Saturday, November 29, 2014

Is LAUSD "playing with history"? (published in LA Times)

Published in the Los Angeles Times, Dec 2, 2014 as "History sleuthing picques classroom curiosity"
Is LAUSD "playing with history"?
Former Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education member David Tokofsky is concerned that approaches to history such as the Stanford curriculum now in use at Venice High School "diminish content and scope in service to their hip methods." ("History classes don't need to be 'gamified,'" Readers React, Nov. 28)
Both The Times' article describing the new curriculum and publications by those responsible for the program at the Stanford History Education Group suggest that the inquiry-based approach does not diminish but increases students' mastery of history and generates real enthusiasm for it.
The new approach encourages students to look beneath the surface and examine authentic documents to gather evidence to determine whether claims and assumptions are supported by evidence. I recommend that both critics and supporters of the Stanford program, to which I have no personal or professional connection, do the same.
Stephen Krashen, Los Angeles

History classes don't need to be "gamified"
Letter, LA Times, Nov. 28
To the editor: The article describing some students at Venice High School playing games to access world history saddens those who believe history need not be "gamified," put online to download and reduced in scope to stimulate thought and engagement in classrooms. ("L.A. Unified adopts free history curriculum from Stanford University," Nov. 26)
To the generalist, the lesson presented — in which students play the role of history detective — appeared captivating. A keen eye, however, would recognize that a lesson presented for nearly five days has to come at the expense of learning many other standards and eras. Without a textbook, who would know that other eras were deleted and not being taught?
History methodology revisionists argue that "less is more," and they are right with respect to deepening engagement. But unfortunately they often inadvertently diminish content and scope in service to their hip methods.
Sadly for students, educational fads often repeat themselves as history does: the first time as a tragedy and the second time as farce.
David Tokofsky, Los Angeles

L.A. Unified adopts free history curriculum from Stanford University
November 26
Los Angeles Times

