The joy of learning and the joy of reading are two topics I am deeply passionate about.
So when I heard that Professor Stephen Krashen, a world leader on the topic of literacy, was touring Australia last week, I was very keen to attend one of his presentations. With some disappointment though I realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend either of his two Melbourne presentations. Buoyed though by the enthusiasm of a work colleague who did attend saying that he was brilliant, I resolved to do the next best thing and explore the beliefs, research and teachings of this inspiring professor for myself by researching all that is available online.
Ah the joy of online learning!!
To my delight, I found lots by and about this eminent educator and proceeded to devote a number of hours to a self styled ‘online’ learning program and as a result, now feel I’ve got a good handle on how Krashen believes we should be pursuing the ‘teaching’ of reading in our schools. Most inspiring of all is that Krashen’s approach fits in perfectly with my own beliefs!
Like Krashen, I believe that the best way to teach reading and extend our students’ skills is, quite simply, by having them read! Exposure to good quality reading material which is readily available, providing positive role models and ensuring that students have as many opportunities to knuckle down and read are essential ingredients to nurture reading. Reading is not something that can be compartmentalized into English classes and taught. Indeed reading is a skill and a focus of every school subject and is the reason why in past schools I have created school wide Literary Festivals in which literature across the curriculum was celebrated. In addition to authors and illustrators, a wide range of artists, all of whom are united in their passionate desire to engage, stimulate and challenge students with their love of the written and spoken word were included in the Literary Festivals held. I’ve written extensively about Staging a Successful Literary Festival.
I was very pleased to come across a presentation by Stephen Krashen where he spoke at The University of Georgia College of Education in 2012 on the very same topic as his Melbourne presentation: The Power of Reading. It was great to listen along and realize that his words illuminated the handout given to me by a work colleague from Krashen’s Melbourne presentation. As I listened, I found myself jotting down some of the key points he made:
Opening his talk, Krashen aims to debunk the myth that millions are illiterate and that teachers are to blame. Very few, he says, presumably in relation to US children, are completely and totally illiterate. The problem he maintains is that demands for literacy have been increasing faster than we cope. Officially he explains, the lowest 25% (referred to in statistics as the lowest quartile) have low literacy. It is obvious, he says, that there will always be 25% who are at the lowest percentile which does not equate with them being illiterate!
After stating emphatically that he knows how to develop literacy, Krashen gives the simple one word solution:
One kind of reading which works better than anything else, he claims, is the kind of reading we do obsessively and it is called free voluntary reading in which there is no requirement for any kind of formal response. Krashen has adopted these three words as a slogan, elevating them to a process called Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). In his online talk, he explains:
There is one kind of reading that works better than any other and it was the kind of reading you did last night before you fell asleep”….. The kind of reading that really counts is the reading you and I do all the time that we do obsessively. We call it Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) … reading because you want to. No book reports. No questions at the end of the chapter. You don’t like the book you put it down and pick up another one. Free Voluntary Reading is the source in my opinion of our reading ability; it’s the source of most of our vocabulary, all of our educated vocabulary just about comes from reading, in most cases, our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions, … most of our ability to spell well…. our ability to write with a good style, much of our knowledge of the world, comes from reading.
Acknowledging that no discussion about reading can be complete without reference to a book by Daniel Faber called Hooked on Reading, published around 1965, in which the notion of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is raised as a tool to promote reading, Krashen then spends considerable time detailing the results of research studies which support the value of both FVR and SSR. The results are profound.
The case for Free Voluntary Reading, discussed at length in his Melbourne presentation, is explained quite fully in The Power of Reading – skip to 15.33 minutes into the video continuing for about four minutes. This explanation is also published in a 1983 article in The Reading Research Quarterly.
Also of interest is his reference to Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) in a study by Elly & Mangubhai in Singapore, which is written up in Language Learning, (at 19.45 minutes into the video) in which he sates:
Students who did reading did better on grammar tests than those who had grammar classes!
Why should this happen? ….
If you read a lot your knowledge of the conventions of writing , your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar it’s acquired not learned; its subconsciously absorbed, it’s stored deep in your central nervous system, it becomes part of you. They have no choice but to write well.”
Krashen goes on to give a number of case studies some of which are people reflecting on their reading experience. The conclusion, he says, he is coming to (at 24.46 minutes) is that:
Children who grow up with poverty, with access to books, are the ones who make it. Those who don’t, don’t make it.
As someone who has worked in the field of Teacher Librarianship for more than 20 years, Krashen’s endorsement of the value of libraries is profound! Others writing about the value of libraries, Teacher Librarians and reading field such as SHOUT for Literacy and Libraries also make reference to Krashen’s research, writings and presentations.
As a profession, our role is to promote the value of libraries and the wealth of reading choice they offer students. It is our professional responsibility to continually remind teachers in our schools the undeniable value that students can gain from engaging with literature for no other reason than the joy of it. I believe that the continual over-emphasis placed on students by required text study, most often kills the joy of reading.
If an interest in this topic is high on your ‘knowledge’ agenda, I would highly recommend you take an hour and have a listen.
Apart from this video I found a number of other valuable online references, including Krashen’s website and blog, as well as An Introduction to the work of Stephen Krashen where drop down menus give more information on topics of interest.
So, it seems, I have been able to enjoy a professional learning experience virtually. Wonderful!!