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Extensive reading for engaging learners beyond the textbook

Scott Roy Douglas has worked with high school, university, and adult English language learners around the world.  He is a co-author of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, and the author of Academic Inquiry: Writing for Post-secondary Success.  He is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education on the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. 

 

Today Scott joins us on the blog to explain how extensive reading could be beneficial to your students.

Supporting Classroom English Language Teaching and Learning with Extensive Reading

A program of extensive reading can be a powerful complement to English language teaching and learning.  This blog post explores what extensive reading is, how it can benefit students, what challenges there may be, and how it supports and enhances courses like Q: Skills for Success Second Edition.

What is extensive reading?

Rather than closely reading a single challenging text in class, extensive reading involves students engaging in large amounts of reading at levels that match what they are able to understand easily without using a dictionary or extra help.  Typically, students read at least one or two books a week from a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction choices.  Students read these books on their own either in their free time or during class, usually at a pace that might be a bit faster than usual for the classroom.  The goal is to go beyond thinking of reading as a task, towards developing a habit of reading for pleasure.  The key is to remember that extensive reading materials shouldn’t be too difficult or challenging for students.  As a rule of thumb, students should choose books with less than four or five new vocabulary words on a page.

What are the benefits of extensive reading?

A lot of research has been done examining the benefits of extensive reading.  It seems that the more students read, the better readers they become.  In fact, students who engage in a program of extensive reading often increase their reading rates and their overall reading fluency.  They can also improve their reading comprehension.  It appears that part of this improvement might be down to the development of new vocabulary knowledge.  Students can learn new vocabulary incidentally through the extensive reading process as well as deepen the vocabulary knowledge they already have by seeing the words they know in a wide variety of contexts.  However, the benefits are not just limited to reading and vocabulary.  There even seems to be a positive effect on students’ grammar and writing skills, performance on standardized tests, motivation, and attitude towards reading.

The challenges of extensive reading

While extensive reading programs can provide a rich source of comprehensible input that supports students’ English language learning goals, it can also present a number of challenges.  Students who have not taken part in extensive reading programs before might not be used to reading easier texts outside of class and may not immediately see the value in reading interesting and accessible books as homework.  In fact, because some students may equate learning English with challenging reading texts, intensive teacher support, and dictionary work, they might choose texts that are too difficult.  Poor reading choices can lead to a less than enjoyable experience, thus defeating the purpose of extensive reading.  In addition, extensive reading programs don’t always align with what is being covered in class, and students might not see the connections between what is happening in class and what they are reading in their free time.  Thus, in order to be successful, the extensive reading process needs to be thoughtfully supported in class, with students having access to level-appropriate reading choices and guidance from the teacher.

How can teachers enrich the extensive reading process?

Teachers can facilitate the extensive reading process by engaging in a wide variety of activities to support and enrich the experience.  For example, you might help students find appropriate books, check in on what they think about the readings, explore how they feel about the characters, and keep track of what is being read.  Examples and resources to support these types of activities can be found on the Oxford Graded Readers Teaching Resources page.

One activity your students can do is keep an extensive reading journal.  As a framework for their journal entries, you can ask students to write three short paragraphs for each book they read.  In the first paragraph, students can ask themselves what the book is about and write a quick summary in their own words.  In the second paragraph, they can connect what they read to the topic of the textbook unit they are currently studying, or as in Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, the corresponding unit question.  Students can explore the information in the book that helps them answer the unit question, and possibly include a quote that connects to the unit question as well.  Finally, students can write what they think about the book in their third paragraph.  In this paragraph, they can record their opinions, their favourite parts, and whether the book relates to their own experiences.  Thus, students will have a personal and meaningful account of each book they read.  You can read students’ journals from time to time to see how they are doing, and the journal entries can also be used as a strong basis for classroom discussions related to the books students are reading.

How can extensive reading complement Q: Skills for Success?

Each unit of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition has now been aligned to an Oxford Graded Reader based on the appropriate topic and level of language proficiency.  Starting in August 2017, the first chapters of the recommended graded readers can downloaded for free from iQ Online.  These graded readers come from a wide range of genres, all drawn from the Oxford Bookworms Library.

