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Re: Promote ER through the examination system

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  • scottmiles67
    This post is in reference to David Hill s article to the Taipei Times. Generally I agree that fluent reading should be a part of the high stakes examinations.
    Message 1 of 8 , Dec 1, 2006
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      This post is in reference to David Hill's article to the Taipei Times.

      Generally I agree that fluent reading should be a part of the high stakes examinations. Currently, students are trained in the skill of finding the correct answers from a difficult reading without the burden of having to actually comprehend the reading passage. Teachers have them work with texts which are way above their reading level with the idea that in some way this will make them better readers, despite research evidence that it does not (see Bell, 2001 ) .

      Some smaller points in the article I'm not so sure about (Hill's comments in blue)

      "Second there is no agreement among the advocates of extensive reading as to what materials should be read or how they should be used.  In second language teaching, some favour graded readers and others children's literature.  

      This gives what I think is the faulty impression that there is more conflict than agreement among extensive reading advocates.  I may have missed something, but I can't recall ever hearing a heated debate on graded readers vs. children's books. There may be individual preferences, but where in the research literature can we find this debate? If the material is at the student's level (can be read comfortably without needing a dictionary) and the reading is enjoyable for the students, then that is extensive reading.

      The majority put their faith in free voluntary reading in which the teacher's role is confined to facilitating and encouraging and only a minority believe that reading should be taught and tested."

      Again, I need to see some references to the idea that most ER advocates see no role for teaching and testing reading. Yes, teaching and testing reading may be outside of extensive reading practices, but I haven't heard of many ER advocates who say that extensive reading is the only thing a teacher should do with students in regards to reading. Even Krashen advocates that teachers help students overcome bad reading habits through direct instruction (source below).  Testing periodically is necessary to get an idea of how students are progressing.  Yes, at the time you are testing you are no longer doing extensive reading, but again, who ever said it is a bad idea to step away from extensive reading occasionally if just for a moment and test students' progress? Direct instruction and testing do have a place in reading pedagogy in general  and, correct me if I'm wrong, I think most ER advocates acknowledge this.

      Third there is a lack of convincing research evidence for the efficacy of extensive reading programmes and an embarrassing record of disappointing results for programmes that have been implemented.  Many have started well but fallen away as enthusiasm and novelty wane. 

      I assume this is referring to some schools/districts which failed to successfully implement an extensive reading program for various reasons, but what I worry about is that the casual reader of the article would get the impression that there is no evidence that ER is useful.  ER has a very strong track record in the research and  more people need to become aware of this.

      One alternative is to implement a pilot project in 3-5 institutions.  This will at least create a small cadre of teachers who have some experience of running such a programme and have developed models of best practice that can be applied elsewhere.  It is unlikely, however, to furnish incontrovertible evidence that such a programme improves reading proficiency.  It is very difficult to keep all the variables constant over the necessary period of time. 

      I think this pilot project idea is good, especially if it can be done right as David suggests. I strongly disagree, however,  with the idea that it is unlikely such programs can provide strong evidence that students increase in reading proficiency. True, there can never be a perfect study, but if each institution using extensive reading methodology outperforms institutions which use traditional methods, a strong case can certainly be made. A well-designed study can address all other variables to the point where we can have a suitable  degree of confidence in the results.

      The other suggestion, to add a fluency test to the reading portion of  high stakes tests, is a very sound one that I strongly support. 

      1. A large amount of text graded to an appropriate level of difficulty;
      2. A limited time to read, based on a minimum reading speed of 200 words per minute;
      3. A few questions to establish comprehension of global meaning.
      I might quibble with #2 (even if all the vocabulary is known, that still seems a bit high to me), but the general ideas are good and I would really like to see something like that happen.

      Anyway, don't get me wrong. Though I did find some faults with some of the things you wrote, generally I very much agree with your viewpoints and I really hope your efforts lead to some results.

      Scott Miles

      Kim, H., & Krashen, S. (1997). Why don't language acquirers take advantage of the power of reading? TESOL Journal, 6(3), 26-29.

      --- In ExtensiveReading@yahoogroups.com, "EPER Enquiries" <Eper.Enquiries@...> wrote:
      >
      > Dear All
      >
      > I do not know if the Taipei Times will publish my article (attached) but I feel it deserves a wider audience and none better than yourselves. I quite expect that many, perhaps most, of you will be horrified but if extensive reading is not to remain an optional extra with only a lucky few enjoying the benefits, then I feel it has to feature in the public examination system.
      >
      > I look forward to much correspondence!
      >
      > Best wishes
      >
      > David
      >
      > David R Hill
      > Project Director
      > Edinburgh Project on Extensive Reading
      > Institute for Applied Language Studies
      > University of Edinburgh
      > 21 Hill Place
      > Edinburgh EH8 9DP
      > Tel: +44 (0)131 650 8211/6200
      > Fax +44 (0)131 667 5927
      > Email: eper.enquiries@...
      > www.ials.ed.ac.uk/eper.html
      >
    • dk
      Currently, students are trained in the skill of finding the correct answers from a difficult reading without the burden of having to actually comprehend the
      Message 2 of 8 , Dec 1, 2006
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        "Currently, students are trained in the skill of finding the correct
        answers from a difficult reading without the burden of having to
        actually comprehend the reading passage."

        So you are saying that students are ONLY trained in "intensive reading"
        and receive no training in "extensive reading"? They are never required
        to read for gist? Top down approaches are not used?


        "Teachers have them work with texts which are way above their reading
        level with the idea that in some way this will make them better readers,
        despite research evidence that it does not (see Bell, 2001 )."

