Vocabulary, Grammar, Sex, and Aging

Vocabulary, Grammar, Sex, and Aging is the name of a paper published a few years ago in the journal Cognitive Science, not what’s been on my mind lately. The study, by Fernando Moscoso del Prado Martín at UC-Santa Barbara,analyzed a large corpus (a million words) of telephone conversations from men and women of different ages in terms […]

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The NAEP Reading Panic: 2019 Edition

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – “the Nation’s Report Card” – has released results from their latest round of reading tests. These tests are given every two years, but regardless of the results, the reaction in the press is nearly always the same: “We have a reading crisis in America!“ This panic isn’t […]

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Why Reading Fiction is Good for Academic Achievement

The education writer at Forbes, Natalie Wexler, argued last week that reading fiction isn’t the “only” thing needed to boost academic achievement. It’s a curious position to take, not because it is wrong – I agree with her completely – but because no one in the reading field I’m aware of has ever said that […]

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Another Massive Vocabulary Study Finds No Gains, Massive or Otherwise

To make them easier to find, several items originally included in the now-defunct ‘This Week in Language Education’ series are being reposted over the next few weeks. Jayanthi and colleagues  (2017 online; paywall) conducted a study – in what seems like an endless series of massive, federally-funded studies of this sort – to determine the efficacy […]

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An Early Start in English as a Foreign Language Doesn’t Help

To make them easier to find, several items originally included in the now-defunct ‘This Week in Language Education’ series are being reposted over the next few weeks. Jeaekel and his colleagues (2017, paywall) followed two large cohorts of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students in German schools for a period of seven years. One […]

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The Myth of Teaching Morphology

Several researchers have claimed that “morphological instruction” is an effective way to improve students’ vocabulary and reading proficiency (Carlisle, 2010; Nagy, Berninger, & Abbott, 2006). The theory is that once you know the parts of words (prefixes, roots, suffixes), you will be able to “transfer” your knowledge of morphology to learn new words. A bigger […]

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Should Intermediate English Acquirers Read Children’s Literature?

Reading in a Foreign Language just published my critique of an article from the previous issue (Macalister and Webb, 2019a) on the topic of children’s literature and adult ESL readers. There are also two rebuttals to my piece (Webb & Macalister, 2019b; Macalister, 2019)). First, a TL;DR summary on the exchange. Macalister and Webb (2019a) […]

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Error Correction is (Still) a Waste of Time

To make them easier to find, several items originally included in the now-defunct ‘This Week in Language Education’ series are being reposted over the next few weeks. Dlaska and Krekeler (2017) looked at a group of students preparing to enter a German university (N=225) who were taking a German as a Second Language course. The study […]

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A Reverse Turing Test: Is Good Language Teaching Robot-Proof?

To make them easier to find, several items originally included in the now-defunct ‘This Week in Language Teaching’ series are being reposted over the next few weeks. The always brilliant Gene Glass provides a list of jobs that are “0% Automatable” (cannot be done by a robot) and “100% Automatable.” He uses the list to examine […]

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Reading Tests That Don’t Measure Reading [CORRECTED]

To make them easier to find, several items originally included in the now-defunct ‘This Week in Language Teaching’ series will be reposted over the next few weeks as separate entries. Hua and Keenan (2017, paywall), following up on early work by Keenan and her colleagues, examined five popular reading comprehension tests to see how much […]

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Reading Tests That Don’t Actually Measure Reading

To make them easier to find, several items originally included in the now-defunct ‘This Week in Language Teaching’ series will be reposted over the next few weeks as separate entries. Hua and Keenan (2017, paywall), following up on early work by Keenan and her colleagues, examined five popular reading comprehension tests to see how much […]

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How Kids Become Readers

Just published in the Los Angeles Times August 18, 2019: Some parents fear that their child may “fall behind” in learning to read. But there is no evidence that learning to read, or reaching a given reading level, must be done by a certain age to succeed in school. It is true that students who […]

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Free Book! “The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions”

My book, The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions, is now available in PDF format for FREE here. Here is the back cover blurb: Jeff McQuillan has hopeful news for anyone concerned with the state of reading in U.S. schools: Contrary to popular belief, reading achievement has not been declining over the past three decades; U.S. […]

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Language and Language Teaching Special Issue Guest Edited by Stephen Krashen (Free Download)

Stephen Krashen has guest edited an issue of Language and Language Teaching (India). There are 11 great articles on topics that will interest language and reading teachers from preK to adult, for both first and second languages. You will want to take a look – and it’s free! Download it here. Contributors to the special […]

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What Counts as Success in Vocabulary Instruction?

I’ve discussed in previous posts (here and here) the inefficiency of academic vocabulary teaching programs such as Word Generation. In one evaluation of the program, Snow, Lawrence, and White (2009) found that after 30 hours of instruction, Word Generation students learned fewer than three extra words compared to a control group. That’s a whopping one new […]

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Is Synthetic Phonics Instruction Working in England? (Updated)

Since originally posting this analysis back in September, 2017, I have shortened it for publication in Margaret M. Clark’s new edited volume, Teaching Initial Literacy: Policies, Evidence, and Ideology (2018). But here I’m posting a somewhat longer version than the one included in Clark’s book, with updates to my original post. Is Synthetic Phonics Working in England? A […]

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Don’t Believe What You Read in the Papers: American Kids Are Getting Better at Reading

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones magazine has an excellent take on the so-called “failure” of American students to improve their reading scores. It’s a quick but important read now that the annual NAEP Nonsense Season is once again in full swing, in which the media tells us how awful American schools are doing (e.g. here, […]

