Saturday, March 28, 2015

Japan Times calls for more output practice in EFL classes. I disagree.

Sent to the Japan Times (March 28).

"Disappointing levels of English" (March 28) reveals a disappointing knowledge of language acquisition research and theory.  A large body of research done in many different situations over the last four decades strongly suggests that our ability to speak and write does not come from practicing speaking and writing, but comes from input, understanding what we hear and read.  Nevertheless, the Times' editorial insists that English students need more practice in speaking and writing.

The Times is free to disagree with the "Comprehension Hypothesis," but is not free to ignore it.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Original article: Disappointing levels of English

The education ministry reported last month that high school English-proficiency scores fell far short of its goals. That report will come as no surprise to most people in Japan, but it is additional evidence that the English education system in Japan is still in desperate need of reform.
The test carried out last summer at 480 randomly selected public high schools found that third-year high school students’ English skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing were far below government targets. In each section, a majority of students scored at or below the equivalent of Grade 3 on the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency. The results were much lower than the government’s hope of having 50 percent of high school graduates scoring at Eiken Grade 2 or pre-2, the levels above Grade 3.
Students’ English proficiency was especially low on the more active, productive skills of speaking and writing. On the exam, 29.2 percent of students scored zero on the writing section and 13.3 percent also scored zero on the speaking portion. That is even more disappointing considering that only 20 percent of students even took the speaking portion at all. It is doubtful that the other 80 percent of students would have performed any better.
The difficulty with speaking and writing reveals once again that junior high and high schools continue to teach English to pass university entrance exams, instead of working toward students’ learning functioning and creative English. Speaking and writing skills require a lot of consistent practice to be acquired, even at lower levels. The students are not getting much practice in speaking and writing.
Speaking and writing must also be acquired in the context of realistic and useful content. It is easier to understand how grammar, listening and even reading can be learned through relatively passive methods with materials that have little or no serious content.
However, for students to really function in a language, they need active and regular practice in producing meaningful, content-filled communication. Communication that contains meaningful content connects language study with students’ innate curiosity and motivates them to keep learning.
The disappointing results show those conditions have yet to take hold in most public English classrooms.
Unsurprisingly, in a related survey of students’ attitudes toward English, nearly 60 percent said they did not like studying English. Students do not need to be entertained or to love English. If they are challenged in age- and level-appropriate ways, they will likely be less resistant.
Students’ receiving a zero in writing or speaking is evidence of tremendous resistance.
Surely such tests do not reveal all the learning that has taken place in classrooms. But if the tests indicate anything, it is that much more basic reform is needed in Japan’s English language classrooms.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Library Quality is associated with school achievement and can help balance the effect of poverty. Results from Adkins (2014).

Adkins (2014) examined the impact of libraries and library quality on PISA test scores. PISA is given to 15-year olds world-wide. Adkins' analysis focused on American students only.
The results
Multiple regression analysis

Library Adequacy
Tech adeq
From: Adkins, 2015.

1.     As is found in many other studies, wealth (mean family wealth associated with the school) was a significant predictor of PISA sreading, math and science scores.
2.     The presence of a library was not a significant predictor but in the US nearly all schools have a library
3.     The principals' judgement of the adequacy of the library staff and materials was a positive predictor, not as strong as "wealth" but it made a noticeable contriubution. 
4.     The principals' judgement of the technological adequacy of the library was negatively associated with PISA scores: Better technology was related to lower scores. This was, however, not the case for students in the lowest levels of achievement.

1.     In countries where school libraries are nearly universal, presence or absence of a library will not be related to academic achievement. But library quality does make a difference.
2.     Access to a good library counts, even when social class is controlled, and the library plays some role in balancing the effect of poverty.