        Would this also reflect the difference between intensive reading and
        extensive reading? We know that extensive reading should be i+1. (Unless
        the teacher, as do some on this list, want to train for "fluent reading"
        which may require i minus 1.) I suppose intensive reading could be i+2
        or i+3.

        What exactly does Bell's research say?


        Dave Kees

        ===========================================================
        davekees@... - Guangzhou, China - skype: davekees
      • Scott Miles
        Dave Kees wrote: So you are saying that students are ONLY trained in intensive reading and receive no training in extensive reading ? They are never
        Message 3 of 8 , Dec 1, 2006
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          Dave Kees wrote:
          So you are saying that students are ONLY trained in "intensive reading"
          and receive no training in "extensive reading"? They are never required
          to read for gist? Top down approaches are not used?

          Students are rarely trained in extensive reading, or even given the opportunity to just read something for pleasure at their level. As David Hill notes in his letter to Taipai Times, this is because of the nature of the college admissions tests, which only test students on difficult reading passages.

          As for being trained in top-down skills, they are to an extent. Top-down skill training is not the exclusive domain of extensive reading. They are very useful for making sense of readings that are beyond one's language level. Some of the test-taking skills students receive have elements of top-down skills. Others simply give the students a better chance of guessing correctly without really having to understand the reading.

          The above is what I hear from my graduate students who have spent years teaching in Korean high schools, and from what I've heard the situation may be quite similar in other Asian countries. My undergraduate students are among the best in Korea, yet when I get them on graded readers most find that level 3 or 4 suits them. That some of the best students in the country can only read level 3 graded readers after 10 years of English education tells me that there is something very wrong with the way reading is taught in secondary schools.

          As for the Bell study, it compares one group of students who reads somewhat challenging materials and then spends  time working out the vocabulary and grammar of the texts to make sure the students understand the texts more or less completely. Another group does self-selected reading with minimal follow-up and are encouraged to select materials that are at their level. Actual time spent reading was kept equal. Pre and post tests were given (reading speed measures, cloze test, and comprehension tests) and the extensive reading far outperformed the intensive group on all measures.




          ----- Original Message ----
          From: dk <davekees1@...>
          To: ExtensiveReading@yahoogroups.com
          Sent: Friday, December 1, 2006 10:56:26 PM
          Subject: RE: [ExtensiveReading] Re: Promote ER through the examination system

          "Currently, students are trained in the skill of finding the correct
          answers from a difficult reading without the burden of having to
          actually comprehend the reading passage."



          "Teachers have them work with texts which are way above their reading
          level with the idea that in some way this will make them better readers,
          despite research evidence that it does not (see Bell, 2001 )."

          Would this also reflect the difference between intensive reading and
          extensive reading? We know that extensive reading should be i+1. (Unless
          the teacher, as do some on this list, want to train for "fluent reading"
          which may require i minus 1.) I suppose intensive reading could be i+2
          or i+3.

          What exactly does Bell's research say?

          Dave Kees

          ============ ========= ========= ========= ========= ========= ==
          davekees@davekees. com - Guangzhou, China - skype: davekees




          Want to start your own business? Learn how on Yahoo! Small Business.
        • Julian Bamford
          ... Scott has already answered this, but here s part of the abstract, taken from the online extensive reading bibliography
          Message 4 of 8 , Dec 1, 2006
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            > Scott wrote: "Teachers have them work with texts which are way above
            > their reading
            > level with the idea that in some way this will make them better
            > readers,
            > despite research evidence that it does not (see Bell, 2001 )."
            >
            > Dave asked: What exactly does Bell's research say?

            Scott has already answered this, but here's part of the abstract, taken
            from the online extensive reading bibliography
            http://www.extensivereading.net/er/biblio.html
            where there's also a click through to the article itself.

            --Julian

            The study reported in this article was conducted in the Yemen Arab
            Republic on young adult students working in various government
            ministries. It measured both reading speeds and comprehension in two
            groups of learners exposed to "intensive" and "extensive" reading
            programs respectively. The "extensive" group was exposed to a regime of
            graded readers while the "intensive" group studied short texts followed
            by comprehension questions. Results indicate that subjects exposed to
            "extensive" reading achieved both significantly faster reading speeds
            and significantly higher scores on measures of reading comprehension.
            Available: http://www.readingmatrix.com/articles/bell/
          • dk
            Do you think if students spent one hour a week for about 40 weeks doing Extensive Reading it will make significant difference in their English ability? Dave
            Message 5 of 8 , Dec 2, 2006
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              Do you think if students spent one hour a week for about 40 weeks doing
              Extensive Reading it will make significant difference in their English
              ability?

              Dave
            • Brett Reynolds
              ... It would depend on their starting level, age, the test you use, etc. If you mean significant in the sense of distinguishable from random fluctuation, I
              Message 6 of 8 , Dec 2, 2006
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                On 2-Dec-06, at 5:20 AM, dk wrote:

                > Do you think if students spent one hour a week for about 40 weeks
                > doing
                > Extensive Reading it will make significant difference in their English
                > ability?

                It would depend on their starting level, age, the test you use, etc.
                If you mean 'significant' in the sense of distinguishable from random
                fluctuation, I would guess yes for 13-year-old students with about
                six months of English under their belt and no for an adult with 10
                years of English experience.

                Best,
                Brett

                <http://english-jack.blogspot.com>

                -----------------------
                Brett Reynolds
                English Language Centre
                Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
                Toronto, Ontario, Canada
                brett.reynolds@...
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