In the Q: Skills for Success series, each unit is centred on an essential question such as “Why is global cooperation important?” or “What happens when a language disappears?”  These questions touch on universal themes, encourage curiosity and discussion, and prepare students to engage with learning. All of the activities and skills presented in each unit support students finding answers to the unit questions.  The graded readers now provide another avenue of support for students answering the unit questions, while the unit questions prime students to fully engage with the aligned extensive reading choices.

To find out more about the new timesaving and practical resources being added to iQ Online, including Graded Reader chapters and new video content, visit https://elt.oup.com/feature/global/beyond-four-walls.

 

Further Reading on Extensive Reading

Beglar, D., Hunt, A., & Kite, Y. (2012). The effect of pleasure reading on Japanese University EFL learners’ reading rates. Language Learning, 62, 665–703.

Day, R. & Bamford, J. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading. Reading in a foreign language, 14(2), 136-141.

Horst, M. (2005). Learning L2 vocabulary through extensive reading: A measurement study. Canadian Modern Language Review, 61(3), 355-382.

Jeon, E.Y. & Day, R.R. (2016). The effectiveness of ER on reading proficiency: A meta-analysis. Reading in a Foreign Language, 28(2), 246-265.

Krashen, S. (2007). Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 3(2), 23-29.

Mikami, A. (2016). Students’ attitudes toward extensive reading in the Japanese EFL context. TESOL Journal, 0(0), 1-18.

Nation, P. (2015). Principles guiding vocabulary learning through extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign Language, 27(1), 136-145.

Robb, T. N., & Kano, M. (2013). Effective extensive reading outside the classroom: A large scale experiment. Reading in a Foreign Language, 25, 234–247.

Storey, C, Gibson, K., & Williamson, R. (2006). Can extensive reading boost TOEIC scores? In K. Bradford-Watts, C. Ikeguchi, & M. Swanson (Eds.), JALT 2005 conference proceedings, 1004-1018. Tokyo, Japan: JALT.

Waring, R. & Takaki, M. (2003). At what rate do learners learn and retain new vocabulary from reading a graded reader? Reading in a Foreign language, 15, 130-163.


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Free your mind – the power of taking a risk

shutterstock_415618444Adrian Leis is a full-time tenured Associate Professor at Miyagi University of Education in Sendai, Japan. Originally from Australia, he has now been teaching English in Japan for close to 20 years. He obtained his Ph.D from Tohoku University and his main fields of research are L2 learning motivation and computer-assisted language learning.

I recently found myself with a couple of hours to relax at home and so decided to watch an old movie. When I was looking through my DVDs, I stumbled across the 1999 science fiction film, The Matrix. At one stage in the movie, the main character, Neo, is told to “free his mind” in order to jump from one building to another while in a computer program. This reminded me of the idea of Mindsets – if we want to reach our full potential, we need to learn to free our minds.

The idea of Mindsets was proposed by Dr. Carolyn Dweck of Stanford University. Ever since, it has received a lot of attention in the field of psychology and, more recently, in the field of second language acquisition (SLA).

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Dweck (2006) looked at the thought processes of humans, or Mindsets, describing these two traits: the Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset. So which are you? Try answering the following questions:

  1. Imagine you see your friend eat something a little unusual, like inago (locust) or escargots. Your friend says, “Yuck!” Would you still try it?
  2. Imagine you have a chance to play tennis against a very strong player. You will most likely lose. Would you still take on the challenge?
  3. Your English teacher gives you an assignment to read a difficult 500-word passage from your textbook in front of the class. If you read straight from the textbook, you can get a maximum score of 80%. If you memorize the passage, you can get a maximum score of 100%. Would you choose to memorize the passage?

If you answered “Yes” to the above questions, you probably have a Growth Mindset. Dweck describes a person with a Growth Mindset as someone who sees intelligence not as innate, but something that can be developed and improved on over time. These people are flexible in that they are willing to take the risks of difficult challenges, even at times when failure may be inevitable, in order to reap the benefits of learning from such experiences.

On the other hand, people with Fixed Mindsets, who would probably answer ‘No’ to the three questions, are those who believe intelligence is innate and regardless of how hard they study or work, their intelligence will not change. They prefer to take easier classes and avoid the risks of failure, even if they could benefit from participating at a slightly higher level. Sound familiar?!

