Thursday, December 28, 2017

Should We Encourage E-Reading?

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California
Visiting Scholar, Texas A&M International University

Jeff McQuillan
Senior Research Associate, Center for Educational Development

Journal of English Language Teaching (India).  2017. 59(6):  26-29

So far, research confirms that “e-reading” can be helpful for the acquisition of language and literacy. Because of the high cost of e-readers and e-books, however, those living in poverty are unable to take advantage of e-reading. A push toward increasing e-book offerings in libraries will have the effect of making the gap between the rich and poor wider than it is now, unless the cost of e-readers is dramatically reduced or the availability of e-readers is dramatically increased.

     It is firmly established that self-selected pleasure reading is tremendous help to language development, perhaps the best way to help acquirers progress from beginning stages to the most advanced stages. The research, until recently, has been confined to reading paper print. There is, however, reason to suspect that self-selected e-reading can have a similar impact.

     Pratheeba and Krashen (2013) reported a substantial correlation (r = .78) for advanced speakers of English as a second language (25 students of engineering at a university in India) between self-reported reading and a vocabulary test consisting of words taken from Graduate Record Examination preparation books, designed for native speakers of English.
Their 20-item questionnaire included four items dealing with reading from the computer, but only one of these dealt specifically with pleasure reading: the correlation between vocabulary scores and pleasure reading on the internet was modest, but it was positive and significant (r = .35, p = .044).  Other forms of reading using the computer (reading about current affairs, reading for academic purposes, reading online journals) were not significantly correlated with vocabulary scores, confirming the power of self-selected reading (Lee, 2007).

     Wang and Lee (2015) asked university students of EFL in Taiwan to engage in web-surfing in English for 20 minutes at a time at least once a week for one academic year.  Surfers made better gains on tests of knowledge of infrequently occurring words (those appearing once every 10,000 words in texts) and academic words and also did better than comparisons on a cloze test. Their reading was clearly self-selected and related to their own interests. One subject told Wang and Lee: “I think I can really pick what I like and disregard my dislikes. Then, I’ll choose what I really want for sure. I definitely won’t choose something I’m not interested in.”

The Barrier

     E-book reading in the US is far more frequent among those with higher incomes (table 1), most likely due to the cost of e-book reading devices and e-books themselves.

Table 1: Percentage who have read a print or e-book in the last 12 months.
print book
below 30,000
30,000 - 49,999
50,000 - 74,999
above 75,000
N = 1520 adults,  March, 2016
From: Pew Research Center, 2016

Table 2 shows that those earning under $30,000 per year in 2015 were less likely to own e-book reading devices and computers.

Table 2: Percentage of adults with E-Book-Readers, tablets, computers, smartphones:

Below 30
75 & more
Pew Research Center, 2015.
n = 959 adults, interview during March/April 2015. 

     The official 2017 household income poverty line in the US was $20,600 for a family of four:  If one of two wage earners in the family earns anywhere close to $30,000, this means that the "below $30,000" category includes families that are well above the poverty line.  E-book use and ownership of e-reading devices among those living in poverty is probably much lower than the figures given in tables 1 and 2.

The Price of E-Book Readers

     Most new e-book readers cost at least $80 US. But the good news is that e-books can now be read on other devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets. Because of this, sales of dedicated e-book readers, such as Kindles and Nooks, have declined (Haines, 2016). But computers, smartphones and tablets are not inexpensive, and as presented in table 2 fewer low-income adults own these devices.

E-Book Prices

     Four of the five best-selling adult fiction books in the United States, as listed in the New York Times in January, 2017, sold for $14.99 and one sold for $10.99 on Amazon, sometimes less than the paperback versions and sometimes more.

     These prices do not take into consideration the fact that e-books generally cannot be shared. Amazon allows some, but not all sharing of kindle books with friends for 14 days, but this can only be done once per book, and customers can't read the book while their friend has it.

     Also, there is no used book possibility for e-books.  Donations of used print books by individuals through organizations such as book swap groups can make significantly more books available in public and school libraries (Krashen, 2014).

Are Libraries the Solution?