Venice High sophomore Vanessa Pepperdine had always hated history class: the dry lectures, the boring textbooks, the forgettable factoids about famous dead people.
"You just read out of the textbook, and it wasn't interesting," Vanessa said.
But during a recent period of World History, Vanessa and her classmates were engaged in excited discussion about the 1896 Battle of Adwa between Ethiopia and Italy. Their teacher, Daniel Buccieri, showed them an illustration of the event and peppered them with questions.
Who do you think won? How do the American and Ethiopian accounts differ and why? How was Ethiopia able to defeat Italy in this pushback of European imperialism?
With that, the students became sleuthing historians in search of truth rather than passive recipients of a droning lecture.
That's the aim of a free, online Stanford University curriculum that is picking up steam nationally as educators grapple with widespread evidence of historical illiteracy among U.S. students.
Only about a third of Los Angeles Unified School District high schoolers were proficient on state standardized U.S. and world history tests last year; nationally, 12% were proficient in U.S. history in the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.
L.A. Unified became the curriculum's largest booster this year when it signed an 18-month, $140,000 contract with the Stanford History Education Group for training and collaborating on more lesson plans. So far, 385 teachers and administrators — including about 40% of the social science instructors in the nation's second-largest school system — have attended Stanford-led workshops this year.
Nationally, the curriculum has been downloaded 1.7 million times by educators in all 50 states since the program was launched in 2009.
As the teaching of history comes under national scrutiny, with critics attacking the new Advanced Placement U.S. history guidelines as anti-American, the Stanford program takes no sides. With more than 100 ready-made lesson plans covering a range of U.S. and world events, the curriculum features a central historical question and provides primary documents for students to use in shaping their own answers, backed by evidence.
Was ancient Athens truly democratic? Were the "Dark Ages" really dark? Why did Chinese students support the Cultural Revolution? Did Abraham Lincoln actually believe in racial equality? What made the Vietnam War so contentious?
"This overturns the traditional textbook," said Sam Wineburg, the Stanford education professor whose research more than two decades ago laid the groundwork for the approach. "Students explore questions with original documents and cultivate a sense of literacy and how to develop sound judgment."
In a 2001 book, Wineburg argued that students must be trained to question history in order to understand it, just as professionals do; the curriculum is called "Reading Like a Historian." The ability to question the credibility of information and its sources, he said, is critically relevant in today's digital age — judging claims, for instance, that President Obama was born in Kenya.
The Stanford group has also developed free assessments, more than 65 so far, that gauge mastery of the targeted skills through short essay questions rather than traditional multiple-choice tests. In a test run five years ago, 236 students in five San Francisco high schools using the curriculum outperformed peers in factual knowledge and reading comprehension compared with those in traditional classes, Wineburg said.
For school systems such as L.A. Unified, the curriculum came at an opportune time — just as the district is shifting to new learning standards known as Common Core. The standards focus on cultivating such skills as reading complex texts and integrating and evaluating information from multiple sources.
"The Stanford curriculum aligns almost perfectly with Common Core," said Kieley Jackson, a district coordinator of social science curriculum.
Not all teachers have embraced the lessons. Some say they take too long, typically four days, although Stanford trainers say they can be adapted for one or two. Others say they are short on content. And some instructors prefer their approach of lectures and textbooks. Only about a quarter of social science teachers at Hollywood High use the curriculum, said Neil Fitzpatrick, the department chair.
But Fitzpatrick and many of the 60 colleagues who attended a training this month praised the curriculum and shared ideas on how they modified it — actions that Stanford fully supports — with bingo games, film clips, Play-Doh, poetry, poster sets, Google images.
Buccieri, of Venice High, said he added the Italian perspective of the Battle of Adwa to further enrich the lesson. He said he began incorporating elements of Wineburg's approach after reading his book more than a decade ago and found the Stanford curriculum on his own four years ago.
"History isn't a set of answers I'm passing down to kids," he said. "It's more a set of questions and problems. To me, that's more exciting."
Many students seem to agree. Michael Corley, a history teacher at Polytechnic High in Sun Valley, said nearly 90% of about 100 students he polled preferred the Stanford curriculum over their textbook.
Students don't feel they can argue with the textbook, he said. But using the Stanford lesson on Prohibition to debate why the 18th Amendment banning alcohol was adopted and evaluating perspectives about it from a medical doctor, anti-saloon activist and children's rights advocate? Now that excites them, he said.
He added that the Stanford curriculum seems to especially engage boys, perhaps by appealing to their competitive "gamer mentality," and said his students who typically earn Cs and Ds also do well because the lessons spark their interest. "You can see what they're truly capable of," he said.
At Venice High, Buccieri's 10th grade students said their teacher's approach has completely changed their attitude toward history.
Rosio Salas said she had 10 substitutes in one year who did nothing but assign textbook readings and worksheets. She didn't remember anything she learned. "You just did it because you had to do it."
Now, students say history is exciting. They understand it. They even remember it — as classmate James Gregorio proved by explaining that a Serbian terrorist's assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria ignited World War I.
"You're not just sitting there having to listen to him," sophomore Drew Anderson said. "You get to figure things out for yourself."
Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Our concerns are not just "noise"

Letter to the Editor, Published in Reading Today (IRA), Jan/Feb, 2015
In response to the NovDec cover story, "Beyond the noise."
Concerns about the Common Core are not just "noise." It is a bad solution for a nonexistent problem. Our problem is not a lack of standards, but our unacceptably high rate of poverty. Poverty has a devastating impact on school achievement. When scholars control for the effect of poverty, American students' test scores are at the top of the world.
The Common Core does nothing to protect children from the effects of poverty. Instead, it spends billions on unnecessary testing.
The Common Core is a tsunami that could destroy American education.
Stephen Krashen
Original article: Hall, April. 2014.Moving beyond the noise of the common core.  Reading Today 32(3): 18-21

Is the IRA allergic to reading?