Anxiety, self confidence, and language learners

So, what does this mean for you, and your English classes?

Well, Dweck also wanted to find ways of promoting attitudes to learning similar to the Growth Mindset. One way was to look at the effects of praise on students’ approaches to learning. Mueller and Dweck (1998) concluded that when children were praised for the efforts they had made in their studies (e.g. “You thought really carefully about this question!” or “I can see how hard you practiced!”), the children became more willing to take on challenging tasks – the Growth Mindset. However, when children were praised for their intelligence (e.g. “You are really smart!” or “You are a natural athlete!”), they tended to avoid challenging problems in which they might fail, because they were afraid that they may not be praised the next time – the Fixed Mindset.

This suggests that in the classroom, teachers should think carefully about the way they talk to their students. In my own research, I have recommended teachers think about the timing of when they praise students (Leis, 2014). Rather than saying, “Well done!” after a student has given the correct answer, which is praising for her intelligence, teachers could say, “Thank you!” after the student has raised her hand but before she has given her answer. This puts value on the effort and willingness to solve the problem given by the teacher rather than whether her answer was correct or not.

Anxiety and self-confidence have been proven to be vital factors in the success of language learners. The studies mentioned above verify how important it is to look at the behavior of teachers in the classroom and how it influences the mindsets of our students. Students’ mindsets, in turn, affect the confidence with which they approach challenging tasks. When teaching languages, we should be encouraging students to choose the risks of making mistakes in order to achieve the ultimate goals of communicating with others in the language of their choice.

 

References

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Dweck, C. S., & Reppucci, N. D. (1973). Learned helplessness and reinforcement responsibility in children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 25(1). pp. 109-116.

Leis, A. (2014). The self-confidence and performance of young learners in an EFL environment: A self-worth perspective. JES Journal, 14. pp. 84-99.

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck. C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s performances. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1). pp. 33-52.

 


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#IATEFL – Second language development in childhood: factors for success

content based language teaching and instructionVictoria Murphy, Professor of Applied Linguistics and author of Second language learning in the early school years: Trends and Contextsshares her thoughts on the importance of L2 development in childhood, ahead of her forthcoming talk at IATEFL 2015 on Tuesday 14th on the same subject.

How children learn second languages has long interested me. Looking back, even from a very young age I was fascinated with the notion of bilingualism. As a child growing up in Ottawa, Canada I was fortunate in that I had very early second language instruction – indeed I was taught French as part of my pre-school and kindergarten education. When I was in grade 3 I recall that a very nice lady came into the class and told us that if we were interested in having all of our school day in French in grade 4, that we should take the letter she was distributing home to our parents and get them to sign it. I vividly remember how excited I was then at the prospect of speaking French for the whole day! Little did I know then that I was to end up participating in an early cohort of French Immersion education, a form of bilingual education that I would later go on to study as an academic. That very early interest in bilingualism stuck with me and eventually motivated me to go on and study Linguistics and Psychology at undergraduate level and then as part of my graduate work examine more closely some of the mechanisms which underpin child L2 learning.

Why is child L2 learning important?

More than ever I believe the field of child L2 learning, and particularly the role that formal education has in developing plurilingual citizens, is critically important to our futures, for a variety of reasons, which include social, economic, political and cognitive perspectives. I think too that we need to have a much better understanding of the factors and influences that shape successful L2 development in childhood, and again, to identify more precisely the role that educational policy, schools and teachers can play in determining successful L2 outcomes. This understanding is all the more important because increasingly governments around the world are lowering the age at which children are being taught a foreign language as part of their formal primary education.  However, the evidence which directly examines questions about the most effective or appropriate age at which to teach foreign languages to younger children is mixed, where some studies clearly show advantages to older learners while other studies argue for benefits to young learners. One worries (at least I do) that the reason why governments are making these decisions is due to a generally held belief that ‘younger is better’ in language learning in general, and L2 learning in particular. Without a doubt there is plenty of evidence in the literature to demonstrate age of acquisition effects, and clear relationships between the age of the learner and their L2 outcomes.

