Full text of The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen
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Hello and welcome to another episode of the COE Lecture series where we bring you lectures, discussions and workshops on a variety of topics related to the broad fields of education. Today we bring you the first of two recent seminars presented by Dr. Stephen Krashen, Americas Professor of Education at the University of Southern California. His topic today: The Power of Reading. Dr. Krashen’s visit was co-sponsored by the Department of Language and Literacy Education and the LLE Graduate Organization.
They have to do this first. Okay. It says turn off when you go to the bathroom. Okay. Did you see that movie? Remember it’s one of the Police Story movies with the guy kept – OK.
Thank you, Christine, for that wonderful introduction. I do have some comments on the introduction, though. I have to add some information. It’s true about the black belt. That is true but I got the black belt on the basis of the written examination. As for the weightlifting, that part is true and that part is — that’s from my days in Venice Beach California in Gold’s Gym where I worked out with Arnold. You want some Arnold stories? This is usually the only thing people remember from my talk, I mention this.
Yeah, I worked out with Arnold in the old days in Venice Beach and in Gold’s Gym and I got to tell you a real story about Arnold. Nice guy. No question, absolute Prince. Arnold was legendary on the beach for being a nice guy and being a big help. You’d be working out by yourself doing your concentration girls and Arnold would come over and say, can I make a suggestion please?
And so, try it like this, don’t quite extend, put your mind in your bicep. Always right. Everything he said turned out to be true. We would share things. You know, Arnold told me, he told me – and he was always right. He was already the world’s number one bodybuilder, Mr. Universe three times when he came.
As for governor, oh my… airplane pilot needed, no experience necessary, learn on the job, and a colleague of mine have an article coming out about how Arnold really learned English. Did he go through immersion or was it bilingual ed which he imposes? He was bilingual ed. He had a good background in the first language.
Let me reintroduce myself a little as well too, because Christine has emphasized my background in second language acquisition, foreign language and bilingual education which is where I come from with all this. But I feel like a country-western singer crossing over in that today I’m going to be talking entirely about literacy in general. In fact, I’m going to be talking about the literacy crisis in America.
Now what makes me an expert on the literacy crisis? I am an expert and I want to give you my credentials. I was there when the literacy crisis began. The literacy crisis began officially October 4th, 1986 on a Thursday afternoon three o’clock Pacific Coast Time. It began on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Now what was I doing at home: watching Oprah Winfrey. At the time I was a tenured full professor at a major research university. Are there any questions? What a job, it was great anyway. Every time they tell you we feel your pain – no, they don’t, anyway.
Oprah had this show and you know what, Oprah is very influential. She did this very compelling program about these 6 adult illiterates. These are guys who had gone to our schools in the United States and were native speakers of English and never learned to read and write at all.
They got passed along every year, you know, social promotion and they described in great detail all their strategies for getting through the day, making people think they were literate. They go to restaurant, wait to see what you’re going to order and they order the same thing et cetera. The reason this is part of our national fabric is because of Oprah.
Well, it was very compelling. I sent for the transcript, in fact. After that, there was a made-for-TV movie with Dennis Weaver about an adult illiterate and then we had Stanley & Iris, Jane Fonda, full Robert De Niro feature film about an adult illiterate. If you read the newspapers, you get the impression that our schools are turning out millions of students, millions of children who can’t read and write at all. Guess what? It’s not true. Of course, they also say that teachers are to blame, that’s not true either.
In fact, if you look at the research and I’ve looked at, I just told you I’m a professional. You look at the research you see that literacy in America – all right, this big enough so the first three rows can see – literacy in America has been on a steady increase for the last 100 years. In fact, it’s very hard to find anyone in this country who’s gone to our schools who’s completely and totally illiterate. These people are very rare. In fact, they’re so rare when you find them they get on Oprah Winfrey. That’s how rare they are.
There is a problem but it’s not the problem that the media has been talking about. In fact, I am so down on the media. I don’t even believe the sports section anymore. I mean that’s how cynical I have gotten, okay. Anyway, are you sure that was the score? Okay. Anyway you look at research on literacy, you see we are a very literate country. Literacy, as I’ve said, has been rising for the last 100 years, told the literacy is extremely rare. The problem though is that the demands for literacy have been increasing faster. That’s the problem.
Our teachers have been very successful at making people literate. The problem is getting harder and harder. That’s the problem. If you talk to automobile mechanics, for example, they’ll tell you the reading and writing they have to do is much more demanding than it was 15, 20 years ago. Computer manuals, technical forms, legal things et cetera.
