Help with ER

There is a lot of talk about Extensive Reading (ER) on the interenets and around me here in South Korea (perhaps one reason for the latter is the tireless efforts of the good people at The Korean Extensive English Reading Association). I think that this talk of ER is mostly a good thing. Really I do. I also sometimes wonder if some ER missionaries take things a little far without fully considering the different contextual factors that teachers might be facing. I sometimes get the sense that ER has a bit of a cultish following. Perhaps this is just my own personal impression. Some friends  on Twitter and face-to-face have talked to me about the mountains of data that support ER (and I am not ready or willing to necessarily dispute that)  but I feel that it can be difficult for teachers on the ground to implement such programs.  Dear reader, you might be thinking to yourself that ER so easy to implement and I’m just being obstinate. While that might be the case, I would like to share a journal entry that my former course participant wrote. This was a journal entry that she wrote for a partner but gave me her kind permission to share here. Let’s see what Ms. C (not her real name) has to say…

What do you do during the extracurricular class? I mean during the ‘club activity’ or, dong-a-ri in Korean. Because the educational office started to stress the importance of extracurricular activity, the system was extended from this year. I take 2 classes a week and the name of the club I am charge of is the ‘extensive reading club’.

I’m sure that you have heard about intensive reading and extensive reading. Many English education experts believe that voluntary extensive reading is an effective way for Koreans to acquire English fluency. So a lot of research papers related to reading are dealing with extensive reading. We, Koreans are learning English as a foreign language (not a second language) in an environment where exposure to the language and culture is rare. In this situation, extensive reading can expose students not only to the language but also to culture and material that would motivate them to study. Through reading books that are rich in linguistic and cultural elements, students can learn how words are used in specific contexts, and enhance critical and creative thinking skills and cultural understanding.

At first, I was too demanding so I designated one book for 2 weeks. But, I expected too much. Most students couldn’t make it and half of them couldn’t read even one chapter. So I started with books that are interesting and super-easy to read. I chose books that are one or two level lower than students’ current one to maintain their interest and motivation.

It was not so easy to make students read books that are all in English(even though it was really easy and simple English). You know students these days don’t like to read Korean books, no wonder English books hold little appeal for them. So I tried making quiz and providing some snacks. But attracting students’ attention is not that easy. Sometimes it was only me who was excited to read a book.

Slow learners have a lot of difficulties reading an English book itself and advanced learners could hardly move to the other chapter without looking up new words and expressions because they want to be perfect and accurate in their use of English.

I think teachers can play a role of a facilitator who can help students select good books and study in good reading environments. So I tried this and that. But still I’m in the dark. Is there any good way to be a better facilitator? If you have any idea, please help me out!

I had some initial thoughts for Ms. C but I would love to see what other people think. (I will be sharing the post with Ms. C as well.)

One thing that came to mind is that perhaps this whole EFL/ESL distinction gets taken too far sometimes and that these days there are can be lots of opportunities for English input for Korean students.

I also wondered about the teacher choosing the books and using quizzes. This sounds like it is getting away from the principles of “Extensive Reading” as I understand them.

What other advice and thoughts might you offer Ms. C?
Is ER feasible in such a situation?
What steps could she take?
(Links are very welcome as well)

Updates: 

This link was suggested by @English_Aus (aka English Australia) on Twitter.
(Check for Sylvia Cher’s article on ER with beginners.)

On and offline friend Anne Hendler shares her experiment with Extensive Reading.

Advertisements

29 comments

  1. haeundaelife

    Hey Mike, I am with you regarding people taking one method a bit too far. However, I do see how reading extensively could be useful.

    When Krashen spoke in Busan last month he talked about a few things. First, as your T already pointed out…the reading needs to be below the Ss capability…otherwise Ss get caught up in the dictionary and aren’t engaged with the story.

    He also mentioned that any reading is fine, after which he chronicled his own path in reading and his love for comic books. I would agree with this, I am not sure reading has to be stories necessarily.

    Anyway, my final point of agreement would be on your judgement that T chosen books and quizzes is not what ER is supposed to be about.