Sent to Reading Today (International Reading Association), Nov. 26, 2014

The International Reading Association appears to be allergic to reading. "Interrupting the cycle of word poverty" (Nov/Dec 2014) recommends every possible way of boosting vocabulary except the only way that is truly effective and efficient: extensive reading. 

William Nagy and colleagues have published compelling evidence showing that we gradually acquire vocabulary from reading for meaning, evidence that suggests that reading alone can do the job of building a large vocabulary, and that reading for meaning is more efficient than direct instruction for vocabulary development After studying the size of the vocabulary appearing in printed school English, Nagy and Richard Anderson concluded that “our findings indicate that even the most ruthlessly systematic direct vocabulary instruction could neither account for a significant proportion of all the words the children actually learn, nor cover more than a modest proportion of the words they will encounter in school reading materials”.
Certainly these results, many published in IRA journals, are worth mentioning.
Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California
Member, Reading Hall of Fame

Original article: Overturf, B. 2014. Interrupting the cycle of word poverty. Reading Today, 32(3): 22-23.

Some sources:
Nagy, W. & Anderson, R. (1984). How many words are there in school printed English? Reading Research Quarterly, 19(3), 304-330.
Nagy, W., Herman, P., & Anderson, R. (1985). Learning words from context. Reading Research Quarterly, 17, 233-255.
Nagy, W., R. Anderson, and Herman, P. (1987). Learning word meanings from context during normal reading. American Educational Research Journal, 24, 237-270.
Nagy, W., & P. Herman. 1987. Breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge: Implications for acquisition and instruction. In M. McKeown & M. Curtiss. (Eds.) The nature of vocabulary acquisition (pp. 19-35), Hillsdale, NJ: Erbaum.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Interview with S. Krashen: compelling input, the origins of the theory, "proving" hypotheses, greatest professional influence

Interview published in Teaching Times #71, Fall 2014, p. 4. TESOL France  (

We are delighted that you will be one of the speakers at the TESOL France 2014 Colloquium. What will you be talking about?

SK: I will talk about something that is obvious to most people, but was not obvious not to us, professional language teachers: Most people are not especially interested in acquiring second languages.  But they are very interested in hearing good stories, reading good books, and having interesting conversations. Fortunately, hearing stories, reading good books and having interesting conversations, in other words, getting COMPELLING comprensible input, is the best way to acquire language. 

For many, your distinction between language acquisition and language learning is appealing since it seems relatively intuitive. How far did intuition and your own learning experiences inform your hypotheses?

SK: The acquisition-learning hypothesis came from some problems in the research:

First, it appeared that sometimes adult second language acquirers' errors followed the "natural order" of acquisition (early acquired were most accurate), but sometimes they didn't. It was clear that the natural order was present in conversational situations, and the "unnatural" order occurred in "test" situations.

Second was a case history co-authored with Pauline Pon, an acquirer of English as a second language. We examined her own English production and found that she made many "careless" errors in speech, but could nearly always correct them when shown the errors on written down.

These two cases led to the same hypothesis: There are two systems at work – a natural "acquired" system identical to the system children use in first and second language acquisition and production, and a consciously "learned" system that adults who have had instruction use in situations when they have time to think about rules and are focussed on form.  So Pauline Pon did not worry about consciously learned rules in normal communication, but she could apply them when she was thinking about form and had time.

So far, your famous hypotheses on language acquisition remain hypotheses. Do you think it will ever be possible or even desirable to prove them?

SK: They will always be hypotheses because that's the way science works.  We can never "prove" any scientific hypothesis, because it is always possible that a counterexample will appear.  

But there have been no counterexamples to the original hypotheses, in my opinion. Also, the hypotheses have been shown to work quite well in different areas. They were based on research in adult second language acquisition, but subsequent reearch has shown that they work well for child second language acquisition, child language acquisition, and literacy development.  They also help explain why certain bilingual education programs are successful and others are not.

