|I asked each interviewee to start with a brief summary/overview of an ER program they are involved with. Tina referred me to this article:
Ferrato, T. (2004). Launching a library of graded readers: Tokai University’s pilot progress. In L. Savage (Ed.), Reading in foreign language learning contexts (pp. 91–123). Shonan, Japan: Foreign Language Center, Tokai University Shonan Campus.
Prior to Tina’s departure in Fall 2006, her work with ER at Tokai University had (at least) two main aspects. On one hand, she spearheaded the development of a large graded reading & listening library in the Foreign Language Center (FLC) at Tokai U., and more recently in the school library, as well. She also coordinated teacher-training, sharing of the resources between staff, etc.—establishing a large scale program with the goal of having a knowledgeable staff providing as many students as possible the opportunity to discover the benefits of graded reading (GR) and extensive reading (ER).
The other aspect is the work she does with her own students, encouraging them to discover graded reading in English and building communities of readers.
After reading Tina’s article, we proceeded with the following interview.
First of all, can you set the stage for me regarding the students and courses you’re working with at Tokai?
Tokai U. has about 30,000 students, all of whom take two years of required English—one semester each of reading, writing, listening and speaking. Then electives are available. Japanese faculty teach most of the reading & listening. Native speakers teach most of the writing & speaking. Teachers opt to use the library of graded readers as an added component to any course (required or elective); it’s a voluntary thing here, not part of the curriculum. Thus, from the student’s standpoint, use of GRs may seem quite arbitrary.
Let’s say a student takes a course employing ER as a freshman. Do many students have the opportunity to take another course using ER in 2nd, 3rd & 4th years?
It’s mostly chance whether they’re lucky enough to get another class using ER/GR in their required courses. But I encourage teachers to note their use of GRs on syllabi for elective courses, which hopefully draws interested students to those classes.
In your 2004 article, you mention your reading library being housed in the Foreign Language Center’s Resource Room. Is that still the case? Do you have any books in the school library?
Yes, the FLC’s GR Library is still housed in a resource room, but mainly just during the school breaks, as we have it divided up into several “stock supplies”* for teams of teachers who share these resources on a relay basis. We strongly believe that bringing the books to the students translates into more students reading more books. (*The stock supplies are usually kept in shopping carts, but some teachers use a luggage bag or basket.)
At the same time, yes, finally, as of April, 2006, I was successful in getting the main library on campus to begin holding and lending graded readers for students as well. Finally, now students can continue reading once they’ve been “hooked” by using the mobile library in one of their classes.
So the library gets divided into mobile collections which teachers share? For example, “You’ve got it Monday 2nd period. I’ve got it 3rd period after lunch, and Kumi’s got it 5th period?”
Yes, 40 teachers, 12 of them part-timers, use the library in relay teams. At the beginning of term, each team of teachers gathers a collection of books from the Resource Room, and they pass along their stock supply throughout the term, replenishing as needed. Then, at the end of term, the books are returned to the Resource Room. Both native speaker teachers and Japanese teachers use this mobile library system.
What, if anything, is required of instructors to participate?
Every teacher who requests to use the library has to attend a training/orientation session, which is essentially a two-hour workshop on ER given by me. After attending the orientation, teachers are free to use the readers any way they wish—required or voluntary; assessed or not; part of the student grade or not; etc. The only reporting required of participating teachers is to provide the coordinator (me) with some information for the administration—specifically, the total number of students who used the library in their class, the total number of books read (pages, too, if known), and loss and/or damage, etc. This is just to give the administration some idea of how much use the library gets, how many students benefit, etc., so that they continue funding it.
One other rule is that each teacher can only use the GR Library for one class. With only one supply of books needing to be used by a set number of teachers in virtually the same time frame, this rule helps allocate these resources most broadly. It ensures that part-time teachers have access to the resource, and it encourages full-time teachers to use their research funds to build libraries of their own. (I also have my own library in my office and use it for all my classes.) There is some flexibility in the relay system, however, so some teachers are able to use a set of readers for two classes if there’s a gap in the schedule, etc. Basically, the goal is to share the wealth, increase visibility (and thus use), and spread the word of the power of reading to as many students as possible.
What would you say was the key to getting other instructors involved in ER?
