Sunday, April 22, 2018

Don't forget about reading

Sent to the Taipei Times, April 22,2018

I was surprised to discover that the Taiwan Ministry of Education will prioritize “listening and speaking skills” in English language education, and that they will encourage students to “first listen, then speak , then write” (Robert Dildine, “Education Magic,” Letter to the Editor, April 22, referring to a report in Taipei Times, “A long road to improving education,” Jan 24).  

The Ministry forgot something: Reading.  Research over the last 40 years has confirmed that we acquire language by understanding what we hear and read, and that the ability to speak and write is the result of listening and reading.  Study after study confirms that listening and reading need to come before speaking and writing. 

The Ministry might want to do some reading themselves and get familiar with this research. The annual English Teachers Association meeting in Taipei typically includes many reports from Taiwan’s scholars and teachers confirming that reading, especially self-selected reading, results in impressive gains in vocabulary, writing, grammar, spelling, and of course reading ability. In fact, time spent reading results in better progress in these areas than time spent in traditional teaching. 

Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California, School of Education

Friday, April 6, 2018

sloppy tweet + sloppy reporting = unfair attack on boba milk

“Lies are half-way around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.” (Attributed to Mark Twain.)

This following was posted on twitter (Bestofnextdoor) by someone in Millbrae Park:
“I agree with the lady who spoke at the public hearing who said kids hanging out a boba milk tea shops are throwing their futures away when they should be studying SATs, nonstop.”

The tweet was immediately discussed in several local newspapers and websites and by others with wider circulation. The reports did not question the accuracy of the tweet. They should have.

I discovered that the “lady who spoke at the public gathering” was Prof. Christy Lao, SF State University, a respected scholar in language education and literacy. She posted a response on Resonate. She pointed out that she did not attack Boba Tea shops, and did not recommend nonstop SAT testprep.  Please read what she really did say.

Christy Lao Reply
It has come to my attention that my remarks at the public hearing on a site development plan, the Millbrae Serra Station Project, at Taylor Middle School, on March 27, 2018 were inaccurately reported on Nextdoor twitter and the twitter post, unfortunately, was quoted in “Some Bay Area Moms Worry Boba Tea is Destroying their Children’s Future” (Nextshark, March 28, 2018). I did NOT attack Boba Milk Tea and did not say students should be “studying SATs, nonstop.”
I DID say that students spend a great deal of time at Boba tea shops because of the shortage of quality after-school activities and enrichment programs that will help our students be more well-rounded.
I also said that “Mills High School does not have the variety and the quality extracurricular activities and athletic programs that Burlingame High School offers. Top tier colleges look for students not only with good grades but students that are well rounded, unique and have their own minds.”

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Mr. Trump's spelling problem: Not just a failure to proofread

Sent to the Washington Post

Mr. Trump’s spelling mistakes reflect problems deeper than a failure to proofread (“Elected to read, not to proofread,” March 21, 2018). My research shows that poor spelling is often the result of not having a reading habit. Studies also show that those who read a lot know more about history and science. They also have greater empathy with others, and understand that the world is complex.  

Mr. Trump is a perfect example of a non-reader. 

Stephen Krashen

Krashen, S. 1989. We acquire vocabulary and spelling by reading: Additional evidence for the input hypothesis. Modern Language Journal 73: 440-464.
West, R., Stanovich, K., & Mitchell, H. (1993). Reading in the real world and its correlates. Reading Research Quarterly, 28, 35-50.
Kidd, D., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. 
Science, 342 (6156), 377-380.
Djikic, M., Oatley, K. & Moldoveanu, M. (2013). Opening the closed mind: The 
effect of exposure to literature on the need for closure. Creativity Research Journal, 25(2), 149-154.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Driverless cars and road safety

Sent  to the New York Post, March 19, 2018

Re: (“Pedestrian killed by driverless Uber, rideshare company suspends program,” March 19, 2018).  

Yes, we should be very concerned about the use of driverless cars. But if we are interested in a large improvement in road safety, let’s increase public transportation: Buses are 60 times as safe as cars, trains about 50 times as safe.  The problem with this obvious solution is that the super-rich make no profit.

Stephen Krashen

The fatality rate per billion miles driven for cars is 7.3, for buses, .11, for trains, .15.  