I have also been looking at research on animal language and so far the comprehension hypothesis shows promise.  I hope that the next frontier will be "exolinguistics": will the comprehension hypothesis help us acquire alien languages and will aliens be able to acquire our languages via comprehensible input?

What do you think is the single most important takeaway for a classroom teacher from your work?

SK: We acquire language and develop literacy when we understand messages, and for optimal acquisition, input should be compelling, so interesting that students forget it is in another language.

Your work has been incredibly influential for a great many people interested in Second Language Acquisition for both research and practical purposes. Who has been your greatest professional influence? 

SK: Frank Smith, for sure. When I read Reading without Nonsense in 1983, I discovered that he had come to similar conclusions about the importance of comprehension, based on very different evidence. He also presented his work far more coherently than I did. This stimulated my interest in reading and writing.

How would you like to be remembered?

SK: Let me change this question to a different one: What do I want to accomplish? In addition to more work in language and literacy development, I have a modest goal: Stop the world wide overtesting movement, the drive to "test the world" (see, led by the Common Core in the US, a movement that has no foundation in research, bleeds educational systems of needed money, and profits only testing and computer companies; a perfect example of "take from the needy and give to the greedy."

Extensive reading, not study, is the best way to increase vocabulary

Sent to the Korea Herald, November 22, 2014
Prof. Kwang-Yoon ("Proficient process to get linguistic edge, Nov. 20) suggests that programs offer students special texts with "key vocabulary" for students to study to improve their English.  He acknowledges that many studies show that self-selected reading for pleasure is a powerful source of vocabulary knowledge, but argues that a "modified extensive reading program" is called for because it is not realistic: students demand "quick, visible results." 
But self-selected pleasure reading is very fast: only 400 hours of self-selected voluntary reading (an hour a day for one year), will bring English learners to the 6000 word level, enough to recognize 98% of the words in Twilight and John Grisham's novels. Studies also confirm that gradually absorbing words through reading is more effective than direct study and the words are remembered longer.
Also, books we choose ourselves, that we want to read, are very pleasant, sometimes so pleasant it is hard for readers to stop reading.  It is doubtful that students will stick with word study from isolated passages.
The effort and cost of carefully assembling passages for word study would be much better spent making collections of very interesting and comprehensible books for English language students.

Beniko Mason
Shitennooji University Junior College,
Osaka, Japan

Jeff McQuillan
Center for Educational Development
Los Angeles, CA USA

Stephen Krashen
University of Southern California (Emeritus)
Los Angeles, CA USA

Original article:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Built-In Orderliy Organized Knowledge, by R.J. Heathorn (1980)

In: Hills, Phillip J., ed. The Future of the Printed Word. Greenwood Press, 1980.

A new aid to rapid - almost magical - learning has made its appearance. Indications are that if it catches on all the electronic gadgets will be so much junk. The new device is known as Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge. The makers generally call it by its initials, BOOK.
Many advantages are claimed over the old-style learning and teaching aids on which most people are brought up nowadays. It has no wires, no electric circuit to break down, No connection is needed to an electricity power point. It is made entirely without mechanical parts to go wrong or need replacement.
Anyone can use BOOK, even children, and it fits comfortably into the hands. It can be conveniently used sitting in an armchair by the fire. How does this revolutionary, unbelievably easy invention work?
Basically BOOK consists only of a large number of paper sheets. These may run to hundreds where BOOK covers a lengthy program of information. Each sheet bears a number in sequence so that the sheets cannot be used in the wrong order. To make it even easier for the user to keep the sheets in the proper order they are held firmly in place by a special locking device called a 'binding. Each sheet of paper presents the user with an information sequence in the form of symbols, which he absorbs optically for automatic registration on the brain.
When one sheet has been assimilated a flick of the finger turns it over and further information is found on the other side. By using both sides of each sheet in this way a great economy is affected, thus reducing both the size and cost of BOOK. No buttons need to be pressed to move from one sheet to another, to open or close BOOK, or to start it working.
BOOK may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it. Instantly it is ready for use. Nothing has to be connected or switched on. The user may turn at will to any sheet, going backwards or forwards as he pleases. A sheet is provided near the beginning as a location finder for any required information sequence. A small accessory, available at trifling extra cost, is the BOOKmark. This enables the user to pick up his program where he left off on the previous learning session. BOOKmark is versatile and may be used in any BOOK. The initial cost varies with the size and subject matter.
Already a vast range of BOOKs is available, covering every conceivable subject and adjusted to different levels of aptitude. One BOOK, small enough to be held in the hands, may contain an entire learning schedule. Once purchased, BOOK requires no further upkeep cost; no batteries or
R. J. Heathorn
wires are needed, since the motive power, thanks to an ingenious device patented by the makers, is supplied by the brain of the user. BOOKs may be stored on handy shelves and for ease of reference the program schedule is normally indicated on the back of the binding.
Altogether the Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge seems to have great advantages with no drawbacks. We predict a big future for it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reading aloud to dogs: What it does and what it doesn't do