In the beginning, we brought in Rob Waring to do a seminar for us. We felt strongly about everyone starting on the same page and sharing the same knowledge—What is ER & Why do it? Then we continued with regular orientations and tried to bring enthusiasm and conviction to promoting this opportunity to teachers to offer this significant learning opportunity to students. In time, the students themselves started asking about the books. Actually, I think visibility was the key factor. Teachers would see other teachers pushing shopping carts full of books to class and wonder what it was all about. In essence, I’d say that the library usage grew by attraction rather than promotion.
How large is the Foreign Language Center’s library today?
We have 6,000 books now, and it’ll grow to 8,000 this fall and more next year. This does NOT include the main library. They only have 850 to start with, but have allotted an annual budget for purchasing more.
You mentioned using extensive listening (EL), as well. Does this mainly consist of using tapes/CDs which accompany graded readers, or something else?
Yes, our EL Library mainly consists of Tapes & CDs available for many of the graded readers, which we keep in our new Self-Access Resource Room. I submitted a separate budget request to fund that. We chose to copy all masters onto CDs for loaning out, and naturally, for copyright reasons, we keep only one copy in circulation for each purchased master.
How have you financed the FLC’s GR Library? What goes into your decisions on which books to buy? Do you choose different books for the school library?
Initially, we asked for donations from instructors from their research budgets. The department matched instructor contributions and helped out with the resource room itself. Subsequently, we got a regular annual budget (\500,000) from the department, as well as continuing help from teachers donating books bought with leftover research money.
Regarding book selection, we went with the big four publishers (Cambridge, Macmillan, Oxford, Penguin) from the beginning (familiar, successful). We just wanted lots of booksand lots of variety, so we purchased all of the titles available from all four publishing companies, mainly at the lower levels to start. (We only recently finished purchasing ALL titles available at all levels within the publishers’ libraries.) We knew we needed books at the lowest levels to start with, but we did have some books at upper levels as well. Given the way we operate, our relay teams tend to be organized according to course type. For example, one team will all be working with basic, required classes, while another team will all have elective classes. This allows teachers to select a range of books suited to the students involved (more low level books for basic, required classes and more higher level books for elective classes).
The school library wanted to purchase books matching our FLC library. I submitted purchase orders for many of the same books, but have also included titles from other series— Thompson, Black Cats, etc.—so students can explore and find more variety there.
Naturally, I also make a point to purchase multiple copies of all new titles available from all publishers every year, especially at the lowest levels, where most of our students are reading.
What was the key to getting the school library involved?
Slow and steady. I got to know people on campus. People learned about the program from Campus Newsletter articles. The librarians became aware that a library of books was already developed and heavily used. We got the attention of the administration. We kept networking and submitting requests. As I said above, I think visibility was key. The demand to read graded readers came from the students. Upon reflection, I’d say that the growth of our library—now libraries—was organic. It grew naturally from one seed with the proper soil, sunlight, water, and care.
After your school library came “on board,” was there any discussion of transferring all or most of your books to the school library?
Well, the library did ask about transferring the books, but I declined. As I think I said before, I am convinced that bringing the books to the students (i.e., “the water to the horse”) simply translates into more students reading more books, especially in the Japanese university context. Although books are now in the school library, students are very busy and oriented toward convenience. Having books available in the classroom and nearby teachers’ offices greatly increases chances of students reading more books. Many students can’t find the time or can’t be troubled to stop by the library, especially on a huge campus like Tokai.
What are some of the things that have contributed to the growth of your library and ER program?
Our library program has grown naturally in many ways each semester and year. For example, one year, a Tokai student won the OUP contest for original work based on a graded reader, and our university newspaper ran an article about it. Then, this past year, two students whose TOEIC scores skyrocketed because of their reading (they claimed) were also interviewed and written up in the school newspaper. Of course, my Japanese colleague and I made a point of videotaping an interview with the two as a promotional DVD to show in classes, too. Anyway, there’s a myriad of things happening with our library. It’s big. It’s used. It’s a success. But I’ve purposefully left it alone for the most part. Keep it simple. Back to the basics. That sort of philosophy. Because I believe a good thing grows without fancy or trendy gadgets or accoutrements.
My goal is ACCESS. The more teachers who use the library, the more students who read, and the more each student reads, the more the chances of their getting hooked onto the lifelong habit of reading for pleasure. It’s beautiful.
You mentioned that teachers are free to use the library any way they like, but do many of the staff tend to follow roughly the same model in implementation? Or is it completely all over the place, with some people doing it as an optional extra activity for interested students while others make it the core of their class?
