The Internet TESL Journal had an article
describing how group activities to accompany a class reader seemed to increase student motivation for ER. In Heal’s class, the groups first answered questions written by the teacher. Later, each group wrote questions for other groups.
In a setting in which each student reads a different book, Willy and I have had success with students coming together to tell each other about the books they’ve read. Students briefly describe the story for their groupmates and then peers ask questions. Another way to encourage students to share with peers what they’ve read is via Literature Circles, groups of students who come together to discuss what they’ve been reading. Dupuy (1998) describes how Literature Circles worked in her intermediate French classes.
Art is another medium via which students can share with each other about what they’ve read. For instance, students might design posters, murals, board games, collages, book covers, bookmarks, and drawings of key scenes to advertise books they like. A few teachers have told me that their students even made "dioramas," a kind of model, to illustrate scenes from their books.
Andy: Yes, I've really enjoyed comic strip summaries and interpretations (manga) created by my students here―with speech bubbles and captions, for example…
George: Right―the artwork can often be accompanied by language. For example, a book cover could include a blurb on the back of the type found on commercially produced books. Drama can also be used by students to advertise good books, such as when students do a skit to illustrate a portion of the book or do a dramatic reading of lines from something they’ve read.
Another means for students to inform their peers about what to read would be doing mini-reviews or just giving a quick rating, such as one to five stars, to let classmates know which books to select and which to neglect. Of course, as Willy points out, the key in ER is the reading, not the post-reading activity. Thus, students do the post-reading to build confidence, to use what they have learned in a productive mode, and to infect their peers―and maybe even their teachers―with the joy of reading and specific books with which to experience that joy.
Andy: These connections and possibilities are just great―it's a wonderful enthusiasm for whole-person learning! Well, we're nearing the end of the discussion, so I guess my last question neatly falls within the medium of the interview, and how ER may develop through the Web. The Bangkok Post has a great resource page in its Student Weekly for graded newspaper reading. I'm wondering if both of you could mention some other web resources for ER for learners, as well as give your forecasts as to how technology may mix and match with book-based ER.
George: Thanks for raising the question about ER and the Web, Andy. It’s an important one. Some people have predicted that the Web will go the way of other much-heralded innovations that eventually became at most only a marginal part of language teaching, like the language lab. However, I think the Web is destined to play more of a role, although I’ve got little experience with the Web and ER.
What I use mostly use the Web for in my work is sending email messages and attached files, belonging to Listserves, getting information from websites, and building websites. I’ve done some of this with the classes I teach, both those for language teachers and those for language learners. My students have never used the Web to do ER, except as they’ve read things on websites, but one change I am seeing is that earlier people wouldn’t read things off the computer screen; they always wanted to print them out. Many people are still like this, but more and more―me included―are comfortable reading directly from the screen, which saves lots of paper. This comfort with reading from the screen paves the way for electronic books which―from what I’ve read―look like books and can be loaded with any book we want. We can read these electronic books while standing in a bus, sitting at a coffee shop, or lying in bed.
I also read in a United Nations publication about overcoming the problem of lack of books in poor countries by putting lots of books of CD-ROMs, but the article didn’t say anything about overcoming the problem of lack of computers and lack of infrastructure such as electricity. This brings up the issue of whether the use of the Web for ER will lead to the same discrepancies between rich and poor that we see with ER via hard copies of books. Right now, that discrepancy looks likely to arise. That said, the Web does offer great possibilities for learner autonomy. As long as we’ve got the necessary technology―and every year I can see access expanding here in S.E. Asia―we can choose from millions of web sites offering a bewildering range of materials from a wide variety of perspectives. For instance, Project Gutenberg, http://promo.net/pg/, offers many books―for example, those by Dickens―for free, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica website http://www.eb.com:180/ offers not just the encyclopaedia, but also lots of other resources. Derewianka (1997) offers more ideas on this.
As to collaboration, some people worry that the Web will cause us to live isolated lives, never going out and instead ordering everything we need via computer. On the other hand, computers offer so many new ways for us to connect and collaborate with others. In specific regard to ER, two examples of this Web-based interaction would be emailing a book we’ve enjoyed to classmates or sending them the address of a website we think they should check out. I’m not saying that electronic interaction, even if we have sound and video, is the same as old-fashioned face-to-face interaction, but it is a useful partner to live contact, and who knows what the future will hold for human relations.
Andy: Willy, over to you for your closing comments…
Willy: Thanks again for the interview. I think George and I have covered a lot of ground in the interview. I just want to end by quoting Christine Nuttal (1982, p.168):
“The best way to improve your knowledge of a foreign language is to go and live among its speakers. The next best way is read extensively in it.”
For obvious reasons, living among native speakers for an extended period of time is not possible for the majority of L2 learners. So, that leaves us with the second option. But surprisingly, despite compelling evidence demonstrating the benefits of extensive reading, many of us are still not doing ER. So let me encourage you all, if you haven’t already, to begin ER programme in your school now.
One last comment. ER is good for students. It is also good for teachers, especially EFL teachers. The Vietnamese EFL teachers that George mentioned earlier (whom I also taught) agreed that the ER they did at RELC was very useful for them. They hoped to continue doing ER when they returned to Vietnam, in addition to launching ER for their students. Many L2 teachers in the region I have talked to have indicated that they need to upgrade their L2 proficiency in order to serve their students better. I believe that ER can help them further develop their competence in the language.
Andy: Great! That brings us full circle, and opens up many more interesting questions. Thank you again to both of you for doing this interview and for providing so much food for thought.