Sent to American Libraries Magazine, Nov. 14, 2014

I would like to suggest that reading to dogs ("Dog Therapy,” November/December, 2014), does not help children improve their reading ability directly, but it may have positive indirect benefits.

Research on reading consistently supports one conclusion: Children improve their reading ability by reading books that are comprehensible and interesting, when they understand and are interested in what is on the page.

There is no scientific evidence that children improve by reading aloud to dogs (or to humans). Reading aloud is rarely reading for meaning. Only reading for meaning, understanding the message on the page, promotes literacy development.

I suggest that reading to dogs helps young readers indirectly: As "Dog Therapy" states in the first sentence, reading to animals may help children "get comfortable" with reading. The few studies done so far support this: they show that children who read to dogs regularly improve in "fluency," that is, reading speed. This is not the same as improving in the ability to understand texts. Increased comfort with reading, and associating reading with pleasure, however, could lead to more interest in books and more reading for meaning, which in turn means more literacy development.

Stephen Krashen

Lane, H. B., & Zavada, S. D. W. (2013). When reading gets ruff: Canine-assisted reading programs. Reading Teacher 67, 87-95.
Paddock, C. 2010 Dogs helped kids improve reading fluency.
Smith, Corrione Serra 2008. An Analysis and Evaluation of Sit Stay Read: Is the Program Effective in Improving Student Engagement and Reading Outcomes? Doctoral dissertation, National Louis University.
Smith, M. and Meehan, C. Canine buddies help youth develop reading skills. No date.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Conversation with Star Trek: How does the Universal Translator work?

