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Extensive Reading at School in Japan. Rob Waring ER Seminar, Okayama, February 13, 2011. Today ’ s talk. Main focus English in schools in Japan MEXT ’ s recent pronouncements What does MEXT mean? The process of getting kids to read Moving from words to stories

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extensive reading at school in japan

Extensive Reading at School in Japan

Rob Waring

ER Seminar, Okayama, February 13, 2011

today s talk
Today’s talk

Main focus

English in schools in Japan

MEXT’s recent pronouncements

What does MEXT mean?

The process of getting kids to read

Moving from words to stories

Individualized reading

Preparing for Junior High

distribution of educational institutions which have introduced er
Distribution of Educational Institutions Which Have Introduced ER

Primary Schools

Secondary Schools


& Adult Education


Takase and Furukawa 2009

200 8

Distribution of Educational Institutions Which Have Introduced ER


Primary Schools

Secondary Schools

Colleges & Adults

Takase and Furukawa 2009

short history of english education in japan
Short history of English education in Japan

English for ‘communication’

Focus on ‘Japaneseness’

Focus on ‘internationalization’

English as an ‘academic’ subject

where are we today
Where are we today?

MEXT sets the central direction:

-English is a required course at Elementary school,

-but it’s not an academic subject

-no assessment

-low pressure

Movement of central control to local control

Fewer JETs; more city and prefecture hiring; more

innovative projects / trial programs

Unclear aims and lack of specifics

MEXT gives more freedom to see what works and what doesn’t , and to see how teachers and citizens react to the introduction of English at Elementary school

what is happening
What is happening?

Over 90% of Elementary schools have English as part of ‘general subjects’

Private companies pushing hard at Elementary level

Growing differences within cities, prefectures when students reach JHS

Growing diversification of English instruction

mext s directives
MEXT’s directives



No ‘teaching’

No writing

Focus on understanding

Receptive focus

No grammar

No assessment

Build positive image of English

Build motivation for English

the culture of the one right answer
The culture of the ‘one right answer’

The culture of the ‘one right answer’ helps build knowledge but doesn’t help the process of learning because:

it tells kids to never be wrong and doesn’t allow them to be wrong

it denies them to chance to fail and learn from failure

it undervalues taking risks and resourcefulness

it creates cautious kids focused on memorizing details and who cannot ‘think on their feet’

it denies opportunities for kids to learn thorough experimenting with ideas

it it educates them OUT of their creativity

it doesn’t foster co-operative learning and social integration

it does not prepare them for the future which will require flexibility, resourcefulness, risk taking, clear thinking and creativity

extensive reading and young learners
Extensive reading and young learners

Recent research shows :

Young learners learn much faster if they have massive text input (i.e. story reading)

There’s no advantage to starting English early if students don’t have massive text support

Learners starting ER early end up with higher natural English ability than students in intensive programs in High School

Early reading success leads to gains in self-efficacy / self confidence (belief that success is due to what I do)

Early reading failure builds a sense of ‘learned helplessness’ (feelings of lack of control and disconnection)

what do the kids need
What do the kids need?

They need to:

develop a sense of self-confidence and a ‘can do’ attitude

be able to manage risk-taking and not fear failure

develop creativity and imagination

develop a sense of ‘other awareness’

develop a sense of being in control of their learning







when reading extensively students should read
When reading extensively, students should READ

It is CRUCIAL that learners read at the RIGHT level

Read something quickly and

Enjoyably with

Adequate comprehension so they

Don’t need a dictionary

If they need a dictionary, it’s too hard and they will read slowly, get tired and stop

Their aim is fluency and speed, not learning new language

We add the reading to our existing program, we don’t replace it.

types of er
Types of ER

There are several legitimate forms of ER

‘Pure ER’ – self-selected, own level, reading for pleasure

‘Class Reading’ – all students read the same book

‘ER as literature’ – the class studies a book as a piece of literature

‘Integrated ER’ – ER supported by other activities

These don’t really apply at the beginning levels of reading

before students can do er
Before students can do ER ….

