Skip to main content

Extensive reading

In the United States the second language acquisition academic Stephen Krashen has many supporters. I wrote a dissertation about his work back in the 1980s. His main contention, laid out in his book Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning, was that people best acquire second language through exposure to large amounts of "comprehensible input". Krashen argued, and still does, that traditional "skill-building" approaches which see a language as a complex system to be gradually mastered, bit by bit, from simplest to more complex, through analysis and controlled practice, are less successful.

He now calls his idea the Comprehension Hypothesis. It is superficially attractive since it effectively says that second language acquisition is like first language acquisition and that all you need to do is provide students with large amounts of understandable listening and reading for successful acquisition to take place.

Krashen goes further, however, by claiming that the language we practise consciously by means of drills, structured question-answer or grammar-translation, does not really count as comprehensible input since the focus is on form, not meaning. He claims that such controlled practice just allows you to monitor your accuracy as a you speak or write. (My hunch is that this is a false dichotomy and that all practice in the target language, whether focused on form or content, can be good. In other words, conscious learning can leak into natural acquisition.)

None of this is verifiable, despite the many attempts to show by experiment that one approach is better than another, but it seems to chime with common sense and experience that large amounts of contact with comprehensible language is what you need to make most progress. In this regard Krashen has done us a great service.

So, extensive listening and reading must be a good thing. Trouble is, modern language teachers find it hard to supply listening and reading materials which really motivate students.

From the 1980s the Bibliobus series for French was a good example of a set of graded readers which could motivate. They were written in accessible French alongside professional cartoon pictures, including some by the Guardian's Steve Bell. Pupils started at the bottom level, selected books themselves depending on their interests and worked their way through. I used to devote a lesson a week over several weeks to extensive reading with Bibliobus. Bibliobus went out of print after a few years (expensive to produce, expensive to buy and schools had insufficient time to devote to extensive reading) and since the nineties I have failed to find anything as good.

Extensive reading has, alas, been a bit neglected therefore. At A-level, where it it is easier to access material at the right level, we include an internet reading task once a week whereby students choose an article, copy and paste it on to A4, then add a vocab list and short summary in English to prove they have actually done the reading. This has worked well, but you have to monitor whether any Google translating goes on. I recommend this kind of reading task.

In general I am sure we neglect extensive reading for a number of reasons: lack of good materials, lack of time, feeling guilty that we are not being active as teachers in the classroom and, lastly, crucially, a failure to realise the importance of comprehension. There is a gap in the market for a publisher to produce a series of graded readers, either in book form (expensive, but preferable) or online.

Comments

  1. Great point Steve! Thank you but again and you mentioned it in a previous post: the school timetable is inadequate! For extensive reading, students should practice everyday and not just a few hours a week!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’(http://pdcinmfl.com). The point i…