At our two-hour orientation, we go over the whys and hows of setting up and running a program. This includes what amounts to a 30-40 page manual with sample handouts, questionnaires, etc. With this introduction, many people start on roughly the same page, but quickly diverge along their own lines.
What, if any, materials/concepts do you recommend instructors share with students in presenting the whys and hows of ER—”selling” ER as something worth their while, now and in the future?
1. For lower level students we introduce the idea of graded/extensive reading with…
For higher level students we show Day & Bamford’s (1998, p. 123) chart, as well as the golden rules
and secret ingredients.
Day, R., & Bamford, J. (1998). Extensive reading in the second language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press.
||Type of Reading
|Words and pronunciation
||Stop if you don’t like it
2. Two pages (cut-and-pasted) on “why & what” from Rob Waring’s OUP booklet in Japanese. This is
Waring, R. (2000). Guide to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of using graded readers. Tokyo: Oxford University Press.
3. Stress the need for speed (automaticity in recognition and processing) to achieve good comprehension.
LOTS of input needed, so need to read EASY stuff. (Retrain from their typical high school experience
of what “reading” is in English.) Focus on REM—Rapid Eye Movement! (But while awake)
We also offer these options:
- Student Testimonials (one page of student responses to this type of reading).
- Two articles about the success of Tokai students through this type of reading.
- Promotional 8-minute DVD that shows an interview of two Tokai students who credit reading as the reason for their great gains on TOEIC scores.
Do you get a sense that some students are actually latching onto ER as an important, ongoing strategy for learning/enjoyment? Do you observe students continuing to do ER beyond the end of your course? How do you observe this?
Students KEEP COMING back. Some have been coming to my office for years now. Others are literally reading through the entire collection! They motivate one another in a healthy, competitive way, I think.
Every Tuesday at lunchtime is “Tina’s Library Hour.” Students talk to each other and to me about books in English. A key part of my reading program is fostering this kind of community of readers—in class and in my office. One student commented, “Greated [sic] reading has been very helpful. If I read a book, I can come talk about it with you and others!” I’m sure he’s enjoying the books, but it seems that he sees reading as a kind of “ticket” to thiscommunity. Great. This kind of community can take time to come together. It took about three years for my office “Library Hour” to really gel.
My students also do a summer reading program. Through the summer, they read the books they borrowed from the FLC library, and now they can also borrow books from the main library. In general, I’d say that students come to my office for the community and convenience, but I imagine that they will also go to the main library for even more variety and longer open hours.
We know how books in the FLC Library are being used because readers fill in a form on the inside cover of each book, including name, opinion of the book, and a short note about it. They rate the book by stars (like a movie, 5 stars = great!). Students really seem to enjoy reading each other’s comments about the books, and some come to know whose opinion they trust and agree with or disagree with. These feedback forms really contribute to building our reading community.
In the main library, the circulation system allows us to track usage. The staff there were surprised and delighted to see how many books (graded readers) were borrowed just in the first semester, and that was with a late start, too!
How about your own courses? In which do you use ER?
I teach three required classes (2 Writing & 1 Speaking) and one elective (Pronunciation). I bring graded readers to all of them, but what I ask for depends on the course. Since I don’t teach Reading, ER is not a core part of any of my courses, but it plays a bigger role in my basic courses. Specifically, for Speaking, I require 5 books, with not much other homework. In Pronunciation, students read and listen to one book. For Basic Writing, 5 books are required, and in Intermediate Writing—because there’s LOTS of written homework—reading is available, but not required. These are the minimum requirements. My goal, as always, is to provide access to a resource the students may not even be aware of, and to nurture the eager, secret reader within. I want to get students hooked on reading, but I know not all of them will be. I simply want all of my students to have ACCESS. I want them to have the opportunityto choose.
Do you do in-class reading? Only out of class? Any in-class activities, etc. associated with ER/EL?
I don’t do many in-class GR activities besides the orientation/explanation & intro activity, then maybe once talking with partners about books we’ve read, how we liked them, etc. Of course, I give some time each week for students to return and choose new books, and we talk about our reading then. I try to stress that it’s a privilege to have this rich resource available FREE! And students seem to respond to that.
Earlier, I mentioned “Tina’s Library Hour,” which we do every Tuesday at lunchtime—that a key part of my reading program is fostering this kind of community of readers—in class and in my office.