Letter to Andre Bormanis, of Star Trek, written around 2001
The first episode of Enterprise included a language lesson that was unworthy of the 22rd century. In fact,
it was unworthy of the beginning of the 21st century.
It employed a methodology that was discredited decades ago. In the class, taught by Ensign Sato, cadets were taught an alien language by listening to the teacher model a sentence, attempting to repeat the model, and having their efforts corrected by the teacher, a
method very similar to what is known as the audio-lingual method. This method have been repeatedly demonstrated to be an extremely inefficient and in
fact painful way of acquiring another language.
The theory of second language acquisition with the most supporting evidence maintains that we do not acquire language when we speak it, or when we get our errors corrected. It is also not the result of learning and memorizing grammar rules. Rather, we acquire language when we understand it, when we understand what people tell us, and when we understand what we read. According to this view, speaking is a result of language acquisition, not a cause, and grammatical accuracy develops gradually, as language acquirers receive more comprehensible input. The entire process of language acquisition is subconscious; while it is happening, the acquirer is not aware it is happening. In addition, language acquirers are generally not aware of the rules they have acquired; this knowledge is represented subconsciously in the brain.
A class consistent with this view of language acquisition would look very different from the one Ensign Sato was teaching. In such a class (termed “Natural Approach”), the role of the teacher is to provide students with interesting and comprehensible messages in the second language. For example, Ensign Sato might be telling a simple story, using pictures and other objects to make the story more comprehensible.
Students would be free to respond using either the language they are acquiring or in English. If they chose to respond in the second language, their errors would not be corrected. Also, they would be encouraged to indicate when they were not understanding, and the teacher would be very alert to signs of incomprehension.
Ensign Sato might also use a technique called Total Physical Response (developed by Prof. James Asher of San Jose State University), giving students commands, and modeling the movements called for; for example,
she might command the students to sit down, and
actually sit down herself, command them to stand up,
and stand up herself, command them to raise their
right hand, and do so herself, etc.. Her movements
help make the commands comprehensible. Gradually, the commands get more complicated, as students’ competence increases, and the physical movements can be part of a game.
Methods based on the principle of comprehensible input have been a consistent winner in the research for beginners and for intermediate level students.
Students in these methods perform much better than students in traditional, grammar-based methods when the test used is communicative (eg conversation, reading). When tested on grammar, students in comprehensible input-based methods do as well as grammar students, or slightly better.
The Star Trek Universal Translator operates on the
principle of comprehensible input. When the UT absorbs
a new language, it does not produce examples to see if
they are right (output plus error correction); rather,
it relies solely on input, gradually acquiring the
language as it understands what it hears. This gradual
process of acquisition via input is demonstrated in
the Deep Space Nine episode 30 (Sanctuary).
In this episode the UT is, at first, unable to
translate what DS9 visitors, the Skrreeans are saying. Gradually, the translator succeeds. DS9 officers are at first only
able to understand individual words, then larger
units, whole sentences, and then everything the
Skrreeans say. What is interesting here is what the UT did not
do: It did not kick in right away, with crude attempts
at translation, have its efforts corrected, and did
not then try again. Rather, it went through a “silent period” of no or limited output.
The UT thus works the same way as the human brain does in acquiring language, gradually acquiring more of the language as it understands it better.
Language clearly plays a central role in the Enterprise series. Star Trek should at least be up to date on research in this area, and rely of what is known in 2001 rather than the state of the art in 1960.
I can provide extensive documentation of the validity of this approach, as well as demonstrations of lessons.
Stephen Krashen, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of Education University of Southern California

Dear Stephen:
Thanks for your letter; I thought I'd responded to you shortly after I received it, but evidently not. Blame the combination of 80 hour work weeks and aging gray matter on my confusion...
Your points of course are well taken. In more recent episodes, we've tried to show ensign Sato encouraging aliens to speak and recording their language to obtain the beginnings of a "translation matrix." She also uses her own knowledge of linguistics and the numerous alien languages she's already learned figure out the basics of an alien grammar and program the UT.
The real problem on a show like Enterprise is time. We only have
44 minutes and 33 seconds to tell our stories, so we can't spent
too much screen-time watching Hoshi work her UT. But I hope we are at least giving viewers the sense that the UT is a kind of learning machine, acquiring language in a way similar to the way children learn, albeit at a much accelerated rate (I think we can be granted
a little dramatic license on that).
I hope that featuring a linguist as a regular character on the show will, if nothing else, encourage kids to believe that the subject
is cool and possibly fun to learn. I think it's utterly
inexcusable that primary school students in this country aren't required to learn a second language, given how easily children can learn language.
Thanks again for your letter. I do appreciate feedback from experts, and try to incorporate what I learn from them in our scripts. Hope you continue to enjoy the show.
Sincerely, Andre Bormanis
Date: Thu, 3 Jan 2002 10:01:00 -0700
To: Andre Bormanis Subject: Re: language acquisition and the universal translator
Thanks for your note. Yes, the subsequent UT material on Enterprise has been consistent with how I think the UT works to both acquire and translate at the same time.
Just for the record, our research strongly indicates that adults
acquire language the same way children do and the way the UT does, by understanding messages. Not by learning grammar, but from listening, conversing, and reading.
A note on Ensign Sato:
Our research also shows that some people are perfectionist with language, reluctant to use it until they have consciously learned
all the rules. This is a bad strategy, because it inhibits communication, and hurts language acquisition, because it means less input. Ensign Sato has tendencies in these directions. Recall that in Fight or Flight, Archer had to force her to speak to the aliens even though she hadn't completely mastered the language yet. This was a good scene.
I think that Sato is a good character, and yes, featuring a linguist does a lot for linguistics and language education.