    I would recommend that she helps students find books they find interesting. If a student starts reading something but doesn’t like it, help them choose another. Have the students explain the reason why they think they will like it. (ie i like the baseball and this book is about baseball, i like the cover picture, or the synopsis on the back). Also, I do not think it should just be books. news, songs, game magazines, comics, blogs, sports, biographies, plays, how to books could all work depending on the students varied interests.

    The T could have students act out the story, or report to the class on what they learned, or draw a picture of what they read, or create a flip-book of an action scene, create a poster mind-map of the characters and how they feel about each other at different times.

    just a few ideas i might try. might work. might not. best advice, One experiment is never enough.

    John

    • mikecorea

      John!
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I think your experience probably most closely resembles that of my participant (a middle school teacher in Korea). I think your ending line is a key: One experiment is never enough. I think there is a lot of wisdom in this as I can imagine it being quite easy for a teacher simply throw up his/her hands and say “ER doesn’t work.” I realize I was saying it is not the end all and be all but I also think that if it is worth doing then it is worth doing. And if it is worth doing it is worth doing right. If it is worth doing right it is worth experimenting with. You see what I am getting at.

      Anyway, great tips and thanks for helping out.
      (Please excuse my long delay in responding)

  2. chris wilson

    Some interesting questions especially as my school is thinking of starting a book club of sorts! I wonder if It’s worth running It in a “what Have you Been reading, what was good/bad” format rather than let’s All Read this book. That way Students can run at Their own pace, they can recommend a different book to people etc thoughts?
    E.r. does seem to be popular atm but that might just be because I know a few vocal advocates. I honestly don’t have much experience.

  3. Rachael Roberts

    I want to know what you think (not good at delayed gratification). But, I’d agree that, while I think ER can have all the benefits mentioned, reading books set by the teacher is unlikely to be that motivating, especially in a super-technologised society like Korea, I imagine.
    My son (nearly ten), has just in the last six months started reading on his own for pleasure. I’d almost given up hope! I have always read voraciously, and hoped my children would too, but, although he could read fine, it just never really seemed to occur to him to do it. Too many other things to do, I guess. He always liked being read to, and I tried to choose really great books..and finally, one caught his interest to the extent that he didn’t want me to stop reading, and carried on for himself. It was like a switch went on, and he started reading a lot. At the moment, he’s going through a book a week.
    I mention this, because I think that, somehow, we have to help students to access the pleasure in reading for pleasure- and it will most likely be different for each one. So, no easy answers.

    • mikecorea

      Hello RR,
      I guess I really delayed your gratification here about telling you what I actually think! A month or so later I can just say that I think ER has a lot of benefits but I still think it might be hard to implement in certain settings. As you say, there are no easy answers. As you suggested reading books chosen by the teacher doesn’t sound to me like it would be particularly appealing for most students that I know. I am glad to hear that your son is getting into reading. I think that you sort of touched on an important thing here. .You didn’t pressure him into it but provided a great model. I don’t really know exactly how this translates into class but I think these are valuable points.

      Thanks again for the comments!
      (sorry for the delay)

      • Rachael Roberts

        Actually it’s very good for us to learn delayed gratification 😉 Have you heard about the marshmallow test? I agree about ER, it seems to sometimes work brilliantly and other times fizzles out and perhaps its hard to know exactly what makes the difference. Guess the only answer is trial and error.

  4. ga

    Hey there,
    Agreeing w/above comments – calling her club “ER” seems like a misnomer. It sounds like she drank the kool-aid without investigating the recipe. Though, in any case, starting up an ER program probably isn’t easy…it probably requires money for a large variety of leveled reading materials (a starter library)…etc. It seems sad that kids don’t read anymore…but adding quizzes might not help that….John’s bunch of ideas sound like things students would like…I’d like to add to that — a good old-fashioned story time…read easy, light, funny texts…let kids lounge around on the floor (tech stays out in the hall) (some snacks would be nice)…Story time = some of my best memories of elementary school…they only happened on select Friday afternoons, sadly. A teacher can read the stories or how about play a podcast, there are tons of good ones for all ages & levels (I particularly recall “free to be you & me” album….hhahahh!!!).
    I’ve never had the good fortune to work in an ER program…but ER seems so cool, cooler than any trend. For me, it’s because ER seems like it’s about the text, about choice, about relaxing with some reading material w/o rushing around dealing with tests/quizzes/etc or hurry-hurry, rush through an assigned book so we can say we finished it (that’s how the Korean classes I’ve taken all were, unfortunately). If she can morph her trendy “ER” dong-a-ri into a simple, pleasant, unambitious, playful, un-rushed story time, it might be a good memory for her students, one that might stay with them into their future reading years…they might some day think nostalgically, ‘if only we could’ve done that more often…”
    cheeries,
    ga

