A teacher’s question to Paul Nation at the online TESOL Vocabulary seminar (1/30/07): How do you convince learners that extensive reading done during valuable class time is worth it? My students have said they think it is a waste of time although I have tried to convince them otherwise when we have done it 2 times per week for 20 min each time.
His answer: A tough question. I think you are on the right track by persisting. The hope is success leads to enjoyment and valuing the activity.
My answer: CONTEXT is the most important consideration (too few people put what they say or think into context) . In Japanese high schools, there is a huge difference between ‘learning’ English and ‘studying’ English. For GENERAL COURSE students, I think ER and story-telling are key components of Nation’s four strand approach (I’m starting an ER program from April). If students are in the ENGLISH COURSE or SCIENCE COURSE and attempting to enter a good university, they may need to know upwards of 4000 – 5000 words, so ER will be a tough sell because there isn’t enough ‘bang for the buck’. From the students realistic and sincere perspective, all that matters is studying content/techniques that will lead to passing the obscenely wicked university entrance tests. Focusing on reading speed/comprehension in ER can help somewhat for ‘chobun’ (long readings) on the entrance exams. I think a better use of time would be getting them away from the standard Japanese TARGET series of vocabulary books. From what I understand at this point, they are based on an obscure and endless compilation of words that have appeared over the years on previous univ. entrance exams. They overwhelm students with too many low-frequency words. The General Service List (GSL) http://www.languages.salford.ac.uk/staff/dickins.php would be a much better use of their study time. I don’t know if there is anything in Japan for using the GSL???
My question to everyone: I have 3 research ideas from Nation’s talk:
1. The 10 minute writing data research (amount and quality of output gain)
2. Comparing the TARGET series that almost all Ss use to the GSL. (efficiency of study time)
3. Researching the difference between using single words on word cards vs. using chunks on word cards (e.g. “threaten” vs. “Tanaka sensei threatens me everyday)
I will teach 5 new WRITING classes from April (Ko II and Ko III). They provide a wonderful new opportunity and challenge at this point in my teaching life. I’m excited to figure out how to teach them well. On the other hand, it also creates a huge dilemma. How do I balance my needs to teach a real English Writing course with the students’ impending “university entrance tests from hell?”
Anyone interested in jumping into some collaborative research?