose book. Teacher reads during ER and then gives feedback.

Q: "Grading" texts is much touted in ER. Is this really necessary? How do you/your students feel about it?

  • I had a good range of graded Penguin readers at my previous place. We had ER twice a week, with truly fruitful results.
  • I find students enjoy the challenge of straight up natural texts, particularly if they like the book.
  • I feel a bit uncomfortable giving (*) adults heavily graded versions of 'grownup' books. Not convinced it's necessary (*students choose from the publisher’s selection of graded readers).
I came across this after the chat and thought it might be of interest: Graded readers in ELT: the benefits and ways of using them (#ELTchat 30 November 2013)

Q: What type of texts work well for low level learners? ‏

There were questions re this, but no responses during the chat – if you have suggestions, feel free to add via a comment here, a tweet using the #AusELT‏ hashtag, or start a discussion thread on our #AusELT Facebook group.
  • Q: Any suggestions for interesting reading materials for adults who speak well but who are very low level of literacy in L2? @JoHorsburgh1
  • Q: What type of texts work well for low level learners? ‏@trylingual

Suggested resources and websites

Student/Reading resources

Teacher resources

     I thought these summaries of chats on related topics from #ELTchat might be of interest:
     And I heard about this new Lab project from The Round as I was writing this summary:
  • A Community of Readers by Michael McCollister
    Extensive reading (ER) is an approach to language learning that has experienced enormous growth in many parts of the world, though most noticeably in Asia. In contrast to intensive reading, its older, more established brother, ER asks students to read lots and lots of easy material, slowly building up greater understanding and control over one level of linguistic material before moving on to a slightly more challenging level. Slow, but steady.
    The purpose of this collection is not to offer a prescribed set of rules regarding extensive reading as it to ask readers to participate in a discussion of ER theory and practice.

Finally, the quote of the chat from @SophiaKhan4:
  • Reading is about curiosity. EVERYONE is curious about something, we just have to help them find it. 


For ease of summary writing I’ve dropped off who made the various statements – please check the transcript if you need to check the source of various statements:
Transcript: inaugural #AusELT slowburn on extensive reading (Thurs 2rd April, 2014)

Usual disclaimer and apology: I hope I haven’t misrepresented anyone’s views by putting their comment out of context, or left out any comment.  I find doing these difficult, as I have to summarise the chat but I think every comment is important and should be included -  something has to give! If you’re not sure what I mean, put up your hand for the next chat summary ☺  If you do notice any mistakes, errors, omissions, etc. please let me know.


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