Saturday, September 8, 2012

Learning from the master

Today I had the pleasure to meet & listen to Dr Stephen Krashen - the guru on reading research. It was on a Saturday morning, I did have to make an effort to get there and it was totally worth it. If you have not heard of Dr Krashen in your travels, you really need to do some "Self Selected Narrow Reading" (SSNR) and check out his research on Free Voluntary Reading and his own research & reviews on research on the effect of Libraries on Learning by Keith Curry Lance. His website is linked with his name above, also if you Google his name you will come up with other papers he has presented including Free Voluntarily Websurfing.

His presentation was entertaining, informative, totally without notes or spectacular visuals. This was a man telling us about his life work in research, with the focus on "Literacy and Language development for children in bilingual situations." Perfect for HK where every child is learning a language other than their mother tongue. His message was essentially that to teach language through grammar and rule skills is a waste of time (delayed gratification), if children are read to and voluntarily read engaging and interesting stories with no accountability (ie book reviews, tests etc), they will learn the language - they will have no choice. They will learn the spelling, the grammar and the rules without knowing they are doing this much much faster than if they were to learn the rules.

The research backs this up with scientific studies across many countries. including The Fiji Island Study 'Book Flood by Elley & Mangubhai in1983. Krashen mentioned a few other people who have done similar studies including Beniko Mason focusing on Japanese and English language learning. Jim Trelease has also done a lot of work on reading aloud to children.

One other colleague from my school came who supports the English as Another Language students (EAL) along with the Mother tongue groups in the school. As we were listening to Dr Krashen, the cogs in our head were turning and we were thinking how we could take this presentation back to school and be an instrument of change to improve the learning of our EAL students and the Spanish and Chinese language learners. We would need to tread carefully and help the teachers be inspired by the research. Thankfully the full presentation has been promised to  be loaded onto the Bring Me a Book website and we think we might be able to work with the video along with the many, many studies that have been done in this area.  There is a video here if the one on Bring me a book is not uploaded yet.

I will also be chasing up this book by Nancie Atwell  The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers

Todays presentation was based on the paper  Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition.

It was so refreshing to hear everything I had studied and built our library programme on from the man himself. Reinforced implications for the library from the research :
  • Have a huge collection of engaging, compelling fiction and non fiction for children to choose from in as many languages as possible. 
  • Promote reading aloud by parents, teachers and teacher librarians in all classes especially language classes. 
  • Graphic Novels & light reading have a place in learning to read.
  • It is OK for students to read 'narrowly' (same genre, author etc), they will move on when they are ready for a new challenge. When they read more, they get better at it, allowing them to build confidence to move on.
  • Avoid channeling children into what they 'should' read - allow Free Voluntary Reading. 
  • What is compelling for one is not for another - have a lot of variety - genres, authors, formats.
  • Know what the students find compelling. 
  • Ensure the collection is comprised of what the students want to read.
  • Reading for rewards is not a good thing to promote. (AR, read for pizza etc) 
  • Everyone is a teacher of language
  • The story counts!

Today was such a great learning experience and I got to meet some great people in person that I knew from twitter and their blogs!

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