     While many public libraries in the United States include e-books, they make up on the average only 12% of the entire collection, and account for only 3% of public library circulation (Romano, 2015a).  Most (69%) of the e-books in public libraries are aimed at adults.  Similarly, only 2% of school library collections are e-books and account for only 3% of total circulation (Romano, 2015b).

     Public libraries in the United States provide a modest amount of help for those without e-book readers or computers at home: 38% of public libraries have e-book readers that patrons can take home (Romano, 2015a).  Rideout and Katz (2016) reported that 36% of adults living below the poverty line said they used computers at libraries, compared to 23% of those living above the poverty line. Twenty-four percent of school libraries provide e-book reading devices for students (Romano, 2015b).

     Lack of access to books and other reading material is the major reason those living in poverty have lower levels of literacy (McQuillan, 1998; Krashen, 2004): Young people living in poverty have fewer books in the home, in local libraries, and in their schools. Pushing e-reading by increasing library e-book offerings will not solve this problem

     Because of the high price of e-books and e-book readers, those living in poverty have little or no chance to engage in e-reading.  In fact, promoting e-reading could make the situation worse: an increase is e-book offerings in libraries, without a substantial decrease in the cost of e-book readers or a plan to make e-readers universally available, will increase the gap between the rich and the poor. E-books will be available to the more privileged but not to those without access to e-readers of some kind.

     This has already happened: Those surveyed in Romano (2015b) were asked an open-ended question about interest, or lack of interest, students showed for e-books. Here is one answer: “A lot of our students come from low income homes and don't have a way to read these titles.”  (p. 31).


     Self-selected voluntary e-reading appears to result in language acquisition, but promoting e-reading may not close the achievement gap unless steps are taken to make e-books and e-book readers more affordable.


Haines, D.  (2016). The e-book reader device is dying a rapid death.

Krashen, S. (2004). The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. (2014). Re-gifted reading. Language Magazine, 13(5), 17.

Lee, S.Y. (2007). Revelations from three consecutive studies on extensive
reading. RELC Journal, 38(2), 150-170.
McQuillan, J. (1998). The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real
Pew Research Center (2015). Technology Device Ownership.
Pew Research Center (2016). Book Reading, 2016.
Pratheeba, N. & Krashen, S. (2013). Self-reported reading as a predictor of vocabulary knowledge. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 117(2), 442-448.
Rideout, V. & Katz, V. (2016).  Opportunity For all?  Technology and Learning in Lower Income Families. A Report on the Families and Media Project.  New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesa.
Romano, R.  (2015a). Survey of E-Book Usage in U.S. Public Libraries.
Romano, S. (2015b). Survey of E-Book Usage in U.S. School (K-12) Libraries.
Wang, F. Y., & Lee, S. Y. (2015). Free voluntary surfing: An extensive reading curriculum supported by technology. In L. H. Das, S. Brand-Gruwel, J. Walhout & K. Kok (Eds.), (2015). The School Library Rocks: Proceedings of the 44th International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) Conference 2015, Volume II: Research Papers (2nd Ed.) (pp. 488-503). Heerlen, Open Universiteit.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A bad solution to a non-existent problem.

Sent to the Edmonton Journal, Dec 22, 2017

Re: "A quarter of Edmonton public elementary students read below grade level" (Dec. 20).

Edmonton shouldn’t panic because 27% of students read below grade level. “Grade level” means average (median); we would expect 50% of the students to be below grade level. If only 27% of read below grade level, Edmonton schools are doing well.

A consultant has advised Edmonton that the cure for this non-problem is instruction in “phonemic awareness,” in breaking words into their sounds. Research shows that phonemic awareness training does not lead to better reading; it leads only to improvement on phonemic awareness tests. 

If Edmonton had a reading problem, the first step would be to invest more in school libraries.  Studies show that quality libraries with credentialed librarians contribute to reading achievement. The best predictor of high scores on tests of reading comprehension is the amount of self-selected reading students do. Libraries are an important source of reading material. For children of poverty, they are often the only source. 