Contributing factors for L2 learning

However, many other variables are implicated in this relationship in addition to age (i.e., it is not just the age of the learner that determines the ultimate success of L2 learning). This is the point of the volume Second language learning in the early school years:  Trends and Contexts. I wanted to show that by examining L2 learning across a range of young learner contexts – where the children in each context can be argued to be at an advantage age-wise – we see that age is not the only, and probably not even the most critical, variable in determining the success of L2 learners.  Implementing policy to formally teach L2/Foreign Language to children, or developing bilingual education programmes to help support different languages, ought to be considered within a solid understanding of the research that identifies what we can realistically expect of L2 learners across different contexts. Furthermore, particularly in those contexts where children’s bilingual development is being supported by the school, we need to pay very close attention to the nature of the provision in these different bilingual or L2 programmes so as to ensure that we offer maximal support for the development of the L2 (while at the same time maintaining and developing the L1). It is my hope that the discussions in the volume Second language learning in the early school years:  Trends and Contexts will be informative in identifying major themes and issues in different contexts of child L2 learning, and that possibly, future generations of educational policy makers will make decisions concerning educational provision with a greater awareness of the complexity of child L2 development.


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Factors affecting the success of young L2/FL learners

Factors affecting the success of young L2/FL learnersAge is often considered the critical variable in determining the success of L2 learning. In this post Victoria Murphy, Professor of Applied Linguistics and author of Second language learning in the early school years: Trends and Contexts, introduces her forthcoming webinar on the subject and looks at other factors that influence L2 learning in classroom-based contexts.

For the past few decades there has been a growing interest in child second language (L2) learning, particularly evidenced by the fact that increasingly around the world children are required to learn a second language in the primary school classroom.  For example, Qiang (2002) reports that as of 2001 English language became a formal taught subject in the Chinese primary curriculum beginning at age 8 (grade 3) in order to increase the English language skills of China’s population.  Similarly in the UK, Modern Foreign Language (MFL) learning has been re-introduced into the English primary curriculum after a long absence.   As of 2014, native English-speaking children at Key Stage 2 (starting at 7 years old) are entitled to learn a MFL.   These two examples illustrate that governments are showing a greater commitment to learning a (second) language during the primary school years.  What has led to this decision?

Is age a critical factor?

One issue that appears in many of the reports available from the UK government highlights the ease with which children in primary school are able to pick up foreign language learning.  For example the DCSF report ‘Languages for all, Languages for Life’ states that If a child’s talent and natural interest in languages is to flourish, early language learning opportunities need to be provided, and their aptitude needs to be tapped into at the earliest opportunity when they are most receptive.” (DCSF, 2002).   Another example of this prevalent view is found in the text of the Romanes lecture given by the then Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, in 1999 at the University of Oxford.  In his lecture Mr. Blair talked about the importance of learning languages in childhood (in discussing the National Curriculum) and at one point said “Everyone knows that with languages the earlier you start, the easier they are”.

Statements such as these underscore a widespread view that learning a second language in childhood is far easier than for older learners, presumably in part due to the research suggesting there is a critical period for language learning (e.g., Moyer, 2004).

The classroom context

Importantly however, the research that has led to this generalisation that ‘younger is better’ is based on research that was NOT carried out within the primary classroom context.  It is therefore an empirical question whether this same assertion about ‘younger is better’ is relevant to young learners in an L2 classroom context.   Indeed, the few studies that have been systematically focussed on this question indicate that when it comes to learning a second language within the primary school curriculum, older is actually better (Muñoz, 2006). Furthermore, whether the L2 is being taught in a language minority vs. language majority context can have a significant influence over the outcomes and success of an L2 program, whether a child is learning an MFL as part of an immersion curriculum or as part of a foreign language curriculum with only 1 hour a week of instruction in the L2 can have a significant impact on the extent and success with which the child learns the L2, and so on.

The focus of this webinar is to highlight the fact that the age of the L2 learner is arguably not as informative as other factors that relate to the context in which the learner is developing their L2 knowledge.  Some of these other factors will be identified and discussed.

Join Victoria for her webinar on 10th December at 15:30 – 17:00. Register here.