So the issue is not how do you get from no literacy to low levels of literacy. Everybody gets there. Let’s call this basic literacy somewhere between second and fourth grade literacy. Everybody gets there. They get there at different rates. Are you with me? Say yes, okay. They get there at different rates because human beings do everything at different rates.
The typical definition of low literacy is the lowest quartile. The lowest 25%. So newspaper article says 150,000 kids sent to summer school because they’re low literacy.
Well, they’re the lowest quartile. You could quadruple literacy scores and you would still have the lowest 25%. Am I the only one who understands this? We have a math problem in this country really. While I’m on this, let me use my therapy group for a moment. This is very frustrating. We want all kids at grade level, right? You heard that? You know what grade level is? It’s 50th percentile. You see what’s wrong. We want everyone above average. No, it can’t be done. When I tell people about that, they say well, we will try hard. This is a math crisis.
Anyway we want to get — with this we’ve done, we want to get to the higher levels, the sixth grade level, the 10th grade level, the twelfth grade level. That’s what we’re really interested in. Okay, if that’s Lady Gaga, the answer is no.
I know how to do it. I know how to get from lower levels to high levels. I know how to develop academic literacy. I know how to bring people to the highest levels of literacy. I know all about it because I’m an expert. And the answer we all know is one word: Reading.
And there is one kind of reading that works better than any other and it was the kind of reading you did last night before you fell asleep. How many of you read last night before you fell asleep?
How many of you like me read last night even though you shouldn’t have, it was too late? This is addiction. The kind of reading that really counts is the reading you and I do all the time that we do obsessively. We call it Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), reading because you want to. No book reports, no questions at the end of the chapter. You don’t like the book, you put it down, you pick up another one.
Free Voluntary Reading is the source in my opinion of our reading ability. It’s the source — the source of most of our vocabulary, all of our educated vocabulary just about comes from reading, in most cases. Our ability to handle complex grammatical construction, our ability — most of our ability to spell, to spell well not perfectly but to spell well, all of this our ability to write with a good writing style, much of our knowledge of the world comes from reading.
Now I don’t want to oversell this. I don’t want to say if kids read a lot, they’ll all go on to the university and get master’s degrees that may or may not happen but if they start to read, they’re going to have a chance. If they don’t start to read, they’re not going to have a chance. I want to take a few minutes — we have till what — 7:30, is that all right. I have ordered pizza for 6 o’clock, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, right?
Anyway, I want to show you a little bit of the research and I’ve got some charts here to back it up. The case for free voluntary reading and I really want to go through this to some extent because this research for many of you who are becoming teachers is going to make your lives easier. This is a money-back guarantee. If this does not work for you, I will return the entire $50 honorarium and divided equally among you.
This research is going to make your professional life about 5% easier. That’s not bad. But let me give you the data behind it. No discussion of reading would be complete without talking about how it started in the United States. And it started in a book — with the book that came out around 1965, which you can still get in paperback. It’s called Hooked On Books. The author is a guy named Daniel Fader. Daniel Fader worked with boys who were in reform schools. Reform school boys, juvenile delinquents — native speakers of English, juvenile delinquents between ages 12 and 15.
One group got the Hooked on Books program. Each boy was given a paperback book. This is yours, do with it what you like. If you read it, fine. If you don’t read it, fine. If you want a new one, turn it in, you get a new one. No overdue fines, no book reports, no, nothing. They had a pretty good idea what the boys’ interests were. Now this is back in the ‘60s. The favorite author: Ian Fleming, James Bond. The boys read the books. When you give kids interesting things to read, they will read them. No question.
Some of the boys, in fact, averaged the book every other day for the whole year. All voluntary. He gave them test at the end of two years. The readers improved in everything: attitude towards school, writing fluency, writing complexity, et cetera. The comparison group stayed the same or went down.
Now Fader was clever enough not to just rely on test scores. He looked at the boys’ behavior in their daily lives. For example, he looked at their behavior during basketball games when they watched their school team play against other schools. During halftime, timeouts, free throws, some of the boys were looking at their books which they had in their back pockets. We’ve known this since 1965.
I have a couple of studies I want to share with you that are examples of what we call SSR. SSR means Sustained Silent Reading. Okay, some of us remember when it was called USSR. It’s true. Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading. Anyway, in Sustained Silent Reading you take a few minutes out of the school day and the students read. The students read whatever they want to read, 10-15 minutes or so. And the teacher gets to read whatever the teacher wants to read.
Now we’ve got to find out if this works. I have calculated if you do 10 minutes a day, your teacher — you do 10 minutes a day of sustained silent reading with one class, over a normal teaching career this amounts to about three months paid vacation. Do I have your attention? Teaching is tough enough.