Stephen Krashen


Phonemic awareness training: Krashen, S. 2001. Does “pure” phonemic awareness training affect reading comprehension? Perceptual and Motor Skills 93: 356-358.
Impact of libraries, librarians: Krashen, S., Lee, SY. 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.  Keith Curry Lance, studies at

Poverty: Neuman, S., and D. Celano. 2001. Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities. Reading Research Quarterly 36(1): 8-26. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Pleasure reading and libraries? YES. A little phonics? YES. Intensive phonics? NO.

Published,  Cleveland Plain Deader, Dec. 29, 2017 at
Under (their) title: "Reading education is more than just getting hooked on phonics: Letter to the Editor"
Carole Ullemeyer’s enthusiasm (letters,Dec. 21) for reading and libraries is strongly supported by research. Studies done over the last half-century confirm that children who do more self-selected reading read better, write better, have larger vocabularies, spell better, and have better control of complicated grammatical structures. Research also consistently shows a positive relationship between access to quality libraries and reading ability. 
But is phonics “the good teaching method”?  Knowledge of basic phonics, the straightforward rules for pronouncing initial consonants and other less complex rules, can help make reading at beginning stages more comprehensible, but the current call for phonics is a call for heavy, intensive phonics training, including complicated rules with many exceptions, taught in a rigid sequence to all students. 
Published scientific studies show that students who have experienced intensive phonics do better only on tests in which they have to pronounce lists of words presented in isolation. Intensive phonics instruction has only a microscopic influence on tests in which children have to understand what they read.

Strong performance on tests of reading comprehension is related to how much self-selected reading children have done, and is not the result of doing intensive phonics. 


Phonics & tests of reading comprehension: Garan, E. 2001. Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, 7: 500–506; Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive reading instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37(4): 72–74. 

Pleasure reading and reading ability: McQuillan, J. (1998). The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions. Heinemann.
Krashen, S. (2004). The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Libraries & reading ability: Krashen, S., S. Y. Lee, and J. McQuillan. 2012. Is the library important? Multi-variate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education 8(1): 26–36.
Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. and Lao, C. 2017.  Comprehensible and Compelling: The Causes and Effects of Free Voluntary Reading.  Libraries Unlimited.

Original letter, at

Kids can't read, but get pushed from one grade to another, year after year. This is disgusting in this day. I am 76 and I learned to read in kindergarten. I think all pre-school or kindergarten teachers in Cleveland should be fired. How can they be called teachers if they can't teach anything? How can they go on in life? How can they do their homework? Maybe you should quit teaching them to use the computer and go back to basics.
Don't tell me they don't have enough teachers, that is a poor excuse. We learned phonics, the good teaching method, and we learned to love to read. Once we learned the basics, our parents on Saturday would take us to the local library and get us a library card. Sometimes we had story hour, where the teacher would read us a story or we would do a book report on a book we read.
I must have read about 1,000 books in my lifetime. I still read a lot and I go to the local library's book sale. There is a wonderful world out there in books. Please tell your teachers to please teach your children to read at a young age. It will benefit them later in life.
Carole R. Ullemeyer.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Another suggestion for helping stressed out tweens.

Posted on the School Library Journal website as a comment on “Mindful activities for Stressed Out

Christina Kessler’s suggestions of “Mindful Activities for Stressed Out Tweens” are reasonable, but there is no mention of the library’s number one feature: Books for self-selected reading. The quality of young people’s literature has never been higher, and many authors deal with just those issues that cause stress among young readers. Non-fiction will help give tweens at least some of the information they need to deal with their problems, and fiction allows readers to see and explore different possibilities for actually solving their problems. Also, self-selected reading can help a great deal if schoolwork contributes to stress: Those who read more read better, have larger vocabularies, write better, and spell better. They also know more about a wide variety of subjects, including science, literature, history and even “practical matters.”
Victor Nell’s research (Lost in a Book, Yale University Press, 1988) shows that pleasure reading can help you at least temporarily forget your problems and relax a little, which is why so many people read in bed before they go to sleep. One of Nell’s subjects told him that “reading removes me from the irritations of living …(while reading) I escape from the cares of those around me, as well as escaping from my own cares and dissatisfactions” (Nell, 1988, p, 240).

original article and comment: