Extensive Reading (ER) is a flexible and autonomous activity, which is ideal for setting students up with healthy independent reading habits that will serve them long after their language course is over. The ER approach encourages learners to read a large quantity of books at an accessible level—often simplified Graded Reader texts—in order to develop reading speed and fluency, vocabulary acquisition (Krashen, 1989), linguistic awareness and competence, and a range of affective benefits (Nation, 1997). The self-directed nature of ER however, means that teachers will face considerations of how to motivate students to participate with autonomy, and how to effectively monitor and measure their progress. Documenting students’ reading practice using reading logs, book reviews, reports, etc., can be a time-consuming process to monitor and assess. Even then, the teacher may still be left doubting whether the student has actively and honestly participated in the spirit of ER.
MReader was developed in 2013 as a “user-friendly, browser-based” version of Moodle Reader (MReader, n.d., n.p.), offering a database of over 6,000 online quizzes for Graded Reader texts from a range of publishers. Its subscription-based counterpart, Xreading, offers a variety of additional facilities, including an extensive range of online Graded Reader texts (Milliner & Cote, 2014). MReader, on the other hand, is a free system that focuses on tests and reading logs without providing the reading texts themselves. This article evaluates MReader as an online platform for monitoring students’ engagement and progress in Extensive Reading.
Setting Up MReader
First teachers interested in using MReader must set up an institutional MReader Admin account by emailing Tom Robb at <firstname.lastname@example.org> to request permission and receive an access code. There is usually one site registration per institution (or faculty), although more than one site account is possible, depending on the size of the institution. This means that someone must take responsibility for administration at an institutional level: creating teacher accounts, setting up class groups, and registering students. This takes a little time initially, but requires minimal attention throughout the semester.
An individual MReader account is created for each student providing access to their individual homepage, which displays their Reading Report. Each teacher has an account that may be affiliated with multiple class lists. All enrollment processes, as well as institution-wide settings, are managed by the institution’s MReader Administrator (hereafter referred to as Admin), while some text level and test settings are administered by the teacher on a student-by-student and class-by-class basis. The institutional Admin may also adjust the administrative rights of teachers on certain settings, such as changing students’ word-count goals and allocating extra credit.
How Does MReader Work?
Students log into their homepage to view their Reading Report (Figure 1) or to access a new quiz. The homepage displays cover images of books students have successfully passed quizzes on, a table detailing all quizzes taken, and a tally of the total words the student has read. They can open a pop-up box for more details on the quizzes they have taken across all courses. There is also a reading goal progress bar, information about their current level setting, and recent test status. When a student has finished reading a book, they enter the book title or keywords from the title into the search bar to access a page of book cover icons that match their search. They select the icon that matches the level and edition they have read in order to access the test for that reader.
MReader tests typically comprise 10 questions that come in a variety of forms, including True/False, multiple choice, “Who said…?,” and drag-and-drop chronological sorting tasks. These questions are randomly selected from a bank of 20 possible questions per book, which helps to mitigate the risk of students sharing answers to cheat the system. The quizzes are purposefully “easy [and] relatively superficial in nature” (MReader, n.d., n.p.). MReader recommends the institutional Admin set a relatively low passing grade of 60%, so that the tests gauge general understanding and fluency rather than intensive reading comprehension. To prevent students from looking up answers to questions in the book, MReader tests are timed, which means that students must have already read the book before attempting the quiz.
After a student takes a test, the result is logged. To prevent cheating or end-of-semester cramming, the system has a default 24-hour delay setting (which can be modified) before the student can take another test. This setting can be overridden at the discretion of the teacher, who can also allow a student to retake a quiz they have failed. There is an option for students to receive a word-count penalty if they fail a test three times in a row, and a facility for teachers to check on other tell-tale signs of cheating, such as two students taking the same quiz at the same time or having multiple quizzes in common. Teachers also have the ability to adjust reading levels and reading goals, grant students extra time to take a test, and give extra credit in exceptional situations, such as when a quiz is not available, or when a student has failed a test despite having read the book.