Friday, February 23, 2018

Phonics and reading: Some basics

Submitted for publication

A recent (2018) ILA report, “Explaining phonics instruction: An educator’s guide” provides an incomplete and often unclear picture, in my view, of what educators need to know about phonics, and about learning to read in general.

The report claims that phonics is an “essential part of instruction in a total reading program.”  Essential? Perhaps, but certainly not the main thing.

Here is my alternative report:
(1) Only simple rules of phonics can be consciously learned: The complex rules have many exceptions and are not even clear to many teachers and scholars.
(2) Knowledge of the simple rules of phonics can make texts more comprehensible and thus help in reading development. Contrary to popular opinion, no reading expert or organization forbids the teaching of some phonics rules.
(3) Readers’ knowledge of most phonics rules is the result of reading, not study.
(4) Children’s performance on tests of phonics (eg pronouncing words in isolation) is not related to eventual reading competence.
(5) The best way to insure that young children become good readers is through hearing stories. This builds vocabulary and grammar knowledge and encourages a reading habit, by far the best way of developing reading ability, writing competence, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.
(6) The real problem in developing readers Is providing access to books. For many children of poverty, the library is their only source of books.

A few references (none of these authors are mentioned in the ILA report.)
(1) Smith, F. 2004.  Understanding Reading, especially pp. 281-282.
(2) Ibid, pp. 152.
(3) Goodman, K. 1993, Phonics Phacts, Heinemann, chapter five.
(4) Garan, E. 2002. Resisting Reading Mandates. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann; Krashen, S. 2009. Does Intensive Decoding Instruction Contribute to Reading Comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74,
(5) Krashen, S. Lee, S.Y. and Lao, C. 2017. Comprehensible and Compelling: The Causes and Effects of Free Voluntary Reading. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited. ABC-CLIO, LLC.
(6) Neuman, S. and Celino, D. 2001. Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities. Reading Research Quarterly 36(1): 8-26. 

1, and 3: “…phonics instruction should aim to teach only the most important and regular of letter-to-sound relationships … once the basic relationships have been taught, the best way to get children to refine and extend their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences is through repeated opportunities to read. If this position is correct, then much phonics instruction is overly subtle and probably unproductive” (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott and Wilkinson, 1985, p.38; Becoming A Nation of Readers.)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Comments on "dual immersion"

 Feb. 17, 2018
An edweek blog is dedicated to “dual immersion.” I just posted four comments:  

1.    Elizabeth Beltran gives me undeserved credit: Jim Cummins, not Stephen Krashen, informed us that the development of academic competence in a second language takes more than one to two years.

2.    I worry about Elizabeth Beltran’s recommendation that we need “continuous data” on progress in bilingual programs.  This can be misread as a demand for constant standardized testing. How about “continuous feedback”? This would include teacher reactions, by far the most valid source of information.

3.    I appreciate Conor Williams’ remarks about terminology.  I submitted this letter to Language Magazine recently:
I have a suggestion that might improve communication among language educators as well as communication between language educators and the public.  
   For language education professionals, the term “immersion” usually means subject-matter instruction through a second language, with efforts made to make sure the language used is comprehensible to students. For the public, however, “immersion” generally means “submersion,” surrounding yourself with the target language, whether comprehensible or not. I suggest we simply stop using the term “immersion.”
   “Dual language” is used in two ways: It could mean “bilingual education” in general or it could mean a specific program known as “two-way” bilingual education.  I suggest we avoid confusion by dropping the term “dual language” and using either “bilingual education” or “two-way bilingual education.”
   And please, let’s avoid creative but even more confusing terminology such as  “dual immersion” and “bilingual immersion.”

4.    Margarita Calderon recommends direct instruction in vocabulary, reading strategies, syntax, phonics and lots of writing “practice.”  We have gathered a great deal of evidence of the years that much, maybe all, of this is the results of self-selected pleasure reading.  In addition, there is growing evidence that students who develop a reading habit in English do not become long-term ELLs. 

 (Many of my papers on this and related topics are available for free download at This includes Krashen, S. 2005. The acquisition of English by children in two-way programs: What does the research say? In V. Gonzales and J. Tinajero (Eds.) Review of Research and Practice, National Association for Bilingual Education, vol 3: 1-19.  AND Dow, P., Tinafero, J. and Krashen, S.  2011. A note on English language development in one-way and two-way bilingual programs.  TABE Journal 13(1): 82-87.)