Notes on Alien Language

S. Krashen


It is possible that alien language will be completely different from human languages. McKenna (1991) has suggested that aliens are already here and are already communicating with (some of) us: the aliens are psilocybin mushrooms and communication happens when we eat them. 

Communication with aliens has been reported in accounts of UFO alien abductions.  In the vast majority of cases, communication from alien to human is telepathic (e.g. Fuller, 1966, Jacobs, 1998).  It is not clear whether the aliens understand spoken language; Jacobs argues that human-alien communication is also telepathic (  Clearly, research in this area has only begun.

Science-fiction: Star Trek

Science-fiction writers often assume that at least some aliens will use ordinary human-type language, or languages that are easily translated into human language by translating devices.

The universal translator of Star-Trek has little trouble doing this, acquiring and translating at the same time. Its occasional problems and hesitations reveal that it operates on the principle of comprehensible input: the translator does not try to produce and then adjust its system when the communication fails (comprehensible output) nor does it get corrected. Rather, it listens and understands, and gradually acquires the system (see e.g. Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Episode 30: Sanctuary).

In general, Star Trek gets a mixed report card on language acquisition theory. In the first episode of the series Star Trek Enterprise, Ensign Sato was observed using a version of the audio-lingual method in teaching an alien language at Star Fleet academy (Star Trek Enterprise, Episode 1: Broken Bow). But in a subsequent episode, Sato presented a perfect portrayal of a Monitor over-user (Krashen, 1981), hesitant to speak without a firm conscious knowledge of the grammatical system of an alien language. Captain Archer persuaded her that the survival of the Enterprise was more important than the subtleties of the future tense.

Fuller, J. (1966) The Interrupted Journey. New York: Berkley Publishing Corporation.
Jacobs, D. (1998) The Threat. New York: Simon and Schuster.
McKenna, T. (1991) The Archaic Revival. New York: HarperCollins.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pleasure reading is (very) good for you at any age: The Sullivan-Brown report (2014)

Stephen Krashen

Sullivan and Brown (2014) examined determinants of performance on a vocabulary test given to 9,400 42-year olds in the UK. A great deal of data on these subjects gathered throughout their lifetimes was available, and the researchers were able to examine the impact of a wide variety of predictors.

Among the important results were these:

The amount of pleasure reading done (books):

Those who said they did more book reading for pleasure at age 42 had nigher levels of vocabulary development, even when social factors such as parental education and parental occupation were controlled, as well as the subjects' level of education and occupation.

Sullivan and Brown also reported that those who reported doing more reading as children and at age 16 also had higher vocabulary scores, but the amount of reading done at age 42 predicted vocabulary independent of earlier reading.

In other words, continuing to read as an adult counts. Language and literacy development is possible at any age.

 What kind of reading was done:

Those who read "high-brow" fiction had larger vocabularies than those who read middle-brow fiction, who in turn had larger vocabularies than those who read low-brow fiction. Low-brow readers did not have significantly higher vocabularies than those who read nothing. Reading fiction, at least middle-brow fiction, counts.

The same was true for "factual" books, except that low-brow factual book readers did slightly better than those who read nothing.

High-brow fiction readers did better than high-brow "factual" book readers, once again demonstrating the value of fiction.

It was not entirely clear what is high, middle or low-brow. Sullivan and Brown state that "crime, thrillers and mystery" are middle-brow fiction, "contemporary literary fiction" is high-brow, and "science and politics, economics and current affairs" are high-brown nonfiction. Other genres are not so defined.