Anyway in the typical study, one group does Sustained Silent Reading. And the other group does skill-building, the traditional program, and you know what that is, all the things that our state governments and federal governments, Pearson Publishers, McGraw-Hill Publishers wants you to do more of and as many of you know, to some extent, it’s the same people. Anyway, you then give them tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary and you see which group makes the greater gains.
The research in favor of Sustained Silent Reading on this stuff in my opinion is overwhelming. I will give you the bottom line. The worst thing that happens in these studies, worst result is no difference. They make the same gains.
Now think about this. Which is easier on the children: free reading or workbook exercises? You don’t know, let me try this again. Let me reverse it. Which is easier on the kids: workbooks and exercises or free reading? Free reading, thank you. Which is easier on the teacher? Free reading. So if there’s no difference in test scores, which is better? Free reading, of course.
I also find in looking at the studies, that the studies that show no difference are nearly always short term studies. Some as short as two months, 10 weeks. Now I’ve seen Sustained Silent Reading programs and I now know what some of you know. The first couple of weeks nobody is reading. They haven’t found a book yet. When you give the program a chance to run the readers are better. I found the cutoff to be about an academic year. You later run an academic year longer, the readers arc consistently better.
Well, I want to show you a couple of examples, then you’ll see on the handout what happened to me the day I discovered Excel. Two studies. In fact, I’m going to reproduce some of this on the board. I just pulled out these two because I find them — personally I find the most significant study. It was published in a journal called the Reading Research Quarterly.
Now those of you who know the reading journals know that the Reading Research Quarterly is the number one snob journal in reading. Most of the articles in this journal are long dense and nearly completely incomprehensible, which is why everyone thinks it must be the best journal in the field. The only people who can read these articles are monks who have meditated for years and can have these great powers of concentration. And that’s where it came out.
The author — which is great — the first author is Warwick Elley who is our hero and his colleague Francis Mangubhai, another really interesting guy I have worked with. Warwick Elley is a retired professor from New Zealand. It’s important I tell you this and he is well respected by everybody in the field. He has done his work for the field. Let me tell you he’s been the editor of this, the director of this, the president of this, he’s really put in a lot of time and effort. Everybody likes him. So he was one of the authors of this study.
The study took place — by the way, I’m deliberately presenting to you research from very different areas, so you can see the universality of these results. The study was done in the Fiji Islands, this isn’t EFL study. Children in the Fiji Islands begin English in kindergarten for 30 minutes a day. In Elley and Mangubhai study and I’m going to reproduce on the board which is already on the handout, the children were looked at by Elley and Mangubhai between grades 4 and 6 — I’m sorry grades 4 and 5. They looked – they divide the kids into three groups. One group got the audio lingual method, which in my opinion is a combination of everything that’s wrong in language teaching combined into one method, you know grammar drills test, or speak all this stuff.
Second group got Sustained Silent Reading. Here are the books boys and girls, enjoy. That was the only treatment. I have to emphasize the books were comprehensible. They’d had English since kindergarten.
Third group got a program called shared book experience which we know of here as big books. Children are read to from very large books. The teacher discusses the stories with them and they do free reading. I am now going to put on the board what’s already on your sheet and it’s the gains in reading comprehension on standardized tests after the first year.
Now let me emphasize what we’ve got here. We’ve got Warwick Elley who is very well respected scholar. Standardized tests, the Reading Research Quarterly, the flagship Journal of the field, the most conservative journal in the field. This was not published in the newsletter of the American communist party. How did it come out? We expect native speakers to gain 10 months in a year. Let’s see how these children did.
Audio lingual 6th grade as you see on your sheet, six-and-a-half months gain. Sustained silent reading and I regard this next number as one of the most significant in our field: 15 months gain, not even close. Big books, 15 months gain.
Audio lingual 5th grade. A pathetic two and a half months gain. Sustained silent reading, a modest but respectable 9 months, big books 15 months. The readers were better.
The second year of the project, this nine disappeared, these groups were equal and were even farther ahead of the audio lingual group. They were better in reading, better in writing, better in listening, better in grammar, better on everything tested. Elley replicated this result in Singapore. I refer to this as the Singapore study in another major journal Language Learning. Very similar results.
Get this. The students who did reading did better on grammar tests than those who had grammar classes who was basically test preparation. Very interesting. Now why should this happen? I think it happened because the students couldn’t help it. If you read a lot, your knowledge of the conventions of writing, your knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, it’s acquired, not learned. It’s subconsciously absorbed. It’s stored deep in your central nervous system. It becomes part of you. They had no choice but to write well.
