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The First Extensive Reading World Congress, Kyoto Sangyo University, September 3-6, 2011

Writer(s): 
Kim Bradford-Watts, Kyoto Women’s University

 

The First Extensive Reading World Congress kicked off to a wet and windy start as a typhoon approached Kyoto. Braving the elements, participants gathered at Kyoto Sangyo University to expand their knowledge of Extensive Reading (ER). The conference was sponsored by The Extensive Reading Foundation and held in cooperation with The Japan Extensive Reading Association (JERA) and the JALT Extensive Reading SIG. The keynote speaker was David Hill. There was also a plenary session by William Grabe, and featured speaker sessions by Jeong-Ryeol Kim, Richard Day, and Paul Nation. Approximately 160 concurrent presentations rounded out the program.

One major theme I noticed while attending sessions was that of program flexibility according to instructional context and philosophy. Although the popularity of ER is growing across Asia and other regions, there are differences in how proponents conceptualize ER’s underlying rationale and practice. Some, including Richard Day, envisage ER as necessarily being linked to enjoyment of reading to encourage students to read in their second language. Others, such as David Hill, assert that students need to know that they must read extensively because, like eating broccoli at dinner, it is good for them. Descriptions of program implementation reflected the underlying philosophies held, and institutional requirements encountered, by presenters. The many programs described included the following ideas:

  1. Informally introducing ER to individual classes, and rewarding students with bonus points according to either the number or total word count of books read.
  2. Requiring students to read a certain number of books and completing a timed, weighted test administered via Moodle software.
  3. Using reading circles and structured class activities to support learner interactions with texts and group members.

More ideas for introducing ER were suggested by Richard Day, and included making an after school ER club, or scheduling ER during homeroom time. Some presenters were able to describe progressive developments made to their programs over a number of years, providing attendees with interesting accounts of curriculum development efforts at secondary and tertiary educational institutions, which struck me as being particularly valuable to those who have not yet worked through the process of introducing ER into their teaching contexts.

The second theme I noticed was that of writing and publishing ER texts. The demand for appropriate, high quality ER texts is growing, and publishers are scrambling to find authors who can produce ER texts for inclusion in their catalogs. Rob Waring outlined the publishing process and the elements that combine to make a great graded reader, while Marcos Benevides provided some background to the process of writing for the new Choose your own adventure series, in which readers follow storylines to different endings depending on choices they make at various junctures of the storyline. Ted O’Neill, on the other hand, shared his method of providing accessible, understandable content to students by adapting copyright-expired science fiction stories for download, illustrating how anyone can publish creative commons titles that can be freely shared throughout the world.

The final theme was that of developing digital systems for supporting and assessing readers. Publishers are assisting those implementing ER programs by developing online, mobile, and downloadable content, including audio recordings of texts, testing systems, and teacher resources. However, those working with ER are also developing online and downloadable content. The most notable of these is the Moodle testing system developed largely by the staff at Kyoto Sangyo University, which currently features timed and weighted tests for 1,600 published ER texts. Thom Robb and Rob Waring described the work that they have been doing to prepare Moodle Reader 2 for use in ER programs.

Something that particularly struck me was that during the final panel discussion, the experts in ER showed that they had listened to how ER is being implemented and confessed that they themselves had learned about ER by attending the presentations. Their experiences at this conference will influence their theory and practice of ER as well.

I thought the conference was phenomenal. Thom Robb and the conference team did an amazing job of organizing this conference. The student volunteers were friendly, courteous, and went out of their way to assist presenters and attendees. Attendees at the keynote and plenary sessions, the (excellent) conference dinner, and the final panel discussion can all attest to a crowd of participants at the conference, although the layout and size of the conference site promoted a rather intimate feel overall. My thanks go to the conference team, and I look forward to the next ER world congress, scheduled for 2013.

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