Note (see table) that those who are regular readers, every day (3.5% increase) or several times a week (2.3%) of "middle-brow" fiction do as well as those who read "high-brow" books less frequently (eg. once a month = 1% advantage).

[e.g. middle brow (3.4%) + several times per week (2.3%) = 5.7%; high-brow (5.3%) + once a month (1%) = 6.3%]

A gap in the study is that only two kinds of reading were considered: Books and newspapers. There was no analysis of magazine reading, or reading articles and blogs from the computer.

Additional results

Newspaper reading: Those who read regular newspapers performed somewhat better on the vocabulary test. Those who read both regular newspapers and tabloids did not do better than those who read nothing, and those who read only tabloids did worse than those who read no newspapers of any kind.

Music: The results here are odd. Those who said they played a musical instrument at age ten did slightly better on the vocabulary test. Those who said they played an instrument at age 16 were no different than those who didn't play an instrument, and those who played an instrument at 42 did significantly better on the vocabulary test. Apparently, if you continue to play you might experience a decline but then later it pays off. The advantage at age 42, however, was modest, a advantage over those who didn't play an instrument at 42. In contrast, those who read books every day were 3.5% better than nonreaders, and those who read several times a week were 2.3% better than nonreaders.

This table presents Sullivan and Brown's results. The statistical technique used, multiple regression, enables the researcher to measure the impact of each predictor, holding the others constant, that is assuming that they do not influence each other.

As was the case in an earlier study of 16 year olds (Sullivan and Brown, 2013, summarized in, social class of the parents was a strong predictor of vocabulary size when reading behavior was not considered. Once reading predictors were added to the analysis, parental social class variables were no longer significant predictors. This suggests that reading can help overcome at least some of the effects of poverty.

The vocabulary test had 20 items. The mean score was 63% correct (12.6/20). A 5% advantage means one item more was correct.

compared to

parent occupation
a routine job
% better


long-term unemployed

parental ed
no exam taken

secondary schools exams not passed

very sig
secondary schools exams passed


newspaers in home at 16


Regular newspapers only

tabloids only

Book reading at 16
rarely or never

more than once a week

very sig
once a week

very sig
less than once q week

very sig
child reading
never/hardly ever


very sig

2 pt 5
very sig
plays musical instrucment
does ntt play

age 10

age 16

age 18 exam score

very sig
prior vocabulary test score

age 5

very sig
age 10

very sig
age 16

very sig
education age 42
no exam taken

secondary school exams not passed

very sig
secondary  school exams passed

very sig

very sig
elite degree

very sig
occupation age 42


very sig

very sig
long-term unemployed

Frequency of reading at 42
no reading

reads books every day

very sig
several times a week

very sig
at least once a month

every few months

at least once a year

fiction at 42
no reading



very sig

very sig
factual books at 42
no reading



very sig

very sig
read newspapers at 42
no reading


regular newspapers only

tabloids only

very sig
musiclal instrument at 42
does not play
overall r2 = .56

very significant: ..01 or less

significant = .05 or less

not significant = larger than .05

Since the predictors are independent of each other, we can predict the best readers by adding them. Taking the maximum scores from each category:
Book reading at 16: 1.8
Read as child: 3.5
Elite degree: 2.2
Managerial occupation: 2.4
Reads books every day 3.5
High-brow fiction: 5
High-brow factual books: 3
Regular Newspaper: 1.2
Child reading: 3.5
Regular newspaper: 1.2
Plays musical instrument: 1.2
Total = 39.3
.393% of 20 = 7.86 point advantage

Those with all the advantages will thus score an average of nearly eight points higher (out of 20) than those with the least advantages.


Sullivan, A. and Brown, M. 2013. Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies,
Institute of Education, University of London
Sullivan, A. and Brown, M. 2014. Vocabulary from adolescence to middle-age. Centre for Longitudinal Studies
Institute of Education, University of London