Ingredients for ER in a Romanian Recipe

Over the last two decades, as a result of globalization, language education has increasingly demanded the development of language competence from the perspective of language in use. In Romania, English is taught as part of the core curriculum and students are required to learn at least one language to an advanced level and a second one at a more basic level. While preparing students for final examinations, I experimented with my own Extensive Reading (ER) recipe in an art school through the second semester of the 2016/2017 academic year, over a span of four months between February and June 2017, with a control group for an intensive approach and an experimental group subject to an extensive approach.

The intervention (independent variable) of the experiment was exemplified by the two approaches—extensive vs. intensive—in teaching English, whereas the measured outcome (the dependent variables) resided in the participants’ changes in English proficiency and motivation for reading.

The subjects of the experiment were two classes of tenth graders (16/17 years old) enrolled in at least three vocational courses. After their entrance in the ninth grade with varying levels of achievement, these students hold mixed abilities in English learning while being predominantly preintermediate achievers. Some of them did not study any English at primary school or did not have a qualified teacher, while others have been studying English for six years and are very skilful. The control group majoring in architecture followed the intensive approach, which is commonly addressed by the researcher in her teaching. The class comprises 27 students (11 girls and 16 boys) and studies two compulsory English classes per week as their first foreign language. The experimental group majoring in arts, subject to the extensive approach, consists of 26 students (4 boys and 22 girls) and attends two compulsory English classes per week. However, in order to fully experience an extensive reading program, the experimental group agreed to add voluntarily an extra optional English class in their timetable during the four month period of the research.

A typical class of the control group began with the teacher asking students to open their textbooks to a certain page. Next, the teacher introduced the topic of the reading text and/or asked students to skim or scan the reading passage. The teacher then read the text aloud, clarifying difficult vocabulary and grammar points. Next, students were asked to answer questions to check their comprehension, which involved silent reading of several parts of the passage. An integrated skills approach was used, so that students were listening, speaking, reading, writing, and studying grammar.

By contrast, the experimental group took part in an ER program. The core of the ER program consisted of students reading texts of their choice and then doing a variety of postreading activities. The students tended to choose fiction, but care was taken that student chose books that were at their independent reading level. Obtaining materials took a good deal of time and effort, but graded readers were found to match all the requirements of the ER program. The material was downloaded from online sources and included audio, electronic and paper printed books. Students spent about 45% of the time doing silent reading (about 20 minutes per lesson), with another 45% spent on pre and postreading activities which included attention to students’ problems in reading comprehension.

Overall the interpretation on the Pearson coefficient correlation values of the diagnostic and progress tests’ percentages confirms that students learnt more through the extensive approach than the intensive one in terms of receptive rather than productive skills. The attitude postquestionnaire was administered online via eSurv.org for a month. The access instructions were given via a Facebook message with students being asked to complete the survey in their free time.

Data analysis revealed that thinking and translating were the main tools used as strategies to aid comprehension in the control group, while the most practiced strategy in the experimental group was inferring the meaning of unknown words from context and, in case of graphic novels, pictures. While the extensive approach turned out to be superior, possible intervening variables include the higher number of language classes and the nature of the material in the experimental group and further improvement to the research should be made.

Since both intensive and extensive approaches are necessary in order to prepare students for college tasks, the junior high school period is an ideal moment to introduce extensive reading programs as a means of achieving communicative competence. Furthermore, the reading habit will outlast and accompany students as a lifelong second nature.

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