One natural progression of this philosophy manifested itself in a voluntary after-school book club. One of my students, Elvis, was so eager to talk about the stories he was reading!—just like a native speaker who gets excited about good books, he was almost bursting with ideas to share. Thus, one week I encouraged three other students, who happened to be in my office at the same time, to all take the same book home to read that week. That way, all of them could discuss it during Lunch—Library Time—next week. (Elvis had already read nearly everything in my library by then). Anyway, the following week, the students were engaged in discussion and even heated debate that could easily have gone on for hours. They all agreed we needed to meet at some other, less restricted timeframe.
Thus, my after-school Book Club was born. We called it our Reading Circle. (I think it’s apropos that the Japanese use the word “circle” for what we would call a “club” on college campuses in the US.) Anyway, for our Reading Circle, we used Mark Furr’s Reading Circles stories and Role Sheets as our guidelines, and it was so incredibly successful! These Reading Circles were a dream! The students were engaged in English with each other for hours. On several occasions, we continued the discussion over dinner at a nearby izakaya, and once we even continued talking so late that some students missed the train and had to sleep over at my house!
Do students produce anything to give to you, based on their listening and reading? Worksheets? Vocabulary journals? Reading logs? Short reading reports?
My standard plan is to ask students to read at least five books per term. For each book, students make an entry in their Reading Record Booklet. This includes time spent reading, number of pages, difficulty rating, how they liked it, and some thoughts in response to the book. I check these after the third book or so, and about three times for the term. I try to correspond a bit with students through these booklets. Their reading work makes up 10% of their grade.
You may hear “five books” and wonder how I can call that extensive reading. The answer is—I don’t. I want to stress that I’m assigning GRADED reading. I’m not asking for enough reading to call it extensive. My goal is to give students a chance to get hooked on this and experience the joy, satisfaction and growth of being a lifelong reader and learner. Then they’ll become extensive readers. I’m hoping that a light bulb goes on, and they find that this is a concrete way to real results for “me.” I explain what ER is and how it can help them, and I explain that I’m just helping them take that first step.
Why five books? I figure that to get hooked you need to really hit it off with at least one book, and need at least three books to have a good chance of one hit. Then you need a couple more to push off and get moving on your way. Interestingly, 67% of my students read beyond the requested five books—some read 15 or more. Class dynamics and the reading community that develops affect this a lot.
How’s your experience been with graded listening?
For my recent pronunciation class, I assigned one graded listening book, but I wasn’t that pleased with the results. I might require three to get students over some kind of hump, or I might drop the requirement and make it optional. Many students said they didn’t do it because it’s not that enjoyable. Many people love to sit and read, but few can sit there and listen for enjoyment. It’s a great way for a native speaker or very advanced learner to help pass the time while driving, doing housework, cooking, etc. but few people can enjoy sitting down and listening only. A native speaker may be able to do something else while listening, but a language learner may need to devote all their attention to listening. If so, many would prefer just reading. One context that might work well for listening is when riding the train or bus and being able to fully focus on reading and/or listening.
Has the level of your students affected your decisions about whether and/or how to implement ER?
That hasn’t affected our basic approach, but it does affect how we introduce the program to higher- vs. lower-level students (as mentioned above) and how we structure the library. We divided books into Levels 0–9—lots of levels so students can feel the success of stepping up. Also, because English is a required course for all students (so mostly non-English majors!), this affected my decision to require the 5 books minimum I mentioned above. Despite my purist preference for Free Voluntary Reading, I understood that, realistically, that was not a good idea. We stood a greater chance of hooking more students by requiring more of them initially—at least to get over that first hurdle.
Any comments on the response you’ve had to your approach from other faculty, administration, library staff, etc.? Positive? Negative? Doubts to overcome?
A few academic complaints about “where are the concrete results?” One teacher censored book availability (no comic format titles). One person wanted more variety, although we have about 70 titles per level, etc. Not much opposition, really.
You went into this in your article, but what would you say was the key experience, article, presentation, epiphany, etc. that got you started with ER?
I had been an advocate of reading all my life, yes, but not ER. I didn’t know much about graded readers nor graded/extensive reading. I had only purchased a handful of books for bringing to my classes for motivated students. Nothing serious or organized really.
The key experience to really turn me on to ER was definitely Rob Waring’s presentation on the ETJ circuit. My epiphany to try it on a larger, department-wide scale came after attending his session again. Yes, for a second time, the next year. I really owe him a lot. Then it was cemented with the Day & Bamford book and other reading—I read extensively about ER programs myself before starting one!
(Day, R., & Bamford, J. (1998). Extensive reading in the second language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press.)