Adkins findings on principals' perception of library adequacy can be interpreted as parallel to the results of previous studies: Access to a library counts, even when social class is controlled, and the library plays some role in balancing the effect of poverty.
How libraries help students of poverty
Adkins' analysis also revealed that students from poor families
1.     are less likely to have a place to study at home
2.     have fewer books at home
3.     borrow more books for pleasure reading from the library, use the library internet access more

Adkins concludes:
"The school library can provide a safety net for Poor students in offering resources they do not have at home, such as study space, literature and study materials, computer access, and Internet access. Middle and Rich students have home access to resources that Poor children might not have; Middle and Rich students do not necessarily need the school library to provide these resources. Poor students are forced to rely on the school library for these resources. Moreover, Poor students report making greater use of school library resources than Middle or Rich students do, so the resources the school library provides to Poor students are more likely to be used and appreciated. However, because school library access is limited, it seems unlikely that school libraries alone can level the playing field without significant policy changes in the services provided at Poor and Rich schools."
"This study, like many that came before it, indicates that adequate school libraries are essential to leveling the playing field between poor students and their wealthier peers. It is not necessarily the school library space itself, but the care and attention put into the library by the school, which ultimately results in student achievement. The library as a space is not useful unless it is supported by a caring and competent school librarian who works to stock the school library with the best materials and resources chosen to meet students’ needs."  (p. 18)

Adkins, Denice. 2014. “U.S. Students, Poverty, and School Libraries: What Results of the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment Tell Us.” American Association of School Librarians. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Do we acquire languge by "using" it?

An article about second language acquisition, an interview with María Jesús Frigols, just appeared at:

She mentions my work, and gets it nearly right – we acquire language naturally, when we use it.
--¿Se puede aprender una lengua igual cuando somos niños que a una edad avanzada?
--Dice Stephen Krashen que hay cosas que todos hacemos igual, la digestión es un ejemplo, el aprender lenguas es otro. De lo que se trata es de utilizar una metodología que recree lo más cercanamente posible la forma natural de aprender las lenguas, es decir, usándolas para aprender y aprenderlas mientras se usan.
-¿Cuál es la mejor manera de trabajar el bilingüismo en el aula?
--Utilizando la metodología adecuada, que consiste en potenciar el uso de la lengua para hacer otras cosas, en apoyar el aprendizaje con estrategias que faciliten el proceso a los alumnos, utilizando técnicas de andamiaje y fomentando el uso del pensamiento crítico y destrezas cognitivas de orden superior.

Here is my comment, with the heading "nearly correct." it is not "use" but one aspecct of use, comprehension, that counts. I submitted the comments in Spanish (THANKS TO JESSICA NAVA MARTINEZ, who prepared the Spanish version.)

Nearly correct:

My conclusion is that we acquire language when we understand what people say to us, and whan we understand what we read.  Saying that we acquire language when we "use" it is correct, but it is speficially understanding that leads to acquisition. Actual speaking is the result of language acquisition. 

The best classes are those that supply lots of "comprehensible input," messages that students understand, and that are interesting, so that students will pay attention to them.

Probably the most powerful means of improving in both the first and second language is reading, especially self-selected reading for pleasure.

Casi correcto.

Mi conclusión es que adquirimos el lenguaje cuando entendemos lo que la gente nos dice y cuando comprendemos lo que leemos. El decir que adquirimos el lenguaje cuando lo "usamos" es correcto, pero es específicamente el acto de comprenderlo lo que nos lleva a la adquisición de este. El hablarlo es el resultado de la adquisición del lenguaje.

Las mejores clases son aquellas que proveen bastante " input  comprensible" , mensajes que los alumnos entiendan, y que sean interesantes para ellos motivandolos a poner atención a lo que se dice o se lee.                     
Probablemente  la manera más poderosa de mejorar tanto una primera lengua como una segunda es la lectura, especialmente la seleccionada por placer.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Consider both sides of the common core debate

Sent to US News and World Report, March 12, 2015

"Opt-Out Movement About More Than Tests, Advocates Say" (March 10) notes that "for many, the jury is still out" on the common core standards and tests, citing both arguments against the the common core and as well as the results of a survey from 1000 teachers who were generally supportive of the PARCC tests.
The jury needs to know that the 1000 teachers had been paid, and gave their opinions after completing a full day of "professional development" about PARCC and the common core. The organization supporting this event, Teach Plus, is very pro-common core and is funded by an organization that supports the common core. 
In contrast, those critical of the common core are funded by nobody, and typically state their opinions at great personal risk.
The jury needs to take this into consideration.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California

"1000 teachers had been paid … full day of 'professional development'": Mark Teoh, Susan Volbrecht, and Michael Savoy Winter 2015. 1000 Teachers Examine PARCC. Teach Plus.  Download from:
Teach-plus pro-common core:
Teach-plus funding is by the Hemsley Foundation. See Gwwertz, C, 2014. Teachers' Unions, Testing Consortia Team Up on Grants From Helmsley Trust
Great personal risk: see “Educator’s refusal to give PARCC called into question by district,” March 1 Denver Post, and response:

