Monday, January 26, 2009

Krashen's advice to Korea

Sent to the Korea Times, Jan 23, 2009

A better path to English

Korea is making a very serious mistake in emphasizing speaking in English class ("Speaking to get more weight in English class," Jan 21). Research done over the last three decades has shown that we acquire language by understanding what we hear and read. The ability to produce language is the result of language acquisition, not the cause.
Forcing students to speak English will not improve their ability to speak English. The best way to improve speaking is therefore to increase the amount of comprehensible listening and reading that students do, and the easiest and most cost-effective way to make this happen is to develop libraries of interesting and comprehensible English books and recordings to supplement English class. Setting up libraries would be far more efficient than bringing in expensive foreign teachers and setting up English camps.
I hope policy-makers will consult the extensive research on second language acquisition, some done by Korean scholars, and consider easier, better and less costly ways of improving English in Korea.
Stephen Krashen

Speaking to Get More Weight in English Class
By Bae Ji-sook
Staff Reporter
Seoul has taken the belated step of placing more weight on the speaking of English in formal lessons.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said Wednesday that all elementary, middle and high school students will have foreign English teachers at least once a week by 2012.
English-only classrooms will be established to encourage students to practice what they have learnt.
The plan is a major U-turn on the current focus on reading and grammar, its spokesman said. ``It will show that public education is enough to make students use English in life,'' he added.
Students will be placed into three or four groups according to their proficiency by 2011. Low-level students will get special education and mentoring from assistant teachers who are university students. They will also be sent to English camps for familiarization with the language.
No evaluation is planned for elementary school students, but for second and third graders at high schools, speaking, listening and writing will account for more than 50 percent of English test scores. Speaking will be weighed more heavily in evaluation.
Teachers will also be classified and receive customized English training.
About 17,500 are expected to undergo more than 60 hours of training every three years by 2012. About 2,500 teachers will receive three to six months training either at home or abroad.
At elementary schools, English-only teachers will be recruited to help 5th to 6th graders. These teachers will be given promotion incentives.
English education is one of the Lee Myung-bak administration's major projects to upgrade national competitiveness. Earlier last year, presidential aides unveiled the ``English immersion education'' plan with the aim of giving Americanized English education to public schools.
The domestic private English education market is worth about 15.4 trillion won, according to the Samsung Economic Research Institute, but Korea ranked 19th out of the 20 countries surveyed last year in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, which is used for grading English proficiency among people planning to emigrate.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Krashen on phonics and read-alouds

Posted on EdWeek Website, following Early-Literacy Findings Unveiled

The NELP (National Early Literacy Panel) study appears to have come down in favor of phonics and was apathetic about read-alouds.
This sounds familiar: The National Reading Panel, we were told, came down in favor of phonics and was apathetic about self-selected reading in school. A close look at the National Reading Panel by Elaine Garan in a Kappan article in 2001 questioned the phonics conclusion, and in another Kappan article, also in 2001, I questioned the conclusion about self-selected reading in school.
A close look at NELP gives us reason to question their conclusions about phonics and read-alouds.
The claim: Code-related interventions are the most effective. Previous research has shown that heavy code-emphasis approaches are indeed effective on tests of decoding, that is, tests of pronouncing words outloud. NELP found this also.
Previous research has also shown that heavy code-emphasis approaches have very little or no impact on tests of reading comprehension given after grade one, tests in which students have to understand what they read. Reading comprehension tests given to very young children, as the National Reading Panel has noted, "generally use extremely short (usually one sentence) 'passages.' On these short passages, the effects of decoding should be strong" (National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 2-115). (For discussion, see Elaine Garan, 2002, Resisting Reading Mandates, page 15).
The only reading comprehension tests included by NELP were given in grade one or earlier.
NELP thus does not address the important question of whether heavy decoding approaches really help children learn to read, if we define reading as understanding texts.
The claim: Reading aloud to children is not as effective as previously thought, having only a moderate effect of oral-language and knowledge of print features.
Read-alouds (actually "shared reading interventions") showed a fairly strong effect on oral language in the NELP analysis, with most of the impact on vocabulary (d = .6). Shared reading interventions did not relate to phonemic awareness or knowledge of the alphabet, but that is not how read-alouds are claimed to help reading.
Jim Trelease (2006, The Read-Aloud Handbook, sixth edition) states the case for read-alouds succinctly. Reading aloud:
1. conditions the child's brain to associate reading with pleasure
2. creates background knowledge
3. builds vocabulary
4. provides a reading role model.
NELP confirmed number (3), and did not consider the others. In other words, read-alouds help familiarize children with the special language of writing, and gets children excited about books, inviting them into the literacy club (Frank Smith, 1986, Joining the Literacy Club).