Let’s say, there are 100 people here and let’s say I ask you to write something. Don’t worry, I won’t but let’s say we each wrote a page and we traded it with our neighbors and evaluated, 100 people here, there’d be a 100 respectable papers. There wouldn’t be a bad one in the room, I promise you.
We all make little mistakes here and there, tiny little punctuation, spelling but all of it would be good, be very accurate, and it would be coherent. All your papers would be easy to read, easy to follow. You always write correctly, you have no choice. You cannot write poorly, you don’t even know how. The only way you can write poorly is if you just read a pile of student papers.
You go to someone’s house, there are books everywhere. You’d be amazed to see a sample of their writing with serious problems, it’s extremely rare.
The next big table is a study I published in a free journal, check it out folks. Ijflt.com, free journal. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching. I decided to look at all the studies I could find in EFL, English as a Foreign Language in high school and college. I thought this would be a good laboratory because in these cases, many of these cases students’ major exposure to English is in these classes. And the first column, the study column are the papers, the studies themselves. And these are from various countries: Yemen, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore et cetera.
The last two columns are the results of two kinds of tests, we call the cloze test where you delete every fifth word or sixth word, and the student puts the word in which turns out to be a test that correlates very highly with other tests. So it’s a good general test. It’s a lousy pedagogical technique but it’s a good test.
The last column is reading comprehension. The numbers you see there are called effect sizes. I’ll tell you what those are. If the effect size is positive, the ones who had sustained silent reading did better. In every case, the numbers are positive. In all these studies the students who had sustained silent reading did better than the comparison groups; no exceptions. That’s pretty remarkable.
The size of the effect is what counts here. Effect size of around 0.2, 0.3 is considered low. Effect size of 0.4, 0.5 modest; 0.7, 0.8 you’re really getting there. For both of you who remember your statistics class, effect size of 1.0 means the experimental group was one standard deviation better than the comparison group. The average effect size between 0.4 and 0.7 depending on how we calculate it. In other words, this stuff really works. Sustained silent reading works everywhere we tried it.
I want to supplement this with case histories which I find to be very very convincing. People say, oh, just case histories but if you do enough of them you see patterns and I find these quite interesting.
The first one is politically loaded. Geoffrey Canada, this is the hero of a movie called Waiting for Superman. He is the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone of schools which emphasizes hard data, tough love et cetera. He wrote an autobiography which is all about growing up in New York in tough areas and living with violence all around. There are two versions that are published.
There is a regular version and a graphic novel version. I’ve of course read the graphic novel version. And about two-thirds through, here’s what he says, “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”. He also had a friend, his best friend was a reader. They found books shared them. Children who grew up with poverty with access to books are the ones who make it. Those who don’t, don’t make it. This is the conclusion I am coming to.
Another case: Liz Murray who wrote a book called Breaking Night. Similar case, grew up in New York under extreme poverty. Here’s what she did. She said, she in her novel – in her autobiography she said she only showed up in elementary school the last couple of weeks before the examinations just to find out what was going to be on the test.
Her father had this interesting habit. In those days the public libraries in New York were not connected by computer. They were all independent, so her dad had this practice of going to a local public library in New York area, getting a library card, taking up all the books he could and never returned them. Then he’d go to another library, take out all the books he could and never return them.
So she had this huge house of fugitive library books all over. Here’s what she says, “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 returned library books. And as long as I still showed up steadily the last few weeks of classes to take the standardized test, I kept squeaking by from grade to grade.
Now people who think that comic books are bad for you might consider or lead you to lives of crime which is what people claim, consider the case of Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu, said this was his route to English. “One of the things I’m most grateful to my father for is that contrary to educational principles he allowed me to read comics. I think that’s how I developed my love for English and for reading”.
Some of love you read Richard Wright’s autobiography, a wonderful writer called Black Boy about growing up in the segregated south. He says, he grew up in a family where reading and writing was actually discouraged. His grandmother did not approve of fiction. She’d be right at home on the Common Core Curriculum Committee.
She thought these are stories, you shouldn’t be doing this, you stay with the real world, a boarder lived in the home, a school teacher, she read stories to Richard, told him stories. Grandma found out and asked her to leave. He took a newspaper route only so he could read the newspaper. He finally got access to books by borrowing a library card from a white friend of his. He was able to take books out of a public library pretending they were for someone else.
Here’s how he describes his reading, writing development. “I wanted to write and I did not even know the English language. I bought English grammars and found them dull. I felt that I was getting a better sense of the language from novels than from grammars”. Wow!
