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It feels right, but is it? Intuitions, hard evidence and teaching


... skimming, scanning, and all the rest Strategies such as skimming and scanning are important reading tools. We don t need to read every word of a text. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: It feels right, but is it? Intuitions, hard evidence and teaching

It feels right, but is it?Intuitions, hard
evidence and teaching
  • Amos Paran
  • MA TESOL (F2F Distance)
  • Institute of Education, University of London

Sources of knowledge
  • Intuition/common sense
  • Anecdotal evidence
  • Practitioner evidence
  • Systematic research

What is research?
  • Answers a question
  • Evidence
  • Systematic data collection
  • Reliable sources
  • Valid and reliable methods
  • Systematic analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Used in future decisions

Areas focused on in talk
  • The age debate
  • Guessing word meaning in reading
  • Real English
  • Reading strategies

Is it better to start learning a foreign language
at an earlier age?
  • The intuitive answer Of course it is!
  • A more careful answer contexts are very
    different and the answers may be different
    according to context.
  • Anecdotal evidence
  • Confirmation bias
  • A celebratory approach

Differences between younger and older learners
  • Mihaljevic Djigunovic, Nikolov and Ottó 2008 In
    previous studies, the younger the learners were,
    the slower their development was (p. 434)
  • Abello-Contesse 2009 older learners are more

Mihaljevic Djigunovic, Nikolov and Ottó (2008)
  • prompted by a general observation that young
    Croats seemed to be better at English than their
    Hungarian peers (p. 433)

Mihaljevic Djigunovic, Nikolov and Ottó (2008)
  • Hungarian learners start younger
  • Hungarian learners study in smaller classes
  • Hungarian learners have more classes a week.

Mihaljevic Djigunovic, Nikolov and Ottó (2008)
  • Croat 8th graders were better than the Hungarian
    8th graders on all measures. This was
    statistically significant.
  • But in the Hungarian sample, earlier start was
    correlated strongly with better results

Mihaljevic Djigunovic, Nikolov and Ottó (2008)
  • early start, more classes and small groups,
    while extremely important, do not guarantee
    higher achievements.
  • The importance of these factors as well as their
    interaction should be considered against a host
    of other variables,
  • the most important of which, in our opinion, are
    the quality of teaching and exposure to and
    practice in the target language. (p. 448)

Pedagogical implications
  • Start later?
  • Invest in teacher training?
  • Who are the implications for? Who controls
  • the response?

Training language learners to guess infer words
from context
  • Each of the words below from the text can have
    the trhee different meanings given. Look back to
    the text and decided which is the correct meaning
    in the context
  • 1. agenda (Text A)
  • a. a list of things to be discussed at a
  • b. things to do
  • c. a plan that is not made public
  • 2. proper (Text B)
  • a. correct or appropriate
  • b. morally or socially acceptable
  • c. real or serious
  • (Baigent 2004)

Training language learners to guess infer words
from context
  • You have by now discussed the following five
    techniques for guessing unknown words
  • Relating the word to another word you already
  • Understanding a word by contrast with another
    word in the sentence or the text
  • Understanding the sentence as a whole
  • Knowledge of the world
  • Relating the word to a word in your L1
  • (Paran 1991)

Training language learners to guess infer words
from context
  • For each of the words in bold in the extracts
    below, write down the meaning and the technique
    that you used to guess it. If you already know
    the word, think about the way in which someone
    who did not know the word could guess it.
  • 1. This does not mean copying out passages.but
    rather jotting down the main ideas.
  • Meaning __________ Technique ______________
  • 2. In reading, stop periodically (A, line 4)
  • Meaning __________ Technique ______________
  • 3. When we concentrate, were only using the left
    hemisphere of our brain (B, line 10)
  • Meaning __________ Technique ______________

Guessing Inferring word meanings
  • The techniques do not always work
  • Galicia Fulget .el desarollo de Galicia entre
    1460 y 1495
  • Rusia agrava la inestabilidad en Ucrania con su
    rechazo al nuevo Gobierno.
  • El Poder judicial desmonta la ley de seguridad
    por inconsticional. El informe rechaza la
    regulacion de los cacheos y detenciones etc.

Guessing Inferring word meanings
  • Catholic tastes
  • a litany of .

