Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Encouraging reading in Singapore

Submitted to the Straits Times.

Singapore wants to encourage reading ("Making every day a reading day," April 20). Good idea.  According to an analysis done by Prof. Elizabeth Ka Yee Loh and me, Singapore is one of several countries that falls into what we call the "test prep" group: high reading test scores, low levels of poverty overall, but neither children nor parents report that they like to read. Our conjecture was that the high test scores were the result of lots of reading of school texts, plus extensive test-preparation, or "gaming the test."
Some of the proposals made by the National Reading Movement (in "Parliament: First National Reading Day to be held on July 30 to help nurture love of books," April 11) for encouraging reading have no basis at all in the research, and are, in fact, contradictory to what is known about encouraging reading:  These include proclaiming a national reading day, setting up book clubs, and getting people to make a pledge that they will read more.  The latter will only result in  is making people feel guilty that they were not able to live up to their promises.
Other proposals are well-supported by research, proposals to ensure that potential readers have access to interesting reading material e.g. setting up reading corners in community-owned centers and making sure new communities have a library.  Access in the form of libraries is especially crucial in high poverty areas, where the only sources of books is often the library. Access is the obvious prerequisite to reading.

The National Reading Movement also plans to make electronic material available to commuters.  Unfortunately, this will consist of "recommended" reading pre-selected for those riding on trains.  Unless a huge amount of options are made available, this plan runs counter to research showing that self-selection is crucial to voluntary reading. (One study showing this, by Sy-ying Lee in 2007, appeared in a journal published in Singapore.)

Given access to truly interesting and comprehensible reading material, most people will read.  Reading can become a "positive addiction," so pleasurable that we don't have to urge people to read or make them promise that they will read.

Finally, we have to take a harder look at school, and make sure that younger children are read to from interesting storybooks, that school libraries are well-stocked with interesting reading material staffed by credentialed librarians, and that time is set aside for free reading in school, all demonstrated to be strong predictors, not only of reading achievement but also interest in reading.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California


Test-prep countries: Loh, E.K.Y. and Krashen, S. 2015. Patterns in PIRLS performance: The importance of liking to read, SES, and the effect of test prep. Asian Journal of Education and e-Learning 3(1).
Self-selection: Lee, S. Y. 2007. Revelations from Three Consecutive Studies on Extensive Reading. Regional Language Center (RELC) Journal , 38 (2), 150-170.
Access and libraries: Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Second edition. Portsmouth: Heinemann and Westport: Libraries Unlimited
Positive addiction: Nell, V. (1988). Lost in a book. New Haven. Yale
University Press.
Read-alouds, school libraries, free reading time: Krashen 2004, op. cit.
Original article: http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/arts/parliament-first-national-reading-day-to-be-held-on-july-30-to-help-nurture-love-of

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