Well let’s say this is true. Let’s say, maybe let’s pretend I’ve made the case that free voluntary readings is the way this happens. If this is true, how do we get kids to read? Should we give them pizza? Remember book at Pizza Hut. Alfie Kohn discusses this in his book Punished by Rewards and he quotes a friend of his, who says if you give kids pizza for reading, all you’re going to get is a lot of fat kids who don’t like to read. I’ll explain why that’s true in a moment.
Then there are all kinds of newspaper articles about children. Principal has to sit naked on the school roof for two weeks or eat worms or dyes hair green or whatever because kids read 4000 books or whatever. Newspapers love this stuff. I don’t see the motivation there. Anyway that’s the idea that we have to reward kids for reading and the most popular way of doing this is to use a commercial program called Accelerated Reader.
Now again for both of you who haven’t heard of this, Accelerated Reader is in one-third of all the schools in the United States. It’s a reading management program, works like this: the child types the name of the book into the computer, a quiz pops up, low-level questions.
So there’s no ambiguity about the answer and usually questions that are not too important, the theme of the book was harmony money left hand and to the right hand, I just made that up. You get points for how many you get right, you need to get at least six out of 10 right to get credit, at the end of the year you can turn in your points for a baseball jacket or whatever reward you want. This has become the reading curriculum in a lot of schools.
I was asked by a journal, The Journal of Children’s Literature, to do a survey of Accelerated Reader research and I happily accepted. It was a lot of fun. I looked at every single paper ever done on Accelerated Reader. Only a few were in professional journals. Most to them were couple of dissertations but most of them were from the Accelerated Reader company, Renaissance Learning, from their website as advertising their product. I accepted those at face value just to see how it come out.
In order for me to give you my results, let me review for you what Accelerated Reader does. It has four components. Number one, when you order the program you have to order books. Lots of them or it doesn’t work. Number two, time to read. Renaissance Learning recommends 60 minutes a day. Wow! Sustained silent reading is like 10 minutes, this is a lot of time. Number three, the tests, quizzes, and number four, prizes.
Now based on what I’ve said so far, of these four elements, which are the ones we know really work? Books in time, one and two, terrific. So if you want to be a scientist, what you want to do is compare books in time to books time, tests and prizes to see whether the tests and the prizes add anything. So far so good. They’ve never done that. Instead, they compare it to doing nothing. You see what the problem is.
Let me put it to you this way. I’ve just invented this new anti-anxiety medication. I am going to make a lot of money out of it. It’s called [Calm]. And it has two elements: sugar and Zoloft, Prozac and I’ve given this to a lot of people and they all feel much better. Can I say, I’ve got a new product here? No, we already know that Zoloft works and all that sugar is not really good for you. Same idea, we already know that this works. The issue is whether the tests and prizes are adding anything.
So my conservative opinion on Accelerated Reader research is that we don’t know. And my conservative advice when people ask me, if you’ve got a couple thousand dollars in your book budget, don’t buy Accelerated Reader. We have no evidence, although I suspect it doesn’t work. But we really have no evidence. Use the money to buy books for the library, the classroom libraries, the school libraries, this we know absolutely works.
Now this is my conservative conclusion. Let me give you my conjecture. I learned the word conjecture from my son who is now sitting on the floor in the back, Danny, in the math department here.
And Danny has pointed out to me that in mathematics if you have a hypothesis that you’re not really sure of, that’s really bored on, you can call it a conjecture. Then you could say well, it was only a conjecture.
So I have a conjecture on this. Actually it’s Alfie Kohn’s conjecture. I will tell you about Alfie Kohn. He’s really interesting guy. AlfieKohn.org, check out his website and his interesting books. In his book Punished by Rewards, here is his conjecture. And this is based on — actually it’s pretty well established — based on studies in psychology and education.
He says that if you give someone a reward for doing something that’s already pleasant, what you’re telling them is that it’s not pleasant. And that no one would do it without a bribe. He tells the story of this old man who lives in a house. Kids come play outside, they make a lot of noise. And he wants them to go away, so he goes outside and says tell you what, come back tomorrow and play and make a lot of noise, I’ll give you a dollar. Great. So they do it. Next day, says okay, $0.75. all right. Next day, $0.50. When it gets down to $0.10, the kids say we’re not going to do this for a dime. And they never returned.
We might be extinguishing behavior when we give people rewards. There have been no long-term studies of Accelerated Reader. We don’t know what happens in the long run whether children will stop reading because they are not getting the reward anymore.
So if we’re not going to use bribes, we’re not going to use pizza, what are we going to do? Now I have a radical suggestion. Probably the best motivator of reading that we know of is reading itself. Students who are involved in sustained silent reading programs, when you look at how they’re doing at the end of the year, they’re doing more reading on their own than students who are not in the program.
