Saturday, April 22, 2017

The power of reading, the power of libraries and the "summer slide"

Letter to the editor, submitted to Language Magazine
Stephen Krashen
April 23, 2017

Language Magazine readers might be interested in a case study that confirms Andrew Johnson's recommendations for dealing with the summer slide in reading  ("Tales, of summer," April, 2017).  In a published journal paper, we (Shu-Yuan Lin, Fay Shin, and S. Krashen) described the case of "Sophia," a high school student whose reading test scores dropped during three consecutive academic years, but increased during the summer. In fact, Sophia's fall reading scores were higher than they were the previous spring.
What did Sophia do during the summer that caused this improvement? She did not attend special classes, did not get instruction in reading strategies, did not work through vocabulary lists, and did not write book reports. All she did was read for pleasure.
According to her mother, Sophia read an average of about 50 books per summer, largely from the local public library. Early favorites were the Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High series, followed by the Christy Miller series and other books by Francine Pascal, the author of the Sweet Valley series. (Sophia informed us that she was “addicted” to the Christy Miller books; it took her only a week to read the entire series “because I just couldn’t put them down.”)
Sophia’s mother told us that during the school year Sophia was so busy with school work that she had hardly any free time to read. Her mother, in fact, joked that it might be a good idea to keep her daughter at home during the school year in order to increase her scores on standardized tests of reading.
Lin, S-Y, Shin, F., & Krashen, S.  2007. Sophia’s choice: Summer reading. Knowledge Quest 35(4). Available for free download at, under "free voluntary reading."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

News from 1979 on the "fake reading" controversy in SSR

Stephen Krashen

There is a debate in the field about whether students in sustained silent reading programs spend the time reading, or are just doing "sustained silent page turning."  In Krashen (2011), I reviewed a number of claims that students were doing fake reading, and I concluded that it was surprisingly rare, and when we did see genuine cases, one or more of the principles of SSR were violated, eg not enough books of interest available, the books were too hard, the programs were run under rigid conditions,  and students had a fear of evaluation.

Beath (1979) provides more evidence that non-reading is not widespread and her data confirming that a problem with non-readers in SSR may indeed be in not providing enough comprehensible material.

In her study, 64 fourth graders participating in SSR were observed on three different days by three observers. Observers watched students for ten minutes in 15 second interviews and noted if students were "on-task"  or "off-task" (off-task = eg, flipping through pages out of sequence, talking to one's neighbor, sitting with books closed). Beath reported that there was a substantial amount of reading taking place, with 65% of the students "on-task" at least 90% of the time.

She then divided the group into two equal sub-groups, those who were considered more on-task and those who were less on-task.  The top half, the more on-task group, scored much higher on a standardized reading test,  average grade level 5.36 versus 3.16, a difference of two years.  In other words, those who could read better were shown to be more engaged in reading during SSR, most likely because the material was more comprehensible for them.

Beath informed us that "In each classroom there were many materials, such as magazines, newspapers,  comic books and tradebooks. These materials were at a variety of reading levels." (p. 75). There may not, however, have been enough interesting material at lower levels in the classroom libraries (see also Marshall, 2002, who arrived at a similiar conclusion).

So many of our reading "problems" can be solved by providing more access to comprehensible and truly interesting reading material.


Beath, P. R,  1979. An examination of the relationship between on-task behavior during sustained silent reading and reading achievement. Ph. D. dissertation, University of Maryland.

Krashen, S. 2011. Nonengagement in sustained silent reading: How extensive is it? What can it teach us? Colorado Reading Council Journal 22: 5-10.  (available at, "free voluntary reading." section).

Marshall, J. C. 2002. Are They Really Reading? Expanding SSR in the Middle Grades. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Why school librarians matter

Sent to the Dallas Morning News, April 17.

Re: 11 Dallas ISD schools are losing their librarians because of budget cuts, April 17, 2017

Are school officials in the Dallas district who are removing librarians from high schools and middle schools aware that research shows that better school libraries and the presence of credentialed school librarians are related to better reading achievement?

One reason school librarians are so valuable is that they are an important source of information about books: The amount of self-selected reading students do is the strongest predictor of performance on reading tests. According to a recent study done by Scholastic, 30% of students ages 12-14 and 19% of those ages 14-16 say that school librarians are among those who give them the best ideas about books to read for fun. School librarians have the biggest impact just before middle school begins: for children ages 9-11, 40% say the school librarian gives them the best ideas about books to read.

Scholastic also found that nearly half of middle schoolers and high schoolers said they had trouble finding books they like and that the amount of pleasure reading done declines sharply beginning at age 9, continuing through high school.