Inferring words from context (Haynes 1984/1993)
  • The old baild licked his mouth happily as he lay
    on his side under the tall blue spruce. It was
    such a beautiful fall evening that he felt like
    taking it easy. Tonight the moon is bright and
    the wind is silidon Ive had plenty to eat, the
    people have probably gone home for the night and
    I can enjoy a nice, quiet evening, the old baild
    thought contentedly.

The old baild
  • He had been really hungry earlier that day,
    tired out from many a useless chase. Upon his
    discovery of the smell of meat cooking, he had
    crept up on a campfire and, seeing no people or
    guns which could hurt him, had gotten his dinner
    quite easily by pulling it from the fire.
    Afterwards, he carried it in his mouth and ran up
    to the hilltop to tear it apart at his leisure.
    Finally, having finished his dinner, the baild
    looked around at the places where a hunter might
    come to find him.

The young brill
  • The young brill tapped his teeth together as he
    swam lazily in a wide circle around Brine Bay. It
    was such a peaceful spring afternoon that he felt
    absolutely on top of the world. Today the sun is
    radiant and the waves are bimidor Ive got
    plenty to eat, the water has been getting warmer
    bit by bit, and I lead a most comfortable brills
    life, he thought contentedly.

Haynes 1984/1993 Findings
  • The group was successful on the whole in guessing
    words that were locally constrained.
  • This was statistically significant for the Baild
    passage for three of the four language groups
  • For the Brill passage, difference between local
    and global not statistically significant mainly
    because did not know waves. (Or thought it was

Haynes 1984/1993 Findings (3)
  • Many resorted to non-contextual cues (e.g. using
    tap-dancing to understand tapped).
  • Without contextual cues, guessing was very
  • Mismatches misreading swam as swan crept
    is a kind of pancake silidon seldom
  • Uncertainty of familiarity

Factors influencing guessing from context (Nation
  • Number of occurrences
  • Proximity of occurrences
  • Presence of relevant clues
  • Number of relevant clues
  • Local vs. global context (Proximity of relevant
  • Variability of contexts
  • Density of unknown words

Factors influencing guessing from context (contd)
  • Explicitness of relevant clues
  • Importance of unknown word to understanding the
  • Prior knowledge of topic
  • Familiarity of the content
  • Familiarity of the references
  • Concrete vs. abstract referents
  • Amount of polysemy

Nassaji 2004
  • Correlated the depth of vocabulary knowledge with
    lexical inferencing success
  • Learners whose depth of vocabulary knowledge was
    higher were able to infer the meaning of a larger
    number of words

Pedagogical implications
  • Just dont do it.?
  • Do it with caution and check that the conditions
    are optimal?
  • Do it and hope that you are getting it right for
    some of the learners, some of the time?
  • Do it because this could be a good way to learn
  • Train the learners to do it because it is useful
    for language learning in general? (But training
    will take a great deal of time) .

Real English
  • The real language debate
  • The importance of authenticity
  • Corpora
  • Carter (1998) vs. Cook (1998)

What kind of language should we teach?
  • Tails
  • Hes a real problem, is Jeff.
  • Shes got a nice personality, Jenny has.
  • Reporting verbs Yes, Pauline and Tom were
    telling me you have to

At the hairdressers
  • A Do you want to come over here?
  • B Right, thanks (3 secs) thank you
  • A Tea or coffee?
  • B Can I have a tea, please?
  • A Do you want any sugar?
  • B Er, no milk or sugar, just black thanks
  • C Right
  • B I hate it when your hair just gets so, you
    know a bit long (C yeah) and its just straggly
  • C Right
  • B It just gets to that in-between stage (C
    Yeah) doesnt it where you think oh I just cant
    stand it any more (2 secs) I think when its
    shorter it tends to, you notice it growing more
    anyway (Cmmm) you know it tends to grow all of a
    sudden . . .

At the hairdressers
  • Jane . Oh, yes my husbands wonderful
  • Sally Really? Is he?
  • Jane Yes, hes big, strong and handsome!
  • Sally Well, my husband isnt very big, or very
    strong but hes very intelligent.
  • Jane Intelligent?
  • Sally Yes, he can speak six languages.
  • Jane Can he? Which languages can he speak?
  • Sally He can speak French, Spanish, Italian,
    German, Arabic and Japanese.
  • Jane Oh! My husbands very athletic.
  • ( )
  • Sally Yes, and he can sew, and iron. . . Hes a
    very good husband.
  • Jane Really? Is he English?