And another area of research is presented to us, inspired by the work of Jim Trelease. Those of you who don’t know, how many of you heard Jim Trulis. He is the author of a book called The Read-Aloud Handbook. Okay. Danny, did I ever tell you what my mom said about The Read-Aloud Handbook? She read it, my mother, Danny’s grandma and it’s a beautiful book, it’s amazing. And my perfect mother said, “Stephen, why can’t you write like this?” And I said, I wish I could. It’s absolutely wonderful.
Anyway, in The Read-Aloud Handbook which has I think put read-alouds on the map in North America, overwhelming bestseller, beautifully written, those great presentations et cetera. He introduced in two editions ago a concept called The Home Run Book which he got from Clifton Fadiman who said, “One’s first book, one’s first kiss, one’s first home run are always the best”.
My first home run was the best, was also my last, but you know, I am not a complete nerd and I go to the gym and workout and all that. I don’t mind getting in a ballgame. I was in the game last spring. I was pitching. I had a no hitter going for six innings. Then the bell rang, and the big kids came out.
Well we decided to check out this idea The Home Run Book which says that one positive reading experience can make you into a reader. Correct. We did it with fourth-graders, fifth-graders, eighth-graders. We asked kids, was there one experience that got you into reading?
Over half of the subjects said yes and they told us what the book was. Garfield, I found something better than television. Captain Underpants changed my life. My gosh, you want subversive literature, check out Captain Underpants et cetera. So reading itself, the big one though in addition, read-alouds literature, all get kids into reading, the big one is making sure there is access to books. This is the major thing. We must make sure books are there and we’ve done a very poor job in doing this.
The problem is that children – and I am going to emphasize this tomorrow a bit more — children of poverty have practically no access to books. They have fewer books in the home. They have fewer books in their school libraries, in their classroom libraries and they live in the neighborhoods of few bookstores.
In fact, when you look at wealthy children versus poor children, the ratio of books per child is the differences in the thousands to one. Wealthy children, children of high income families, one researcher said are deluged with books. Children of poverty have a hard time finding books anywhere.
I want to share with you one of the studies we’ve done on this. I’ll talk about this more tomorrow, which I think might be the most important of all the studies I have ever looked at, I’ve ever participated in. What you have on your sheet, it says multiple regression analysis and I’m going to give you the English-language translation of that.
This is a study I’ve done with two of my former students. They were students of mine in the ‘90s. And we’re still hanging together, doing studies, exciting. This was based on the PEARL’s examination. PEARL’s examination is given to kids in 40 different countries, ten-year-olds and when the results are announced, the newspapers get very excited because they want to know who won.
Germany wants to know if they did better than France. Korea wants to know if they did better than Japan and every country declares a literacy crisis except Finland, because Finland always comes out on top.
We ignored all that. By the way Alfie Kohn recommends that the test scores be put in the sports section. Anyway we ignored all that, instead we looked at the factors and the PEARL’s manuals just gave us all the raw data we needed, all we needed to do is put in the computer. We did analysis to see which factors were the most important, which predicted reading scores the best.
We did several analyses, we did one very complex analysis where we put in everything that we could find and then tried to boil it down into simple factors. And then another one which I like better, statisticians call it planned comparisons. You pick out the factors in advance that you want to test and you ignore everything else. All the analyses came out the same.
So I’m going to give you the simple one. First, we looked at poverty. Poverty was a very strong factor and of course negative. The higher the level of poverty, the lower the scores. Number two, we looked at sustained silent reading. What percentage of children in each country had a chance to do free reading in school? The more they could do sustained silent reading, positive factor but quite modest, fairly low but it was there bordering on statistical significance.
The third factor we looked at was school libraries. Presence of a school library of at least five hundred books, by the way multiple regression is a very nice technique. It allows you to pretend, you’re doing a mathematical magic, that each of these factors is independent, they don’t influence each other.
Anyway this is the big one folks. The presence of a school library was a strong factor and positive, nearly as strong as the effect of poverty. I’m pausing for effect. What this suggests is that supplying books in the school library can balance, mitigate, offset the effects of poverty on reading comprehension scores. Providing the access that was missing. This is big stuff.
We then looked at the number of hours of actual reading instruction. The effect was modest and negative. The more reading instruction, the worse. Now I don’t want to jump to conclusions although I’d love to in this case. It could be the case that children who had poor reading had to have more instruction, my suspicion is if you graph it out, and this is a conjecture – that if you look at it would probably look like this, from no instruction to a little – you’ll probably see gains, a little basic alphabetics and all that is helpful, after that diminishing returns.