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Assessment in the multi-level classroom

Frustrated student at work in classroomIt can be tricky to test classes of students who come from very different learning backgrounds. Stacey Hughes, teacher trainer in the Professional Development team at Oxford University Press, offers some advice.

Testing and assessment are important in any classroom. In addition to the obvious goal of finding out if students have learned what is required for the end of term or year, assessment also gives teachers information about what students might need more work on. It can also motivate students to study, giving them a sense of achievement as they learn (Ur:1996).

A multilevel class poses additional challenges to the teacher. It could be argued that all classes to a certain extent are multi-level. However, for the purpose of this article, multi-level will be defined as those classrooms with students who come from very different learning backgrounds, or those in which students have very different levels of proficiency. Assessment in these situations needs to be fair for all students and needs to provide enough challenge or support so as not to bore or overstretch students. Here are some ideas for assessment:

1. Set individualised targets

You could consider setting individualised targets (or get your students to set their own). In order to assess students on their achievement of their target, you may need different assessment criteria and this difference needs to be made clear at the outset. As long as the assessment is not part of a final grade (and instead part of ongoing assessment for the purposes outlined above), students will be unlikely to opt for an easier option than they are capable of. Here are some examples:

a) Choose the 5 key words you think are absolutely necessary for all students to learn, several more that would be good for them to learn and a final few that would be great if they could learn. Assign the words to each student (or get them to choose their own level of challenge). Assess students on the words you have assigned or that they have chosen.
b) Set different word limits for paragraphs and essays. At the lowest level, ask students to write a 50-word paragraph. The next level might be a 100-word paragraph while the highest level might be two 100-word paragraphs. A similar design can be made for speaking tasks.
c) Set different criteria for writing or speaking. If a student’s work is hard to read because of spelling, set the target of improving spelling and assess only on that. Another student might not have problems spelling, but may have poor subject/verb agreement, so instead, make this the focus of the assessment.

2. Break your targets into manageable chunks

Create a master list of targets for yourself, and assign 2-3 targets at a time for students.
This has the effect of making learning manageable. Some students may already be quite good at word stress, for example, while others, possibly from L1 interference, might need to work a lot on their pronunciation.

Your master list should be comprehensive and cover all language areas. For pronunciation, it might include:

a) Correct word stress on vocabulary words
b) Clear distinction between /s/, /z/ and /Id/ in past tense
c) Rising intonation on yes/no questions

For speaking, it might look like this:

a. Can ask and respond to questions about likes and dislikes
b. Can speak about likes and dislikes for 1 minute
c. Can give reasons or examples for likes and dislikes

3. Differentiate between assessment questions and let students choose their level of challenge

Again, this will work best if the assessment is not marked or graded.

a) For a reading or listening assessment, provide many different questions, and ask students to answer more for higher levels of challenge. For example, the Level 1 challenge could be to answer questions 1-3, Level 2 could be questions 1-5 and Level 3 could be questions 1-7. If you set this kind of task, make sure each question increases in difficulty.
b) Allow for levelling in answers. Level 1 challenge answers could be 1-2 words or yes/no questions, while level 3 challenge answers could be whole sentences or open-ended questions.
c) Provide optional hints for those who need it. Students could choose to do the assessment with or without hints, for example. This works well in conjunction with digital or online assessments.

4. Provide a place for students to go next

At the end of the term or school year, it is customary to test whether or not students have reached the learning goals for the course. For those students who aren’t yet ready to progress, make sure they have a class to go into that isn’t just a repeat of the level they have just done. Some courses provide a middle level between levels that caters for those weaker students, for example, English File 3rd edition Intermediate Plus. In this way, weaker students don’t feel penalised, but feel a sense of achievement in having completed a level.

Assessing students in a multi-level class differently according to their level can benefit all students by providing the right amount of challenge. This can be encouraging and create a positive atmosphere of achievement in the classroom. I hope you enjoy trying out some of these ideas.

References & Further Reading

English club. (n.d.). Teaching multilevel classes. Found at: https://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-multi-level-classes.htm.
Accessed 30/04/14.

Ur, P. (1996). A course in language teaching: practice and theory. Cambridge: CUP.

This article first appeared in the May 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.