Pedagogical Implications
  • Teach features of spoken language to all
    learners? E.g.
  • So what have you been up to?
  • How was your grandmother then?
  • It was a bit of a drag.
  • What makes you go yuk?
  • Cheers. ( Thanks Goodbye)

Pedagogical Implications
  • Carter accepts that total reality cannot be
    achieved and that at least certain grammatical
    features of language need to be modified.
  • Teach features of spoken language to advanced

Reading strategies skimming, scanning, and all
the rest
  • Strategies such as skimming and scanning are
    important reading tools.
  • We dont need to read every word of a text.
  • But is this true?

The ultimate scanner
  • Speed reading
  • I went to a speed reading course and was able
    to read the 1000 pages of Tolstoys War and Peace
    in half an hour, and I now know what its about.
    Its about Russia. (Woody Allen)

What does research tell us?
  • Most readers read every word of a text
  • Good readers and good comprehenders recognise
    words automatically
  • Learners need to automatise their word
    recognition skills
  • Learners have great difficulties in skimming

Reading strategies skimming, scanning, and all
the rest
  • How do our eyes move when we read?
  • When reading, our eyes move in saccades. Between
    saccades, the eyes are fixated on one spot.
  • Processing print happens only during fixations.
  • During fixations, we process (through peripheral
    vision) 4 characters to the left and 14
    characters to the right of the point of fixation.
  • (See Paran 1996)

The importance of automatic word recognition
  • Reading speed depends on how long we spend
    processing the words.
  • Efficiency speed-up vs. automatization and
  • If readers learn to process words very quickly
    and automatically, they can increase their
    reading speed.
  • If readers automatise their word recognition,
    more cognitive capacity is left for comprehension

The Simple View of Reading
  • RC WR X LC
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Word Recognition
  • Listening Comprehension
  • (Gough and Tunmer 1986 Stuart et al 2008 Kirby
    and Savage 2008 Verhoeven and van Leeuwe 2012
    for L2)

Akamatsu 2008
  • Training in automatic word recognition
  • Part of a regular reading class.
  • Seven sessions, one session a week
  • A word chain task
  • sunbendgivebearpen
  • shallsattheatclaimhome
  • snakepastwellshiftnone
  • Ca. 30 chains in 90 seconds
  • 150 words, including 50 target words

Akamatsu 2008
  • Automatization measured by reading times for
    words and by reading accuracy
  • Improved speed of recognising words
  • Improved accuracy of recognising words
  • Improved speed and accuracy greater for lower
    frequency words.

Repeated Reading (Gorsuch and Taguchi 2008)
  • Unassisted vs. Assisted Repeated Reading
  • Texts short stories from pre-intermediate graded
    readers, ca. 500 words long.
  • Texts read five times silent timed twice while
    listening twice timed.
  • Part of regular English skills class.

Repeated Reading (Gorsuch and Taguchi 2008)
  • Reading speed increased within sessions and
    between sessions from 163 and 217 wpm (1st-5th)
    to 261 and 351 wpm
  • However, this gain did not transfer to the
    post-test texts (possibly a test effect -reading
    more slowly).
  • Experimental group did better than control group
    on comprehension measures.

Pedagogical implications
  • Repeated reading is important
  • Exercises in word recognition can help
  • Reading and listening are connected
  • Importance of extensive reading

Becoming a discerning consumer
  • Our intuitions often tell us things that are
  • Be aware of confirmation bias
  • Many answers are context bound
  • Some answers are extremely complex
  • Some research has to look at extremely small
    slices of the world
  • Some researchers have a strong agenda
  • Statistics are not always easy to understand
  • Sometimes we just want easy answers -)
  • Question everything

Ending (No 1)
  • The truth is rarely pure and never simple
  • (Oscar Wilde The Importance of Being Earnest)

Ending (No 2)
  • Research, especially educational research, is
    often about process, not product.
  • It is about questions, not answers.
  • Through engagement with the questions, we may
    reach some answers.