Reading

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Image courtesy of Phil Roeder

This is the final instalment of my first #444ELT project. To find out more about the project and to read the other three posts, here they are:

In this final week, I explored the concept of extensive reading. I have used extensive reading in my classes in the past, so I wanted to find out what the research says on the topic. Here is what I found.


 

Article: Robb, T. & Kano, M. (2013). Effective extensive reading outside the classroom: A large-scale experiment. Reading in a Foreign Language, 25(2). 234-247. Retrieved from http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2013/articles/robb.pdf

Summary: In this large-scale extensive reading study, Robb and Kano (2013) compared the reading scores of two different cohorts of first-year Japanese university students. In the first cohort, students were not given additional extensive reading work outside of class, while the second cohort was assigned the task of reading five graded readers per course for which they were registered.The additive extensive reading was only worth five marks above and beyond their overall grade for the courses. The monitoring for the reading program was administered on Moodle using MoodleReader, a module created to test the knowledge of what the had read and to make sure they had completed the proper number of readings. The final reading scores for each class was compared between the two cohorts with the second cohort obtaining much higher totals than that of the group that did not participate in the extensive reading project. In total over 4500 students participated in the study divided into six program areas.

Remarks: Firstly, this has to be the largest study I have read about in a long time. While it is nice to see such a large number, as the study starts to scale up, it takes on far more variables that are added to the study. While this probably had minimal effect on the final results, it is something to consider and possibly retest with a smaller group where variables can me more tightly controlled. After all of that, I am impressed with the results, especially the dramatic changes it has made on their reading ability. I have been using additive extensive reading for some time now, but I have my students journal about it since my objective is also to help improve their writing ability. The authors of this study used graded readers, but I give my students choice in the type of material they use. I work collaboratively with my students to build an online library so that they can do this wherever and whenever they want, including in class if they finish early.

My only real question mark about this study was the use of such direct language which was not always supported with evidence. An example of this: “It should be utterly obvious that the more students can practice with the target language the better they will be able to use it” (Robb & Kano, 2013, p. 235). This type of language comes across as being more accusatory, almost making the reader feel ‘stupid’ for having any doubts about the claims. A little room for critical analysis would go a long ways to bringing the reader onside. One more example: “It is clear from the data that the 2009 cohort which was required to read extensively did indeed improve compared to the 2008 cohort, and that this improvement can be solely attributed to their extensive reading” (p. 244). While I do agree the scores improved, it does not mean that there was not some flaws in the assessment (which we do not get to see here) or some other factor influencing their score as I mentioned previously. Yes, the curriculum was the same, but other factors can make a difference such as class size, teacher attitude, or even instructor changes. A little more understanding on the potential influences on the results would have lessened my apprehension when reading this study.

Questions: Most of my questions have already been raised in the remarks, but I will state them here as well:

  • What other factors may have had an influence on the scores?
  • How were the reading scores assessed?
  • What would happen if students were allowed to have a part in the selection of materials for their reading? Would more authentic material made any difference?
  • Since the author was also the creator of MoodleReader, does that add bias?
  • How much did the students improve in the areas of vocabulary or language production?

 

Article: Webb, S. & Macalister, J. (2013). Is text written for children useful for L2 extensive reading? TESOL Quarterly, 47(2). 300-322. Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/downloads/features/TQ_vol47-2_webb%20macalister.pdf

Summary: In order to find out whether English books written for L1 children are appropriate for L2 English language learners (ELLs), Webb and Macalister (2013) compared graded readers written for L2 readers, children’s material for L1 readers, and adult material for L1 readers. The comparison included over 688 texts which were composed of 285, 143 tokens each. The hope was to look at the vocabulary size needed to understand 98% of each text, but to determine the depth of each specific text type in regards to the the various word count levels and the use and repetition of low-frequency words. The results showed that graded readers only required approximately 3000 words to understand 98% of the text, whereas both the children’s as well as the adult material needed around 10,000 words to understand the same percentage. In fact, the lower the level of the children’s text, the more word types in needed as there were a number of age-specific words that were used that are not used as much later on in life. Also, graded readers provided the most amount of word repetition which helps L2 learners learn the words. In the end, the authors stated that children’s books were not appropriate for extensive reading, but may be more beneficial for intensive reading programs as it will help both the student and the instructor learn what word families are needing to be learned.