They need

- to be able to recognize the letters and some letter combinations (e.g. ch-, sp-, th-,)

- to be able to recognize how sounds become written words

- to know a few hundred words

- to know a little bit of grammar (e.g. verb inflections)

principles to follow for early reading instruction
Principles to follow for early reading instruction

Listening before reading

Sounds -> words

Sound out words - don’t spell them

Build a sight vocabulary

‘Scaffold’ the learning (build on previous knowledge)

stages to get to individualized reading
Stages to get to individualized reading

Start with word building exercises through pictures and sound (vocabulary building)

Phonics exercises to match sounds to words

Listening to stories to build a context for the vocabulary (auditory contextualizing)

Reading easy materials (textual contextualizing)

Teach the alphabet only when they need to know how to spell words

the typical japanese child
The typical Japanese child

Knows thousands of Japanese words and the Japanese alphabet by age 6-7

May know a few dozen kanji

Has a rich understanding of ‘story’

Already has heard hundreds of stories which can be built upon or retold in English

Has mastered many basic concepts

So how can we leverage this to get them reading?

stage 1 word phrase learning
Stage 1: Word / phrase learning

Concrete words

apple, table, horse, cat, teacher, board, paper,

Concrete verbs

write, do, make, play, see, look, walk, have,

Fixed and semi-fixed phrases (no need to analyze them)

good morning, happy birthday, how are you?

These can all be learnt through flash cards, or physical actions, games etc.

what does a japanese learner bring to their first english class
What does a Japanese learner bring to their first English class?

A few dozen loanwords:

hello, bye, ball, no, milk, pen, bed, hair, hand, school, TV, radio, CD, white, night, black, dress, first, floor, game, video, garden, head, heart, love, home, my, morning, bus, boat, hotel, map, meter, shirt, pink, beach, chicken, cheese, chocolate, burger, juice, lamp, dollar, bike, belt, skirt, knife, fork, computer, orange, mouse, bat, beef, menu, restaurant, golf, salad, tennis, boyfriend, friend, girlfriend, banana, kilo, ham, lemon, steak, cola, pizza, pasta, pants, tiger, tomato, lettuce, mushroom, basketball, soccer, taxi, player, car, bag ….

what does a japanese learner bring to their first english class1
What does a Japanese learner bring to their first English class?

… glass, gorilla, note, book, curtain, screen, water, air conditioner, headphones, photo, big, campaign, center, captain, course, cup, cut, drive, energy, extra, fight, get, go, green, half, hearing, hit, hot, idea, image, live, main, medium, miss, mile, next, move, okay, off, choice, part, play, race, rule, bargain, save, room, shop, shopping, star, stop, station, thanks, time, test, top, wear, bell, boss, bottle, cake, carpet, champion, clean, coat, coffee, copy, counter, diet, egg, dryer, dry, expert, front, back, up, level, down, handle, ice ….

Plus dozens and dozens more

stage 2 moving to the written word receptive phonics
Stage 2: Moving to the written word - Receptive Phonics

Do this in a stepped and structured way e.g.

-select words that sound like they look – cat dog pen

-sound out the words as they listen cat /k-æ-t/ table /teibl/ house / haus/

-do NOT spell them out using the alphabet pig p-i-g

Receptive checking – which do you hear? pen pan pin

This should only be done with real words – words that will come in their first stories

stage 3 productive phonics
Stage 3: Productive phonics

Students now sound out regularly spelled words

Flash cards

Speed identification and say

Introduce them in a logical sequence from transparent to opaque

-> phonically regular words at hot bed cup

-> combinations spin chip this thing walked

-> Long vowel words say baby tiny

-> etc.

stage 4 phrase level phonics
Stage 4: Phrase level Phonics

Move from words to short phrases and sentences

Receptive before productive (listening before saying)

Regular spellings to more complex spellings

stage 5 choose the right stories
Stage 5: Choose the right stories

Start with highly visual very simple stories with almost no words e.g. Oxford Reading Tree