Dallas intends to rip away an important part of the cure for this problem.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article:

Kachel, D. and Lance, K. 2013. Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement.

Lance, Keith Curry and Linda Hofschire. (2012). Change in School Librarian Staffing Linked with Change in CSAP Reading Performance, 2005 to 2011.
Scholastic: Kids & Family Report Report, 6th editionKrashen, S., Lee, S.Y. and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1): 26-36.
Small, Ruth V., Jaime Snyder, and Katie Parker. 2009. "The Impact of New York's School Libraries on Student Achievement and Motivation: Phase I." School Library Media Research 12.

McQuillan, J. 1998. The Literacy Crisis: False Claims and Real Solutions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing Company.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Don't know much about history

Sent to USA Today

During the last few weeks, Secretary of Housing Ben Carson said that slaves came to the US as immigrants, White House press secretary, Sean Spicer claimed that Hitler never used poison gas on German citizens, and Donald Trump stated that Frederick Douglass "has done an amazing job," suggesting that he thinks Mr. Douglass is still alive.

In June, 2016, Mr. Trump referred to Belgium as a "beautiful city." The administration has also embraced fake geography.

One hundred and thirty years ago, Mark Twain noted:  “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” Mr. Trump probably thinks that Mark Twain is a great guy who is doing a phenomenal job of getting things done.

Stephen Krashen

Reading: NOT heavy phonics, NOT memorizing spellings of thousands of words

Sent to the Sydney Morning Herald, April 11
Prof. Anne Castle is quoted as saying that without heavy phonics instruction, readers have to memorize the spellings of thousands of words: "If you don't have phonics,  learning to read is like learning the telephone book. You can only learn so many words."  ("Phonics tests: why some children struggle to read," April 11).
This suggests that there are only two options: memorizing words, known as the "whole word" method, or learning all the rules for converting spellings to sound.
Both are impossible. Nobody can deliberately memorize the spellings of all the words in English, and the rules of phonics are far too numerous and complex to be studied and consciously learned.
Here is a famous example from Frank Smith: hot, hoot, hook, hour, honest, house, hope, honey, and hoist all begin with "ho" but each is pronounced differently. I don't think one person in a million knows the phonics rules that explain this, but all fluent English readers can pronounce these words correctly.  We learned how to do this by reading experience. Learning some basic rules is helpful, but nearly all of our knowledge of phonics is gradually absorbed from reading.
I wonder if Prof. Castle is aware of the published research showing that intensive explicit phonics instruction will produce somewhat more accurate pronunciation of words presented in a list, but has no significant effect on tests of reading comprehension given after grade 1.  The best predictor of performance on reading comprehension tests is how much the children have read.
What really does work in raising reading achievement is access to lots of good books. This means support for libraries and librarians, not complex phonics programs and more tests.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article:

High School Graduation: The Four Year Fallacy

Sent to the Los Angeles Daily News, April 11, 2017

The improved high school graduation figure announced in "The LAUSD graduation rate climbs to 77 percent, new data shows," (April 11) is based on graduating in four years, or graduating "with your class."

Announcing graduation rates based only those who graduate "on time" sends the message that there is something wrong with taking longer.  During the depression, the father of education expert Susan
Ohanian went to high school every other year, working to help support the family when he wasn't in school. 

Taking longer than the usual four years during hard times is often an indication of persistence and determination, not laziness.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article:

The community college option

Sent to The 74 (74 million reasons to to talk education)

In response to "New Student Data Show That Half of Graduating Seniors in LA Not Eligible for California’s Public Universities" (April 6), George McKenna points out that many graduates not eligible for the University of California would be eligible to attend a community college. 

In a brilliant letter to the editor of the LA Times (Jan. 26, 2017), Ron Garber pointed out that there is no shame "in attending an affordable, high-quality, local community college before completing your four-year degree at a UC or state university."

Besides, Garber points out, you will save over $60,000 and wind up in the same place as someone who attended UC for the full four years.

Stephen Krashen

Original article

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Libraries and librarians: What does the research say?

Published in the Chicago Tribune, March 31, 2017

Sam Weller's strong defense of libraries includes this statement:  "District superintendents, senior administrators and bean counters with the ability to slash jobs apparently don't get it."  (“Without school librarians, we’re on a dystopian path.” March 30.)

The bean counters and administrators should be the first ones to understand the value of school libraries and librarians: Study after study has shown that better school libraries and the presence of credential school librarians are related to better reading achievement, as measured by standardized tests.  Keith Curry Lance's research has shown this for several states in the US, and our research term has confirmed his results for libraries in over 40 different countries.