Remarks: This was a very well constructed study that clearly showed the appropriateness for graded readers, especially at lower levels. I haven’t really used graded readers in my classroom very much, but I certainly can see the benefit after reading this study. In my use of extensive reading, I have had the students take part in locating the material they will read and we spend time in class going over the appropriateness of the material. I may need to narrow that down a bit by helping them locate the material, but still leave them in charge of choosing what is best for them. I think there is a case to be made for the use of the corpora software in helping locate appropriate material and possibly in the adaptation of texts that are close to the 98%, but just need a bit of modification.

Questions: The others mention a number of limitations towards the end of the study, but I have a few of my own:

  • The study focused on only one type of children’s material from a single source. This source may have characteristics that are different than in other children’s books or material. Would these numbers change according to the different sources of materials?
  • What would have happened if the teacher had scaffolded some of the vocabulary necessary to take it closer to the 98%?
  • If children’s books were used, what would adult students think about the use of this age-specific material?
  • How does visuals and other clues in the text help in deciphering the meaning of the words?
  • In the use of news specific items or other possibly other texts, what would happen if students were allowed to study the material in their L1 before reading the text in L2?

 

Article: Jones, E. (2010). The use of comic book style reading material in an EFL extensive reading program: A look at the changes in attitude and motivation to read in English in a Japanese university. Language Education in Asia, 1(1). 228-241. Retrieved from http://www.camtesol.org/Download/LEiA_Vol1_2010/LEiA_V1_19_Jones_The_Use_of_Comic_Book_Style_Reading_Material_in_an_EFL_Extensive_Reading_Program.pdf

Summary: In this study, Jones (2010) wanted to measure the attitude and motivation of Japanese university students towards reading in English. He set out to see if using comic books would change their perception of reading in English and used both pre- and post-study questionnaires to determine if there were any changes. The study took place over one semester at a Japanese university with 25 first-year female students in an early childhood program. Since the students were at a low level in English, the author chose graded-level comic books from Oxford University Press since they were at the level that the students could understand. Students participated in group discussions with their peers who also read the same books as them followed by completely reading logs that were guided. These were marked, but not for content, but simply on how well the task was completed.

The results of the study showed that the students’ attitudes towards reading in English did not improve, but even went down a little, although 80% felt positively towards the use of comic books. Most of the reasoning was due to the use of illustrations to help students learn new words instead of having to use their dictionaries. In the end, the author felt that there were too many variables to ascertain whether the lack of improvement in attitude was due to the comic book style, or the other factors.

Questions: This was a really small study and there were a number of things that were left unanswered. Here are some things that came to mind as I read it:

  • Could the limited choice in subjects be the reason for the decline in interest?
  • Could other factors such as workload in other classes have contributed to the lack of interest?
  • Is there a cultural or gender factor that may be at play here? Not knowing Japanese culture as well as my own, I am not sure, but gender stereotypes in a North American context would likely affect things here.
  • What would happen with higher level students used more authentic material (ie. not graded)?
  • Are there other illustrated material that could be used instead of comic books?

 

Article: Yamashita, J. (2013). Effects of extensive reading on reading attitudes in a foreign language. Reading in a Foreign Language, 25(2). 248-263. Retrieved from http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2013/articles/yamashita.pdf

Summary: In this study, Yamashita (2013) examined the effect of extensive reading (ER) on the attitude of L2 students. A total of 61 university students at a Japanese university took part. They were asked to read any material in the self-access library on their own, both in and outside of class time. They were also asked to do a book report for credit on what they had read. Yamashita conducted both pre- and post-study questionnaires to obtain responses on five categories: comfort, anxiety, intellectual value, practical value, and linguistic value. In summary, ER had a large influence on feeling and emotions, primarily in increasing positive feelings more than on reducing negative feelings. This shows an increased intrinsic motivation towards reading and encourages the students to continue reading on their own.

Remarks: While it isn’t a large study, it does show that students who are allowed to make choices in the type of material for language learning have a greater sense of satisfaction than those that are required to read certain texts. In this situation, students felt that it helped them primarily in more feeling related areas than in intellectual areas. In other studies, the focus is typically on English language growth. While the evidence is there that ER can help in vocabulary and grammar growth, motivating students to do this on their own is important. This study shows that students will choose to continue if given the proper guidance at the beginning.

Questions: I don’t have a lot of questions after reading this, but there are a few things that come to mind:

  • Would the numbers change at all if students were part of the process in selecting the materials for the library?
  • What would happen if students were asked to participate in a discussion based on what they had read?
  • How would things change if the stakes were higher?
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