  5. Ceri Jones

    Hi there – some interesting thoughts and comments – Rachel, the same thing happened to my son last year and now he’s almost as addicted to his books as he is to his console 😉 – at the moment I’m trying to gently push my daughter along the same path. I’m trying with her something I tried with a group of remedial students recently – to look for and value any type of reading that they do – in the case of my students they were in their last year of high school and had fallen way behind the rest of the class. They had serious self-esteem/attitude problems as language learners – and as readers! We talked about reading in their L1 as well as in their L2 and we looked at all kinds of “micro reading” opportunities – Google searches, text messages, instructions for apps, walkthroughs for games , and discussed how many of these things they could do in English. We started a log where they kept a note of anything they’d seen/read/heard in English outside class ( a song, an advert, a demo for a game). I tried to create an atmosphere where any contact with the language was valued – and that anything they found and enjoyed outside the class was double valued, and the pleasure and enthusiasm shared where possible. Then I brought in elementary readers – we only had a small choice at the school I was working in at the time – offering as much choice as possible, guiding them to choose the easiest texts – ones that were more than manageable, ones that would let them read at a relatively fast pace. I asked them all to try one out just as an experiment. Some of them got into it – others didn’t. One student really latched on to the feeling of success he got from reading. Feelings of success were few and far between for him in the academic study of English. It was a small success story for me – one from eight – but sometimes we need to celebrate the small victories! We can’t necessarily reach everyone, or not straightaway, but we can try and encourage, enthuse, lead the way. I know that when I looked at the stronger students in my mixed ability classes in the same school, they were all readers – they had all found their own pleasure in books (some were reading sports biographies, other were reading fantasy novels, others were into comics) – but it’s a kinda chicken and egg situation. Were they stronger because they read? Or did they read because they were stronger? and then of course, there’s the widening gap as the readers get stronger and the non-readers flounder further behind. Maybe that’s another reason why we need to make sure we’re nudging the weaker students to find a way in – whatever that way may be.
    Sorry have gone on a bit longer than I’d meant to!

    (btw last year I led a webinar on ER for the Macmillan online conference. The session and handouts are here. http://www.macmillanenglish.com/BlankTemplate.aspx?id=54884. The basic theme is one of “taking the horse to water” )

    • mikecorea

      Hello Ceri,

      Thanks so much for stopping by!
      (And sorry for taking so long to respond!)

      I enjoyed your blog post on this subject: http://cerij.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/a-new-fixation/

      I think my participant would love to get her students engaged in books like you mentioned. That is just magical.

      I especially like your ideas about finding a way in and celebrating all kind of reading.

      Here in Korea (esp in public schools) , “reading” is often just a way of delivering vocab and grammar and I think appreciating reading for fun requires a few steps away from this.

      Thanks again!

  6. @kevchanwow

    OK, I had time to process and would like to leave a comment. First, I will say that I am one of those pushy kind of ER is fantastic teachers. Not because it is trendy. Not because I have read tons and tons of papers on ER. But because I have watched week in and week out as my students take down books from the small library in my International Course classroom and read. Out of thirty students, about ten of them regularly borrow books from school now. At least three of the students read their first book from beginning to end in any language in this years ER class. Does that mean I think ER is great for every school? That it can work for all students? No. Not even close. First, it requires a very large library, because I think students need to have a sense of choice when it comes to what they are reading. As Rachel mentioned, books which feel like they are set by the teacher are going to be a pretty big turn off. The other thing is there also has too be a huge variety of levels. Sometimes my students just want to read something that is super-super easy, like a picture book with two or three words per page. Why? I don’t know. But I don’t really care. When a student grabs a stack of picture books and reads them through one after another, they seem to be having a great time. And if you think of that kind of reading as fluency practice (the same way a very simple and basic conversation can serve as fluency practice), I think you would agree that it has value.