Isaac Asimov was right in 1995 and his insight is still valid: "When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself."

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1): 26-36.
Studies by Keith Curry Lance and associates at
Asimov Quote: Asimov, I. (1995) I, Asimov. Random House.
Original article:

Hat-tip: Hilda Weisburg

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

language acquisition from input

Sent to The Scientific American
March 29, 2017

I was very excited to read Veronique Greenwood's "Learn a new lingo while doing something else," describing research showing that listening makes a profound contribution to the learning of speech sounds.

Scientific American readers might be interested in knowing that we have been publishing evidence for the last 40 years showing that first and second language acquisition, as well as literacy development, takes place through listening and reading (input): The ability to speak and write is a result of language acquisition. In agreement with the studies described by Ms. Greenwood, we have found that that language acquisition happens subconsciously. 

Those of us involved in research probably spend too much time scolding others for not paying attention to our results.  Professor Melissa Baese-Berk and her colleagues, who did the accent studies, have every reason now to scold me and my associates for not discovering and citing their work.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Website, with publications (free download):
Original article:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Krashen Santa Fe 3: Fiction, heritage language

The power of fiction: The UK study
Fiction = great vocabulary builder
Sullivan and Brown, 2014: vocabulary test
1. Reading at age 42 counts, independent of reading at 16 or younger & previous vocabulary.
2. Fiction counts  (more than nonfiction), but not "low-brow"
3. Music counts a little. Reading counts more.
4. Reading counts even when you control for parent occupation and parent education.
5. Reading counts more than your own education AND is independent of your educational level
Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. 2014. Vocabulary from Adolescence to Middle Age. Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University of London

Those who read more, know more. Readers (of fiction) do better on tests of literature, history, cultural literacy, but also SCIENCE, SOCIAL STUDIES and PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE. (Stanovich and colleagues).

Fiction stretches, challenges the mind.
1.      Fiction contributes to an expanded "theory of mind" = understand others' states of mind, ways of thinking, compared to nonfiction. (Kidd & Castono)  
2.      Fiction readers have more tolerance for vagueness, better able to deal with uncertaincy (Djikic,  Oatley, and Moldoveanu,  2013). Based on survey done after reading fiction or nonfiction, eg agree/disagree with: “I don’t like situations that are uncertain," “I dislike questions that can be answered in many different ways.”
3.      Ethics and insight: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man,  (102), 5/1995,  "You think because I wear this mask I don't know what it's like to have problems?"  also: Batman Returns, The Watchmen
4.      Career success
Simonton (1988) "omnivorous reading in childhood and adolescence correlates positively with ultimate adult success" (p. 11). 
Malcolm X:  ‘What’s your alma mater?’
Michael Faraday (1791-1867): influence of working for a bookbinder for 7 years.

Heritage language development
1.    Popular view: people resist English
2.    The facts: The first language disappears rapidly

Language Use: Spanish-speaking high school students in Miami: Use of Spanish
Prior to elementary school: 85%
Junion High school: 37%
Sr High School: 18%
Informal use during senior year
Parents: 76%
Siblings: 32%
Friends in school: 20%

Portes and Rumbaut, 2001: age 14
Competence in HL and English, 1 = not at all, 4 = very well
Overall English = 3.77,,, HL = 2.75  (n = 4288)
China    English = 3.54,   HL = 2.23
Vietnam  English = 3.42,  HL = 2.54
Mexico    English = 3.62,  HL = 3.33

       3. Should we be concerned? Yes. No disadvantages, only advantages to heritage language development - advantages
a.     bilinguals are smarter, and stay young longer (delays dementia)
b.    access to the wisdom of the family
c.     practical: It's good to know your customers' language
4.    Barriers to HL development
language shyness resulting from ridicule: Tse = ethnic ambivalence
cure: reading! Perfect for shy people
not the cure: take a grammar class
problem: lack of access to comprehensible input
Tse: Those who kept their HL had access to reading material
       5. Teaching heritage language classes.
a. popular literature = goal – establish reading habit
b. history and culture using the Book Whisperer method
       6. Taking advantage of the oral tradition: video library
            a. task of the HL class: create video library: history, wisdom, experiences of the family
            b. build competence through aural/visual input:  narrow, compelling input
                  movie talk/picture – comic book talk/
                  stories, jokes, regular report of the news
                  interviews, questions of personal interest

Krashen Santa Fe 2: some reseaerch, intermediate methods


Role of the class: The role of the class: DEVELOP INTERMEDIATES
Class is ideal for beginners!  Outside world reluctant to provide comprehensible input to beginners.
A universal theory of education: Prepare you for the outside world.