Original article:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

In support of opting out

Sent to the Chicago Tribune, March 4, 2015
Re: "Opting out of PARCC proves murky process for parents, students," March 4
Part of the reason for the growth of the opt-out movement, as noted by the Tribune, is that the tests are too long: We are now testing far more than we have ever done, even though studies have shown that increasing testing does not increase student learning, and there is no evidence that the new tests will help students or teachers.
The Tribune also mentions that there are "technological glitches." The new tests are delivered online, which means billions for infrastructure, up-to-date computers and operating systems for each student, and constant upgrades. This also means new technology whenever "progress" in made in the computer world, with the inevitable problems with new software and hardware. We can expect the glitches and financial drain on schools to continue indefinitely.
Parents are doing the right thing in opting their children out of this irresponsible, unresearched, nonstop testing program.
Stephen Krashen
Original article:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why every state has an opt-out movement

Sent to the NY Times, March 2, 2015

"As common core testing is ushered in, parents and students opt out" (March 1) notes that "every state has a 'opt-out' movement.” This phenomenon is unprecedented in American education. 

The opposition to the common core tests is not simply because they are harder. As Alfie Kohn points out, making school harder is not the same as making it better. Also, the opposition is not because parents just don't want their children to be tested.

A great deal of the opposition is because there is far too much testing, more than we have ever seen on this planet, and because the tests are based on an unresearched set of standards that contradicts nearly everything known about learning.

Stephen Krashen

NY TIMES article:

We are not falling behind in science and technology

Sent to the Los Angeles Daily News.

I agree with Letica Aparicio Diaz: Women should be involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) (Feb. 25).

But we are not "falling behind in talent" in STEM: Studies by Hal Salzman of Rutgers University and Michael Teitelbaum of Harvard University have shown that there is a surplus of qualified engineers and a glut of PhD's in science in the US.

Current US labor statistics indicate that there is no shortage of engineers. There is, however, a shortage of plumbers, construction workers, nurses, elementary school teachers, and electricians. 

Stephen Krashen

original article:

Why students and teachers are opting out of school testing.

Published in the Denver Post, March 6, 2015
Re: “Educator’s refusal to give PARCC called into question by district,” March 1 news story.
Your article fails to present the reasons for the success of the opt-out movement. Here are a few:

1) Students are being tested more than any time in history. The tests have bled huge amounts of class time from real instruction.

2) The new tests have no scientific validity: No studies have shown that the new tests will be helpful, and no studies are planned.

3) The cost of the current testing program is gigantic, especially because the tests must be given online. Billions are being wasted that are desperately needed for legitimate educational purposes.

All educators understand the need for assessment, but the current nonstop and unresearched approach to assessment is wrong. It is PARCC that should be called into question by Aurora Public Schools, not educator Peggy Robertson.

Stephen Krashen

The writer is a professor emeritus of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Evidence against the “STEM crisis”: US leads world in seeking scientific knowledge

Wang et. al. (2012) calculated the number of scientific articles downloaded over a 24 hour period (April 12, 2012) by individual country.  Here are the top ten, with the number downloaded and the country’s share of the total, from Wang et. al. table 1.

United States: 61,361 (29.62%)
Germany 31,122 (15.02%)
China 19, 826 (9.57%)
UK  8066 (3.89%)
Japan 6915 (3.34%)
Canada 6752 (3.26%)
Australia 6020 (2.91%)
India 5552 (2.68%)
France 4880  (2.36%)
South Korea 4630 (2.23%)

The US was the clear winner.  In terms of downloads per capita, Germany is first and the US second.

The US also leads the world in “prestige” journal publications (SCI/SSCI approved journals), with 474,306 in 2011. Second place China had 170,896.

We are constantly told that the United States is suffering a crisis in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).  This data, however, suggests that the US is the world leader in seeking new knowledge about STEM subjects.

Wang, X. W., Xu, S. M., Peng, L., Wang, Z., Wang, C. L., Zhang, C. B., & Wang, X. B. (2012). Exploring Scientists’ Working Timetable: Do Scientists Often Work Overtime? Journal of Informetrics, 6(4), 655-660.