In terms of monitoring and assessing ER practice, the data from MReader provides a clear and mostly self-maintaining record of student participation and performance, that can be used in graded assessments. Having an accessible record of a class’ (Figure 2) and individual student’s reading activity also makes it easy for teachers to identify students who need more encouragement and support, as well as those who are thriving. On this page, teachers are also able to set and change reading goals and levels, give extra credit, access individual students’ pages, manage passwords, etc. In addition, the MReader site is accessible online, which means that students can take tests anywhere and in their own time, reducing the demands on class time in administering and monitoring ER activity. Book review activities may also be incorporated into class as part of students’ wider literacy practice but are no longer necessary as proof of students’ reading activity.
MReader seems to also enhance students’ experience of ER. It provides students with quantifiable data regarding their own reading progress, which offers acknowledgement and validation of keen students and gives a platform for less outspoken students to shine. These students may have already been motivated to read extensively, but registering this activity on a visible and accountable platform provides an additional reward. There can also be an element of competition and self-imposed challenge in which students are motivated to read beyond their classmates or be the first to exceed the word count target. The author is currently undertaking a comparative research project, to quantify how motivation and performance are affected by the MReader platform. From anecdotal observations and informal classroom conversations so far, students also seem to be more motivated to discuss their reading habits and make recommendations to their peers. In some classes, a community of reading started to develop, with books being passed between students, and between teacher and student.
The MReader platform requires some scaffolding when being introduced to students initially, and teachers need to be able to deal with some issues that students will encounter. For example, a student may be confused about why they cannot access a quiz. Sometimes there is no quiz in the MReader system, or the search term does not work to locate the appropriate quiz. This was very rare, and could be addressed by the teacher by interviewing the student about the book and awarding extra credit if the teacher is satisfied that they had read it. Sometimes the search feature works, but if the book is framed in red, this means that the student cannot take the quiz. This could be because the level of the book is different from the student’s level setting, they have taken a quiz within the past 24 hours, or they have already taken this quiz before. It might also be because a student has opened a quiz accidentally, or finished taking a quiz, and exited the page without taking the post-quiz survey. This survey must be opened or completed in order for new quizzes to be made accessible again.
When students read a book at a level above their settings, they must request the teacher to change their account setting. This could delay the test and result in failure. They may also fail a quiz for a book they have read because the level is too high. Teachers can permit a retake or grant extra credit at their discretion. To avoid this, however, either the level could be enforced more strongly, or students could be encouraged to check the level before reading the book and request a change of level setting in advance. Students should also be advised that they are more likely to fail a test if they wait too long after reading the book.
On very rare occasions, a quiz exists, but some questions are blank. MReader will fix such issues immediately when notified. In the meantime, teachers can advise students to take a screenshot of the empty field, then choose a random answer. If this causes them to fail the test, they may speak to the teacher, providing the screenshot as evidence, and request a retake. Finally, in the case where a student has been enrolled in a class in a previous year, they must remember to select the correct class name/number on their homepage before searching for and taking a new quiz. If they fail to do this, the quiz data will be registered to their account, but allocated to the Reading Report of their former class.
MReader offers an accessible platform for teachers to monitor reading progress, holding students accountable for their reading practice without needing to collect and collate paper reading records. It is also a motivating and meaningful way to develop a culture of talking about reading, raising awareness of the benefits of selecting books at an appropriate level, and encouraging students to develop a healthy habit of regular reading for fluency. The limitations detailed above show that MReader requires careful scaffolding and monitoring to ensure that students face as few obstacles as possible in using the system. Small issues do arise from time to time, but none of these are insurmountable, and there are a variety of ways for teachers to deal with them, given a little patience and discretion. For teachers who are willing to invest a little time and attention to introducing their classes to MReader, their students could become more motivated and engaged with their ER practice in general.
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