On the chart, you see something they’re called R-squared. R-squared equals 0.63, what this means is that if you know the poverty level of the country, you know if they’re doing sustained silent reading, you know what school — you know the instruction, this is 63% of the data you need to predict their reading scores.
Wow! This is science fiction, this is really high because in education you get R-squared to 0.2, you think you’re doing very well. You can explain 20% of what’s going on. Here we’re getting nearly two-thirds. We thought we had done something wrong, it was too good to be true. But other stuff, it told the same thing.
So, in conclusion, I have a little closing number before we go to questions. But let me come to conclusion. Reading works. How about that? Free voluntary reading. We’ve discovered that reading is good for you. And if we want to encourage reading, by far the big necessary factor: access to books, libraries, libraries, libraries, libraries.
Let me conclude — I’ve given you information that I think is of use to you right now, use to us as teachers in dealing with our children et cetera. Let’s fight for libraries.
Let me give you some new research, looking around they will probably be of use to you, taking a good look at the guys in about 40-50 years. Our latest research from scientific laboratories of the University of Southern California, I’ve been very very interested in aging and the brain. I got interested in it because there is some dementia in my family, in my dad side. I think I want to prevent this. And also, I’ve had some very horrible experiences and I must share it. And I’m still in recovery.
One of them happened in Philadelphia when I was visiting my son in Philadelphia. Now in Philadelphia, you land in the airport, you have to take this train. Train takes you into the train station in the city. I got on the train and the sign says $11 fare. My gosh! That’s a lot of money. Senior citizens $1. Great. Must show ID and Medicare card.
I had my Medicare card. I was ready. The conductor comes through this pump kit and I have made my dollar ready and I have my Medicare card ready. I give him the dollar. I’m about to show my card. He looks at me and says, ah, that’s okay. They should be told no matter how old the person looks, always check ID.
Well there’s a balance on this, actually I have to tell you what also happened to balance this, and this is also why Adam Sandler is my favorite Hollywood personality. Good old Adam Sandler, he can do no wrong after this, may tell everyone I can about it because he deserves all the credit — says the highest form of charity is when the person doesn’t know. This is pretty close.
I was in the Malibu gym, the only people in the gym were me, my daughter and my granddaughter, the adorable Genelia who was like 7 months old. My daughter was pumping iron and my job was to take care of the baby. Adam Sandler walked in, he came up to me and said the absolute best thing you can say to someone my age, he said, oh, is this your child? Yes.
I said, “No, it’s my granddaughter. And he gives me the equivalent of the masculine, real punch, good-looking grandpa. He could do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. This is a real man, nobody else was around to see it. Anyway so I got interested in the research and the research — I did a paper on this which is now being translated into Chinese, is that cool or what – it’s being translated in Hong Kong.
Anyway, three factors can keep the brain young and prevent dementia from prematurely occurring. Actually I’m not too worried about dementia. I follow the wisdom of Bill Cosby who said, “Don’t worry about senility, when it comes you won’t know it”. It’s made me feel better.
Anyway factor number one: Bilingualism. Isn’t that neat? People who are bilingual have better executive control. This means not getting distracted. People who switch all the time back and forth in language, you know how it is — you get up in the morning to go down and get the newspaper, you go outside and you’d see something on the line, you take care of that, put it away, and you see something else, you put that away and you forget why you went out there in the first place. We all do that and we do more of it as we get older. But bilingualism slows that down. Isn’t that right?
Number two: Reading. Free voluntary reading. People my age who read a lot have the same verbal memory as people in their 30’s who read less.
And number three: Coffee. Is that cool or what? Now what I’m going to tell you what the research says, this takes discipline and dedication but I know you can do it. Three cups of freshly brewed coffee a day. All the studies converge on this, people and independent laboratories will delay senility significantly. This is great news. In fact, there’s one study where they extrapolate — there’s one study where they extrapolated from mice and the conjecture — I love that word — it’s wonderful — the conjecture is this might reverse Alzheimer’s, because it did in these mice equipment of five cups a day.
Now what I find interest — by the way a former student of mine comes and said, “Why don’t you tell Starbucks about this?” Okay, because I figured Starbucks has these little words of wisdom on their cups. So maybe they’ll include this and they will include reading and bilingualism. Yes, we can get in a few points. So I wrote a note to Starbucks, I found the address on their website, the email address and I wrote and I said I have this paper, are you interested in? They wrote back and they said, “I’m sorry, we are not interested in new economic ventures at this time”. Corporate dementia.