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Krashen on "Anything but Reading"

Anything but reading: Three examples
(Comments posted on Education Week website)
Stephen Krashen

Example One:

An Ed Week blog ("Curriculum Matters") from Dec. 31 informs us that a new TV show (Planet 429) is intended to help 6 to 9 year olds improve in reading comprehension by using "video and multimedia presentations" and links to a website. The creators intend to "develop curriculum for the program, which will include storyboards and animation" and is funded by the US Department of Education.
The assumption appears to be that watching TV, connected with a "curriculum" of some kind, will help reading comprehension. Missing is any mention of the massive evidence showing that reading itself is the best way to improve reading comprehension.

Example Two:

Another blog, Learning the Language (January 5), announces that the US Department of Education has commissioned a study of academic English at the high-school level, asking who is teaching it, what training to they have, how much academic language proficiency do students need to pass state tests, and how much can we expect students to develop.
The assumption from the Dept of Education seems to be that academic language is "taught." Missing is any mention of the massive evidence that large amounts of self-selected reading is an excellent way of acquiring academic language.

Example Three:

In "Scientists Track Poverty's Links to Cognition" (January 7), we learn that children of poverty lack full brain development in the part of the brain that is "active in problem-solving, reasoning and creativity."
This conclusion comes from a study showing that the brains of children of poverty respond more slowly than those of children from high-income families in responding to pictures of triangles mixed with other pictures, apparently because they are less able block out distractions.
One of the researchers said that this might be because of their impoverished environment: "fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."
The article then notes that "Work is under way at the university to reverse the brain differences by developing games that improve this area of brain function."
What kind of games? An article in USA Today on this topic tells us: "Such deficiencies are reversible through intensive intervention such as focused lessons and games that encourage children to think out loud or use executive function." In that article, one researcher is quoted as saying that children need "incredibly intensive interventions to overcome this kind of difficulty."
Missing from the discussion is the possibility of providing these children with what is missing in their environment: Better nutrition, safety, and of course access to interesting and comprehensible reading material.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Krashen on too much homework

An interesting letter published in the Washington Post about excessive homework. You can find it at
Susan Ohanian's comment precedes the letter, containing information about an important blog. See also Alfie Kohn's book, The Truth About Homework. My comment, posted on the Washington Post website, comes after the letter, below. So far, most of the other comments posted think that the letter writer is whining. I strongly disagree.
Susan Ohanian: Let us hope this parent disgust sparks a revolution against homework. Get in touch with:
Stop Homework the blog of Sara Bennett, co-author of The Case AgainstHomework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.
Published in Washington Post 12/19/2008
To the editor
Too Much Holiday Homework
Friday, December 19, 2008; Page A34
Washington Post
I am flabbergasted at this year's winter break homework packets from the Prince George's County public schools. We parents are asked to make sure that our children are in school every day for instruction. We are asked not to take them out for vacations or even appointments unless doing so is absolutely necessary, as this interferes with the time needed for instruction. I fully support this and wait, when possible, until the break periods to schedule trips and medical appointments.
I am appalled at the amount of work in the proposed winter packets for my seventh-, ninth- and 10th-graders. I am not opposed to the children's being asked to read or work on a long-term project, but I consider the assigning of this "busy work" harmful to family time.
I urge Prince George's schools to reconsider this packet idea; children need downtime. I was looking forward to enjoying quality time with my children, not rushing to ensure that a biology packet of more than 30 pages is completed. This year, to add insult to injury, we parents are expected to print these packets out for our children. If the schools do not have the resources to provide a packet for every child, the projects should not be required. I worked in an elementary school for five years and saw firsthand the need for a break from studies.
— Patti King

Comment posted on Washington Post website
Stephen Krashen

Why don't young people read more? Common wisdom is that they don't read well enough. According to Scholastic's 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report, however, only nine percent of the young people (ages 5 to 17) interviewed said it was because they don't read very well. In contrast, twenty-seven percent said it was because they had too much homework.
We know that pleasure reading, self-selected reading for fun, is the major source of our literacy development. Ironically, excessive homework is getting in the way of literacy development.
We published a case history of a high school student whose reading scores declined during the academic year, but improved each summer: She was a dedicated pleasure reader, read a lot over the summer, but didn't have time for it during the year. Her mom joked that it might be a good idea to keep her daughter at home during the school year in order to increase her improvement on standardized tests of reading.
Our paper: Shu-Yuan Lin, Fay Shin, and Stephen Krashen, Sophia’sChoice: Summer Reading. Knowledge Quest 27 (4)