    For my class of 30 learners I have about 500 books as well as an assortment of magazines. I realize my students are lucky to have this kind of resource. I realize I’m lucky as well. I also know that my school has faith that I am making the right curriculum choices. So I don’t get a lot of questions like, “Why are you just letting students read for two hours a week?” or “How will you test them?” So I am in an ideal situation. But if we judge ER by a best case scenario, I think it is a very very useful way to expose students to lots and lots of English in a very low stress and enjoyable way. And as a final comment, ER also helps students gain a greater awareness about their own language development. It’s very easy for them to see that they are reading more pages per minute, that there are more words on each page, and that they are understanding more of the words they are reading. I think this kind of strong and ongoing feedback loop is one the most overlooked aspects of what makes ER so useful.

    And I’m very sorry if the first few lines of this comment radiate defensiveness. I think it was because I was feeling defensive. But I was also thinking. Which is a good thing. So thank you Michael and everyone else who commented for a very good chance to revisit ER.

    Kevin

    • mikecorea

      Hey Kevin,

      Thanks for the comments.
      As I mentioned on another channel, I don’t think your comments sounded defensive.
      In turn, I am sorry if my comments sounded inflammatory.
      (ok…mostly sorry)

      Anyway now that I have a month to calm down (just kidding) and re-read your post there is a lot I can learn about ER and the implementing of it. Even if your situation is perfect, that doesn’t meant that we can’t take lessons from it for less than perfect situations. I think you offered a lot for me (the semi-naysayer) and for my participant (the teacher interested in implementing ER).

      Your point about the feedback loop was especially poignant and eye opening. Thanks for sharing that one.

      I was also interested in your point about not really caring why certain students might choose to read different books on different days. I think this speaks to the creating of space/time/a library aspect that seems to be very important.

      Thanks for the thoughtful and helpful comments.

      Also, congrats on being the world leader in comments on my blog.
      (Thanks!)

  7. pterolaur

    Can I come back and comment in a few weeks? Just done my third reading group here in Tbilisi with five students, up from three last time, and today was VERY cool but I wonder how sustainable it is (not to be unduly pessimistic) since we have a pretty small selection of suitable books and not a whole lot of consensus on what we want to read / discuss! Started with the very jolly Schindler’s List :-/ – but everyone had read the chapters, retained a good deal of info and had interesting stuff to say about it. And I said more or less nothing. Which is cool. Anyway, me me me, sorry. Just excited by today 🙂 Hope in future I’ll have something more concrete to offer in the way of experience. For now, good luck Ms C! I have no doubt that Mike + PLN will come up with some awesome suggestions.

  8. livinglearning

    When I was in elementary school we had a summer reading program sponsored by our local library. Kids could make reading goals for each week and we would get a prize (usually a coupon for Pizza Hut, if I remember right) if we achieved all our reading goals. I remember the librarian getting mad at me because I kept choosing books I had already read and enjoyed and books that she said were too easy for me. She eventually refused to allow books with pictures to count towards my reading goal. I was so angry I didn’t complete my goal that summer. I think I would have read more then and in subsequent summers if the librarian had let me choose what kinds of books I liked rather than just laying down an iron fist.

    Now I am teaching a student who is very interested in reading. She selected a book to read herself, but I quickly ran into the same problem Mrs. C mentions – my student found the need to look up every word and phrase she wasn’t sure of in order to make sure she understands perfectly. When I finally realized what she was doing, I banned the dictionary. It took her time to get used to the new method, but now she says it’s faster and she understands more than she thought she did. I don’t assign her chapters or pages, but ask her to read as much as she can find time for in her free time because we don’t have class time for reading, unfortunately. During classes she tells me about the parts of the book that interested her or caught her attention and asks questions about situations that don’t make sense to her. Most of the time she answers her own questions better than I can.