Beginning level:
TPR: Total Physical Response (Asher): Website:
Natural Approach (Terrell)
TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling; Blaine Ray) Websites:;;
Storylistening (

Underlying principles
class: filled with comprehensible input
organized, but not around points of grammar: activities that students will find comprehensible & interesting (compelling)
speech not forced but encouraged (indirect contribution)
grammar: not for children, as linguistics, for editing

Research: CI wins in method comparisons

The Power of Stories
I. power of read-alouds, without frills:
A.    children read to regularly make superior gains in reading comprehension, vocabulary, listening comprehension (Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, Marinus, and Pellegrini 1995; Block 1999; Denton and West, 2002).
Reach out and Read: in clinic waiting rooms in high poverty areas. free book; very modest treatment, staff demonstrates in waiting room, physician gives a book
Typical results: Mendelsohn et. al. age 4, 3 years of ROR; average of (only) three appointments, avg of 4 books received, vocabulary acquisition

national norm
% gap closed
Means adjusted for differences between the groups, e.g. mother's education, language spoken in the home, homelessness, preschool attendance, child's age.
Comparison n = 49; ROR = 73; Test scores standardized for age (100 = 50th percentile).

B. Read-alouds are pleasant: Vast majority of children say that they enjoy being read to (Walker and Kuerbtiz, 1979; Mason and Blanton, 1971; Wells, 1985; Senechal et. al. 1996.).
C. Encourages reading, which in turn promotes literacy development. The title of Brassell’s paper:“Sixteen books went home tonight: Fifteen were introduced by the teacher.”

Comprehnsion-based second.foreign language teachimg methods
Communicative tests: CI much better.  Grammar tests: CI better or no diff.

Isik (2000: ITL: Rev of Applied Linguistics) High school EFL in Turkey, intermediates; 29 hours per week, 36 weeks:
CI = Communication-based, minimal correction, graded readers, 75% CI, 25% grammar.
Grammar = 24 hrs/week form-based, 20% CI, 80% grammar

comprehensible input
Oxford grammar test
67.6 (5.0)
45.6 (9.6)
22.25 (1.07)
14.5 (4.26)
Listening compr.
24.9 (2.29)
17.5 (3.3)
19.4 (2.6)
7.5 (3.3)

The rise of TPRS (Blaine Ray) -  stories, personalization, graded readers
Varguez (2009:  Beginning Spanish in high school in US
TPRS significantly better than comparisons (t = 10.56, p < .0001).
Low SES TPRS class =comparisons. (Had TPRS teacher for part of year)
mean (sd)
32 (4.7)
22.3 (38.2)
23.45 (21.2)
Measure: combination of listening and reading

Comprehension-based methods have never lost Posted at:
Also: Students in CI-based classes more likely to continue.

Limit: only “conversational language,” not “academic language”

Intermediate methods: 
Sheltered subject matter teaching: based on comprehensible input
Characteristics: (1) intermediates only (2) focus on subject-matter, not language (If a test, the test is on subject matter)/
Research: When compared to intermediate foreign language classes: (1) as much or more language development (2) subject matter knowledge at the same time (3) academic language acquisition
The first one: Edwards, H., Wesche, M., Krashen, S., Clement, R., and Kruidenier, B. 1984. Second language acquisition through a subject-matter learning: A study of sheltered psychology classes at the University of Ottawa. Canadian Modern Language Review 41: 268-282.

THE POWER OF READING: Free Voluntary Reading: source of reading ability, writing style, vocabulary, spelling, complex grammar

Overwhelming case for reading:
Sustained silent reading (SSR)

The Fiji Island study (RRQ, 1983): Elley & Mangubhai: gains in RC
Big Books
year 2: larger differences, readers better in writing, listening and grammar

Case histories:
Goeffrey Canada: "I loved reading, and my mother, who read voraciously too, allowed me to have her novels after she finished them. My strong reading background allowed me to have an easier time of it in most of my classes."
Liz Murray (Breaking Night):  "Any formal education I received came from the few days I spent in attendance, mixed with knowledge I absorbed from random readings of my or Daddy's ever-growing supply of unreturned library books. And as long as I still showed up steadily the last few weeks of classes to take the standardized tests, I kept squeaking by from grade to grade."
Desmond Tutu: “One of the things I am most grateful to (my father) for is that, contrary to educational principles, he allowed me to read comics. I think that is how I developed my love for English and for reading.” 
Richard Wright: “I wanted to write and I did not even know the English language. I bought English grammars and found them dull. I felt I was getting a better sense of the language from novels than from grammars."

Encouraging FVR:  Read alouds, reading itself, home run books, literature
The major factor: ACCESS! LIBRARIES!