Sustained Silent Reading Experiences among Korean Teachers of English as a Foreign Language: The Effect of a Single Exposure to Interesting, Comprehensible Reading

Article excerpt

A single positive experience in self-selected reading of children's books resulted in a profound change in attitudes toward recreational reading among Korean teachers of English as a foreign language. Before the experience, few teachers reported that they did recreational reading in English. After the experience, nearly all teachers reported that they were interested in using sustained silent reading in their classes, and were interested in reading more in English on their own.

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It has been repeatedly demonstrated that reading, especially free voluntary reading, helps improve vocabulary, reading comprehension, grammar, and writing, not only among first language acquirers but also among second language acquirers (Elley and Mangubhai, 1983; Krashen, 1993; Cho and Krashen, 1994, 1995; Mason and Krashen, 1997). Free voluntary reading is especially useful in the English as a foreign language (EFL) situation, where other sources of input may not be readily available (Cho & Kim, 1999; Krashen, 1997). Most EFL students, however, do not read English, even though many are interested in improving (H. Kim and Krashen, 1997). The most often cited reasons for this reluctance is the observation that reading in English is difficult and dull. EFL students have this impression because their English experiences have been limited to textbooks and difficult passages read in preparation for examinations (H. Kim and Krashen, 1997).

Reading itself appears to be the most powerful motivator for encouraging additional reading; those who participate in sustained silent reading (SSR) programs show clear increases in the amount of free reading they do outside of school (Pilgreen and Krashen, 1993) and the effect appears to last years after the SSR program ends (Greaney and Clarke, 1975). In a series of studies, Cho and Krashen (1994, 1995) documented a strong interest in reading interest and reading frequency, along with obvious growth in English language competence, among adult ESL acquirers who were provided with easy, interesting reading material (The Sweet Valley series). In fact, a single positive experience can have a profound influence on reading attitudes. Ramos and Krashen (1998) reported that a single trip to a local public library with a plentiful supply of children's books and a helpful librarian resulted in a a clear increase in interest in reading a nd books among second graders who previously had had little exposure to quality children's literature. In Von Sprecken, J. Kim and Krashen (1999) and J. Kim and Krashen (2000) a large percentage of elementary school children reported that a single positive experience was critical in stimulating their interest in reading: well over half reported that they had had what Trealease (personal communication) has named "a home run experience" with a book that set them on the path of lifelong reading (1). In our study, we sought to supply a home run experience for elementary school teachers.

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a single, positive experience with easy comprehensible texts with a special group of EFL students: Practicing teachers enrolled in a training course in English language teaching. We felt it was especially crucial to expose these future English teachers to a positive experience with English reading, because of the potential positive influence English reading could have on their students, as well as their own English language development.

Subjects

Eighty-six (86) elementary teachers from approximately 50 different schools in Korea participated in the study. All were enrolled in a short term teacher training program focusing on improving their English and on methodology in English language teaching. Only 36 had had previous experience teaching English, but all had taken English as a foreign language classes, beginning at grade seven and lasting until college. Teachers were divided into five separate classes for the English language training. …