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Krashen Responds to the International Literacy Association’s “Explaining Phonics Instruction”

The International Literacy Association recently published a report, Explaining phonics instruction: An educator’s guide. It is incomplete and misleading, but that comes as no surprise to anyone who subscribes to an ILA journal. Steve Krashen has responded with an alternative report called Phonics and reading: Some basics. As usual, he cuts through the fog and provides […]

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The Failure of Phonics in England: Letter in Times of London (Jan 12, 2018)

The Backseat Linguist jumped across the pond today for a letter in the Times of London about phonics teaching in England. Sir, In her article, Alice Thomson claims that the teaching of phonics has led to “a big improvement” in the number of fluent readers since 2010. I disagree. A 2016 analysis by Stephen Machin […]

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A Trial of Tiers: Why Silent Reading Beats Other “Tier 1” Interventions All Day Long

Studies reviewed: Krashen, S. & Mason, B. (2017). Sustained silent reading in foreign language education: An update. Turkish Online Journal of English Language Teaching (TOJELT), 2(2), 70-73. (open access) Swanson, E., Stevens, E. A., Scammacca, N. K., Capin, P., Stewart, A. A., & Austin, C. R. (2017). The impact of tier 1 reading instruction on […]

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We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Exercises*: Listening to Stories is More Efficient Than Direct Instruction for Vocabulary Acquisition

Study reviewed: Loftus-Rattan, S. M., Mitchell, A. M., & Coyne, M. D. (2016). Direct vocabulary instruction in preschool: A comparison of extended instruction, embedded instruction, and incidental exposure. The Elementary School Journal, 116(3), 391-410. (pay wall) Everyone agrees that reading storybooks to young children helps them build vocabulary. But lots of researchers think they can […]

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Do Good Scrabble® Players Read More Than the Rest of Us?

Protzner, A. B., Hargreaves, I. S., Campbell, J. A., Myers-Stewart, K., van Hees, S., Goodyear, B. G., … & Pexman, P. M. (2016). This is your brain on Scrabble: neural correlates of visual word recognition in competitive Scrabble players as measured during task and resting-state. Cortex, 75, 204-219. I’m a sucker for academic clickbait. This […]

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How Reading ‘The Martian Chronicles’ Can Improve Your Scientific Vocabulary: Rolls & Rodgers (2017)

Rolls, H., & Rodgers, M. P. (2017). Science-specific technical vocabulary in science fiction-fantasy texts: A case for ‘language through literature’. English for Specific Purposes, 48, 44-56. In my last post, I presented evidence that when high school students read books for pleasure related to their school subjects, their test scores in those subjects go up. Rolls and Rodgers […]

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Reading Science Books for Pleasure Will Help You in Science Class: Chen, Chang, & Yang (2017)

Study discussed: Chen, S.Y., Chang, H.Y, and Yang, S. (2017). Content-Based Recreational Book Reading and Taiwanese Adolescents’ Academic Achievement. Journal of Education and Learning, 6(1). (Open Access) One of the current fixations of the reading field is teaching “academic language,” especially academic vocabulary, via direct instruction. Most of these efforts have produced very meager results, […]

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Academic Vocabulary Instruction II: Learning 1 Word in 5 Hours Shouldn’t Count as a Success

Study reviewed: Townsend, D., & Collins, P. (2009). Academic vocabulary and middle school English learners: An intervention study. Reading and Writing, 22(9), 993-1019. In a previous post, I noted that one of the studies often cited for the success of academic vocabulary instruction, Snow, Lawrence, and White (2009), is in fact an example of its questionable effectiveness. […]

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The New York Times Goes Back to the Future: The New Literacy Crisis, Writing Edition

The New York Times education reporter Dana Goldstein on the rather silly notion that most kids are not “proficient” in writing: Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the […]

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Academic Vocabulary Instruction: Does Word Generation Really Teach You Two Years’ Worth of Words in 22 Weeks?

Study reviewed: Snow, C., Lawrence, J., & White, C. (2009). Generating knowledge of academic language among urban middle school students. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(4), 325-344. One of the hot topics of the past decade or so in language education research has been the teaching of “academic language” and “academic vocabulary.” I have […]

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Closing the Books on Open Court Reading

Back in the 1990s, the Los Angeles Times was a big fan of the scripted reading curriculum, Open Court, designed to teach reading in the elementary grades through a heavy dose of explicit, systematic phonics. The Times reporters wrote lots of favorable articles about phonics instruction in general, especially then-education reporter, Richard Lee Colvin. Others […]

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Carpe Vinum: Does Drinking Help Vocabulary Retention?

Carlyle, M., Dumay, N., Roberts, K., McAndrew, A., Lawn, W., & Morgan, C. (2017). Improved memory for information learnt before alcohol use in social drinkers tested in a naturalistic setting. Nature. (Open Access) If you thought my previous discussion on the benefits of sleeping on vocabulary acquisition was a bit “out there,” consider the latest […]

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Carpe Noctem: Is it Time for Chronolinguistics?

Williams, S. E., & Horst, J. S. (2014). Goodnight book: Sleep consolidation improves word learning via storybooks. Frontiers in psychology, 5. (open access) A few months ago, I read a wonderfully-written and informative book called Rest by Alex Pang. Pang reviews recent research on the benefits of taking breaks, napping, and sleeping on learning, creativity, and productivity. So […]

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The Color of Dictation

One of my favorite lines on Twitter is “Not The Onion,” meaning that the headline or story linked to is not supposed to be funny or satirical, like news site, The Onion, but is (bizarrely) true. We need an academic equivalent of this – perhaps, “Not The Journal of Irreproducible Results” (a “science humor” magazine). […]

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