Highly repetitive sentence patterns for consolidation

things to watch for
Things to watch for

Find books with dialogs

Watch for difficult language

stage 6 visualizing stories listening
Stage 6: Visualizing stories - Listening

Now they need to hear the words in context through listening to stories with:

Highly visual picture books (watch and listen)

Use lots of loanwords

Re-tell the story for repetitive practice by varying it:

Change the story in subtle ways

Purposefully add in mistakes they have to listen for

stage 7 visualizing stories reading aloud
Stage 7: Visualizing stories : Reading aloud

Students read along or repeat the story they are listening to (matching sounds with words)

But only after their comprehension has been checked

They read aloud so you can check they can match sounds to words

Lots of personal one-to-one

reading is important here

(use teaching assistants,

parents, volunteers)

stage 8 reading on their own in class
Stage 8: Reading on their own in class

Silent reading well within their

ability level

Build reading speed

No reading aloud (except the

occasional check)

Aim is to internalize the reading

Select high contextual / visual

books they can learn from

without much intervention of the teacher

stage 9 at home reading
Stage 9: At home reading

Students take books home to read

Ask the kids to read to their parents (parents fill in a form). If parents don’t understand, the child can explain.

Seishin 2005 Book Sharing program:

Parents and children valued

their reading

Huge increases in motivation

for English in 6 months

Parent/school relations vastly increased

Parent / child relationships benefited

be careful with native level materials
Be careful with Native-level materials

Native books, magazines etc. above the very earliest levels are too hard to read fluently for MOST Japanese learners

Children’s books for natives are full of difficult words, phrases and concepts

Native children already know 5000 words and almost all the grammar BEFORE they start to read

Japanese children know very few English words and no grammar before they start English.

Don’t confuse the final target (to read native texts) with the starting point and the way to get there.

graded readers are graded
Graded readers are GRADED



Phonics Easy vocab More difficult vocab

Easy grammar More difficult grammar


Easiest level

Very few words

Very basic vocabulary

Regular spellings

Very conversational

20-80 words per book

beginner level
Beginner level

Easy vocabulary

Basic tenses only

Very simple plot

High visual support

100-300 words per book

late beginner level
Late beginner level
  • Easy vocabulary
  • Present tenses only
  • Very simple plot

Little bit more difficult vocabulary

More difficult grammar

More complex plot

high beginner level
High beginner level

Upper Elementary level

  • Little bit more difficult vocabulary
  • More difficult grammar
  • Harder plot

Harder vocabulary

Harder grammar

Longer sentences

More irregular language

More complex plot

1000-2000 words per book

preparing kids for jhs
Preparing kids for JHS

At present there’s almost no communication between ES and JHS

Given MEXT’s ‘do as you wish’ attitude this will lead to more imbalance, greater diversity in student abilities by the start of JHS

Need for a Grade 1-12 integrated curriculum

Main aim should be to leave students with a positive attitude to English and reading in general

typical learning from course books
Typical learning from course books

Recycling rate in a typical 5 level course (225,000 total words)

  • 40 function words (in, of, the, by etc.) accounted for 41.2% of the total words in the series
  • If we set “acquisition” at 20 occurrences, then we can expect students to know:
    • (456+202+225=) 883 words by the end of three years receptively
    • 200 words productively (typically productive is 20-25% of the receptive)
  • This does not include the learning of collocations, colligations, idioms, phrases, multiple meanings, lexical chunks, sentence heads… etc.

Data from Sequences by Heinle Cengage

course book plus extensive reading
Course book plus Extensive Reading

Vocabulary gains by adding 1 graded reader per week

76% improvement in ‘learnt’ vocabulary (880 --->1556 words)

More of the words in their course book reach the ‘acquisition’ level (27% ---> 40%)

Smaller % of unknown words

They will have a better sense of how the vocabulary and grammar fit together

They will have a better sense of collocation, and other deeper aspects of vocabulary acquisition as well as picking up phrases and so forth.