Krashen on neuroscience and reading

Neuroscientific Support for a Meaningless Theory of Reading
Submitted to Edutopia, December 26, 2008
The research on white matter in the brain described in "Wired forReading: Brain Research May Point to Changes in Literacy Development" (December, 2008) may have little or nothing to do with learning to read for meaning.
Reading experts distinguish between "decoding" and "comprehension." Decoding means pronouncing words out-loud, while comprehension refers to understand what is read. The white matter research deals only with decoding.
It is often assumed that children have to learn to decode as a necessary step in learning to read, but there is a great deal of evidence challenging this view.
The competing position, introduced independently by Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman decades ago, is that we learn to read by reading, by understanding what is on the page. This competing view is supported by research showing that many children who don't decode well learn to read at high levels, and that children who read more read better. Intensive instruction on decoding, in addition, leads only to better decoding, not to better reading for meaning.
To my knowledge, not a single study of white matter efficiency and "reading" included measures of reading for meaning. It is odd that studies that utilized such sophisticated neuroscientific procedures assumed such a simplistic view of reading.
Stephen Krashen
Wired for Reading: Brain Research May Point to Changes in Literacy Development
New scientific findings spell difference, not disability, for struggling readers.
by Sara Bernard
Edutopia, December, 2008 (George Lucas Educational Foundation)
Here's the latest from the research desk: Despite its dominance in the No Child Left Behind era, an across-the-board focus on reading skills may be somewhat misguided.
"The past decade has seen a tremendous push for earlier and earlier emphasis on reading skills," says Martha Bridge Denckla, director of developmental cognitive neurology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and neurology professor at Johns Hopkins University, who has studied reading acquisition for forty years. "It's well meaning, but possibly not good for a significant subset of children."
New brain-imaging technologies and a spate of recent studies suggest that reading aptitude is better understood as a spectrum of abilities related to biological architecture than as a universally acquirable skill. Misconstruing the neurological underpinnings of reading risks alienating and discouraging students for whom this particular task will never come easily.
"Since the techniques have improved over the last decade, we can see things we couldn't see before," explains Brian Wandell, chair of the psychology department at Stanford University and lead researcher for a study funded by the National Institutes of Health correlating reading skills with brain structure and brain activities. Preliminary results of the study, which followed forty-nine children ages 7-12 over a three-year period, indicate that white matter (the connections betweenneurons) may be a big factor in reading ability.
Specifically, Wandell's team found that in poor readers, water tends to flow more easily across the axonal membranes in the back portion of the corpus callosum -- the thick band of neurons that connects the brain's hemispheres. "The piece of the brain that's important for detecting moving objects and patterns wasn't functioning as well in the kids who were poor readers," Wandell says.
Although these and similar findings are clearly still "too premature to turn into education policy," says Wandell, "it's not premature to see whether there are some possibilities here for improving reading instruction in the future." To that end, Wandell's team is exploring the ways computer displays and text imaging can help compensate for neurological differences.
Teachers should know about brain development, too, says Denckla, who is also a lead participant in the Neuro-Education Initiative, a collaboration launched last year between Johns Hopkins University's School of Education and its Brain Science Institute. She and other faculty are designing curricula for a master's certification in neuro-education, with the goal of supporting collaboration between the two fields and developing effective applications of brain research to classroom learning.
Some students are ready to read at age three, while others might need to wait until nine, says Denckla, who adamantly opposes the view that earlier is always better in reading instruction. The hope is that a fuller understanding of brain structure can help neuroscientists and educators better determine how -- and when -- each student will best learn to read.

Alfie Kohn on too much reform

Opposing view: Too much 'reform'
USA Today December 18, 2008
By Alfie Kohn

Accountability movement turns schools into test-prep factories.
Our children can't take much more education "reform." Oddly, that word has come to signify a continuation, or intensification, of the current disastrous approach exemplified by the No Child Left Behind act. Our schools — and particularly those in the inner city — are being turned into test-prep factories. The last thing we need is more of the same.
"Reformers"— many with the sensibility of corporate managers rather than educators — apparently think the way to make change is to bribe or threaten teachers and students. They assume that anything harder (more "rigorous") must be better. And they talk about "achievement" and "world-class standards" when all they mean are higher scores on fill-in-the-bubble exams.
NCLB has provided no new information about which schools need help, nor has it provided that help. Instead — in the name of "accountability" — it has created pressure to ratchet up the least valuable forms of instruction. Alarmingly, proponents would apply similarly simplistic and heavy-handed tactics to preschools and universities, too.
Consider some alternative principles that might guide the Obamaadministration:
• Supporting schools doesn't mean pretending they can solve deeper social problems such as racism and poverty.
• Equitable resources and opportunities must precede demands for equal results.
• All children, regardless of race or class, should have the chance to think deeply about questions that matter, fall in love with books, understand ideas from the inside out, and learn through projects of their own design — rather than just practicing skills and memorizing facts on cue.
• Teaching and learning ought to be assessed based on students' success with real classroom tasks, not with one-shot, one-size-fits-all multiple-choice tests.
• Children (and learning) have intrinsic value; they're not just means to economic ends, such as boosting the "competitiveness" of U.S. corporations.
• Every student should be encouraged to think critically (not just obey authority) and to collaborate (not succeed at the expense of others).
Now that would be school reform worth celebrating.

Alfie Kohn's 11 books include The Schools Our Children Deserve, The Case Against Standardized Testing and The Homework Myth.