So I wrote them and I said, “No, no there’s no money. Do you want the paper? You can use it public.” And so that was it for Starbucks. What is interesting about this is that you can do all three of these things at the same time. Sit down, have a nice cup of coffee, read a book in another language. The fountain of youth. My request is if any of you are interested in doing research on this, I would like to serve as a subject, so I can get free latte.
Okay. May I have wild applause and then we’ll do questions.
Stephen Krashen: Oh, I do have a constraint on questions. The first one has to be friendly. After that you can ask every — I said that once at the University, three hands went down. And let me introduce to you my son, Danny, say hello to real Dr. Krashen is here. Thank you. Professor here at UGA, and the father of my grandchildren, yes.
Female Audience: [Question Inaudible]
Stephen Krashen: Yes, is the definition of reading changing? I can give you a clear answer. Yes and no. The idea what we’ve had through the years is complaints that kids aren’t reading these days. By the way the complaints go back to 1840 that kids don’t know anything et cetera. If you look at my website which is listed on there, King free stuff, operators are standing anyway. I have an article called stop blaming teenagers, stop scolding teenagers. And I look to see how much teenagers are reading these days compared to twenty years ago et cetera, including reading on the computer.
First of all, in terms of book reading, we’re actually reading more than 1946. It’s about the same, it’s very close, it’s a little more. The only category that’s declined is newspaper reading and magazine reading. And newspaper reading has gone down for everyone because of the internet, few far fewer people read newspapers today.
When you add the internet reading and that’s blog, some things like this, kids are reading today just about the same as they always have. Then I did a closer look, this is few foundation data, they have it all there, it’s easy to look at, about how kids use the Internet and it turns out that using the Internet for entertainment which is YouTube and games versus using the Internet for social interaction, social interaction is much more frequent. They use the Internet for reading and writing to each other. When you factor that in, you get a lot of action. Now people tend to deprecate that, to me the jury’s out. I don’t know if it’s beneficial. I suspect that it is.
Because we know when kids write back and forth, writing makes you smarter, helps you think et cetera. Something might be going on here and there is meaningful and important to them relevant to their lives. We have a friend of the family who had a website for teenagers. It was [Debbie Box] and she told me that this was for kids 12, 13, 14 years old girls. Nearly everything they posted, this was years ago, had to do with their social interaction with other girls. And you know this Susie came to school, she wasn’t talking to me today, I wonder what’s going on, you know deep discussions about this stuff.
Put it this way. Let’s say we discovered through history a group of kids in 16-century France who had the habit of writing notes to each other based on their personal lives. We think oh, what an exciting literate group that must be! And today we give this no respect. So I think kids are reading as much as ever even though they are reading different things and I’m very hesitant to condemn computer reading and writing. It might very well be beneficial.
Female Audience: [Question Inaudible]
Stephen Krashen: Yes. Oh, internet slang. Actually internet slang, since you’re my BFF I can tell you. Internet slang, the only thing that’s really been looked at seriously has been text messaging. That’s been around a little longer. And the studies people said, oh gosh, kids aren’t going to be able to read and write, they’re going to misspell everything and all this stuff. And it turns out, number one, when you look at it, it’s conventionalism. You can’t just make up your own, you can’t just decide this is my abbreviation, you look a little silly. So you got to know when to use lol and all that stuff because it could mean all these different things.
Also, it has no negative effect on writing accuracy. None and this has been a very popular research topic. I think it’s kind of the same attitude people have toward teenage slang in general. They assume it’s going to make things worse. So far it hasn’t been shown to be the case. I think it improves communication. There might be something good going on. I don’t yet know but I suspect there is. Oh, by the way email, coming on email my hypothesis, email should be nearly perfect but not quite. If it’s too perfect it looks insincere. So we have these conventions right?
Male Audience: [Question Inaudible]
Stephen Krashen: Yes, yes, the reason this has not been widely investigated is that it’s very hard to test speech, because you’ve got to record it. And it takes a lot of time, and it’s easy to test writing, it’s right there and we have computer programs that will help you with it et cetera. So there have been very few studies and one of my former students — keep bringing this up every six months. We’ve got to know because she did a study of – it’s her dissertation study of women who read Sweet Valley High novels. This is before Twilight and found a very positive impact.
I think Elizabeth should have dumped Jessica a long time ago. That’s my opinion. Anyway they read these teen novels and their everything got better and better and better and she claims their reactions, their comments is their speech got more fluent and their friends said their speech got more fluent.
But I don’t know any study that’s used speech as a dependent variable. I’d love to see. So that’ll be your research and please let us know what happens. My suspicion is it’s going to have an impact, and that’s going to be a positive. Of course, you have to do some listening as well. If you take everything else equal, you add reading, that’s going to help. That’s prediction.