    I think an important point is that this wouldn’t have worked if my student didn’t already like to read. As I understand it, extensive reading is reading for enjoyment. As someone who likes to read, I get a lot out of books and reading has changed the way I interact with language. For other people, different media do that – playing video games, watching television or movies, playing board games or role-playing games. No amount of fun activities (or tests or vocabulary lists) is going to force a student who doesn’t like reading to like it. For people who like reading, it’s not about the sense of accomplishment. It’s about getting lost in another world.

    • mikecorea

      Hello LivingLEARNing,
      Thanks for the comments.
      (sorry for the dreadful delay in responding)

      I enjoyed all your comments but this line stuck out for me: No amount of fun activities (or tests or vocabulary lists) is going to force a student who doesn’t like reading to like it.
      This sums up exactly what I was thinking when I first read about this dilemma.
      (Hey look everyone we agree 100% without any reservations!).

      I also thank you for sharing your story about the reading program at the library. Valuable lessons there, indeed.

      Thanks again for the comments.
      Looking forward to more learning.

      Best,
      Mike

  9. ICAL TEFL (@ICAL_TEFL)

    ER is brilliant. I say this firstly as someone who is actively learning another language and using ER for myself as part of the process. And as someone who uses it in class.

    But it has to be handled carefully. One comment talked about students getting caught up in the dictionary – well good ER in my opinion avoids this. Students do not read to learn words, they read to enjoy the story. Another comment talked about what to ask students. Again, this shouldn’t be done in ER. It’s not a test and students aren’t to be examined on this. It’s for PLEASURE.

    So back to me and I read – in Italian – a thriller about some drug dealers and the police chasing them. It wasn’t exactly Moravia or Umberto Eco, but it was a fun read. I understood about 50% of the language but that didn’t make any difference. I filled in the rest by guesswork and really enjoyed the book. I read it on trains and buses and after a chapter or so I was really into the story and found myself not reading it as a book in Italian but simply reading it.

    So yes, bring ER into the classroom but do it properly! Here, by the way, is my blog on this: http://tinyurl.com/c6pjc3g

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for stopping by and thanks for sharing the link.
      Much appreciated. I am terribly sorry for the delay in responding!
      I appreciate how you shared your experiences with ER as a learner as well.
      I think you make a good point about bringing ER into the classroom properly. This is sort of what I was thinking when I mostly argued against simply bringing ER because people are buzzing about it.

      Thanks again and Happy New Year!

  10. Sharon Turner

    Dear Mike,

    ER is essential but at the same time so difficult to implement. It’s like the rubrics cube of reading I have been working on this for about the last 6 years in Turkey with many similar parallels to your situation. All of this thinking, frustration, rethinking and experimenting culminated for me this year when I was asked to rewrite curriculum objectives and we bit the bullet and put in Extensive reading into that formal curriculum document. Instead of boring you with the ins and outs here I wrote a blog post at the same time as doing that work on ER. It covers why do it and ways that worked with my students. Hope it helps.) Here is the link:
    http://www.sharonzspace.com/?p=1058
    Good luck with ER
    Sharon:)

  11. Matt Bury

    Hi Mike,

    I don’t think the main problem the teacher you quoted was experiencing wsa from ER per se. Just look at the expressions s/he used:

    I designated
    I expected
    I started with books
    I chose books
    to make students read books
    I tried making quiz(zes)
    it was only me
    help students select good books

    What does this tell us about her/his appraoch to learning and teaching? What kind of power relationship does s/he have with learners? Learner centred activities like ER, TBLL, PBL, etc. require both learners AND teachers to adopt different roles. Where’s the dialogue? Where’s the negotiation and agreement between everyone in the room? When you think about it, learner centred teaching is a lot like introducing participatory democracy into an autocracy.

    • mikecorea

      Hello Matt,
      Thanks for stopping by…I think you made some very good points about the language used. I think that this is part of what is required to get away from a teacher-centered style (assuming that is what the teacher wants.) I also think this is part of what it might take to introduce ER to classes that are not familiar with them (which I also think speaks to my point that ER is not some sort of panacea).

      Thanks again for the comments and clarity.
      Sorry for the embarrassingly long delay!

  12. Pingback: a new fixation … | close up
  13. Pingback: 12 before the end of 12 « ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections
  14. Pingback: Real-life stories that involve Stephen Krashen (Volume I) « ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s