From IATEFL 2015 - Extensive Reading and Paul Nation's 4 strands of language learning


Last week I went to the IATEFL conference in the impressive Manchester Central convention complex.

Unfortunately I could only go for one day but I had a packed itinerary and saw some very interesting and lively presentations including one by Catherine Walter at the Extensive Reading Foundation's learner literature awards ceremony which can be viewed here....

It's well worth a watch and starts off with a critique of research into the effectiveness of extensive reading (ER) and then moves onto how ER relates to Paul Nations four strands of language learning.

Paul NationCatherine argued that ER clearly constitutes meaning focussed input when the reading is easy for the reader - as it always should be with ER.

Paul Nation recommends that meaning foussed input activities should take up 25% of class time, which is useful to remember when trying to justify silent reading sessions in class!

This reminded me of a very engaging presentation that I’d seen earlier in the day given by Marcos Benevides during which he talked about the requirement that readers should know 98% of the words in the text that they're reading in order to be reading extensively.

He illustrated the experience of doing this in practice by substituting nonsense words into some text to replace different percentages of the whole piece. It was very effective and provided a great illustration of just how much 2% of a piece of written text contributes to its overall meaning and how quickly that meaning is lost when you go beyond 2%.

Catherine also argued that ER supports fluency development by helping learners to increase the depth of their vocabulary knowledge through repetition and seeing words used in a variety of contexts.

Again I was reminded of Marcos' presentation as he had made the point that ER is in fact necessary to really learn vocabulary as research has indicated that words need to be read many many times in order to be truly learnt.

Catherine made some recommendations for researchers to look into particular areas and provide us all with some real and actionable intelligence regarding the ways in which ER is effective. Without such research she believes we're really working in the dark.

She is clearly a supporter of the ER approach though. As she said ‘we know it improves learners attitudes to reading and language learning’ and everyone teaching will understand the value of that.

She ended by applauding the wealth of learner literature available after 30 years of development and exhorting everyone to put it to good use.

At this point I couldn’t help but be reminded of something I'd heard earlier during a presentation by Nkechi Christopher of the English Language Institute at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. She had conducted research with her students that had found amongst other things that 73% of her students could not access English reading material.

It seems that the wealth of learner literature is not as available to all as it should be!

There's obviously still a lot of work to be done...