Despite the well-recognized benefits of student engagement with extensive reading (ER) (see Krashen, 2009), many teachers struggle with its implementation. Key issues in ER implementation include the cost of establishing and maintaining a graded reader library (Bamford & Day, 1998; Hinkelman, 2013), keeping students accountable for their reading (Campbell & Weatherford, 2013; Robb & Kano, 2013), and most importantly, finding the time to oversee the ER component, especially if it is extensive reading done outside of class (Robb & Kano, 2013). The release of Xreading <www.xreading.com> represents a technology-based solution to these and many other challenges teachers face when implementing an ER program. This article will introduce the web-based program and reflect on some observations of its implementation in the English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) program at Tamagawa University.
Implementing ER using Xreading
Teachers looking to implement ER in their classes face numerous challenges. First and foremost is cost (Day & Bamford, 1998). One graded reader (GR) is approximately ¥1,000, therefore the cost for an institution to establish and provide a wide selection of GR’s of varying genres and difficulty levels requires a substantial investment (Hinkelman, 2013). Furthermore, the maintenance and management costs of a GR library must also be considered.
A second concern addresses how teachers can effectively evaluate and hold students accountable for their reading (Campbell & Weatherford, 2013; Robb & Kano, 2013). ER is rarely a major component in any curriculum and teachers are often preoccupied with more immediate curricular demands such as preparing for standardized tests and textbook requirements. As a result, while teachers may believe in the potential language learning benefits of ER, many do not have time to evaluate their student’s reading. Furthermore, time constraints prevent teachers from giving constructive feedback and ER support, which handicaps the fostering of an ER experience whereby reading becomes its own pleasurable reward (Day & Bamford, 1998).
Launched in April 2014, Xreading is a web-based, virtual library of GR’s and a learning management system (LMS) devoted solely to ER. As of this writing, there are over 400 titles in the Xreading library. A one-year license (¥2,400) grants access to all books in the library and the post-reading quizzes. The LMS enables teachers to effectively monitor and evaluate students’ reading through the Classes page (see Figure 1). A teacher can scan to see how many books students have read, the average book level, how many words a student has read, what percentage of each book has been read, how many hours were spent reading, the student’s words per minute (WPM) reading speed, and quiz results.
In addition to this performance overview, teachers can also view students’ individual reading progress (see Figure 2). Although useful, the overview shows only average scores. Therefore, if a student was unable to finish a book, or experienced technical difficulties, their average results for WPM or percentage completed would be affected.
Teachers can use the LMS information to identify:
- whether students are actually reading (e.g., high WPM and short reading time may suggest that a student is skipping pages);
- whether students are reading at the appropriate level (discernible through quiz scores, reading speeds, and reading history);
- whether the deadlines for reading tasks are appropriate; and
- what level the class is generally reading at.
As stated above, teachers can also control reading tasks and deadlines. The Assignments function allows teachers to regulate when students can read a book, what type of book they can choose (e.g., level and publisher), and quiz settings. The tool also allows teachers to assign the same book to an entire class, permitting the implementation of a wider range of ER-related activities. Taken together, these functions can motivate students to read more consistently and allow teachers to control the pacing of a class’s reading.
As close to 100% of Japanese university students now own smartphones (Cote, Milliner, Flowers, & Ferreira, 2014), Xreading is able to capitalize on the mobile capabilities of these devices. With an Internet connection, students are able to access the Xreading library anytime and anywhere, so they do not need to be responsible for a paperback GR. Although the teacher can restrict student’s borrowing privileges, the system provides more flexibility for borrowing books (e.g., no overdue penalties or borrowing limits, and easy searching within the Xreading library).
Students can also access feedback on their reading progress through the LMS. As seen in Figure 2, a student’s reading speed, word counts, and quiz results are illustrated on their My Books page. This data was found to be useful for comparing reading goals against actual reading performance (e.g., word targets, book targets, and increases in WPMs). A pre-pilot questionnaire found that very few students had ever read on their smartphones. However, we were able to identify that in comparison to a paperback GR, students were able to read just as fast—if not faster—on their smartphones. In addition, we learned that comprehension skills were not adversely affected (Cote & Milliner, 2014). Post-pilot questionnaire data also revealed that students were now willing to read books on their smartphones or PCs and wanted to continue using Xreading in the fall semester.
Challenges to using Xreading
Conducting an ER component on the Xreading platform still has challenges. As this system is entirely electronic, teachers and students must be prepared to cope with technical problems such as login issues, delays, time-outs, and loading failures.
Another point of concern is the selection of titles in the Xreading library. According to Day and Bamford (1998), a graded reader library should provide a variety of materials on a wide choice of topics and genres. In our pilot study, students wanted to read at the early intermediate level (800-1000 headwords), yet there were only six titles available in this category at the time. Teachers should be advised to check that the range of titles suits their students’ needs prior to integrating Xreading into their program.
Xreading represents an excellent digital solution to the implementation of ER. Our experience enabled us to oversee and evaluate the students’ reading much more efficiently and effectively. But most importantly, the anytime/anywhere capabilities of mobile devices combined with a virtual system enabled our students to read much more than their classmates who were reading paperbacks.
- Campbell, J., & Weatherford, Y. (2013). Using M-reader to motivate students to read extensively. In S. Miles & M. Brierley (Eds.), Extensive Reading World Congress Proceedings (pp. 1-12). Seoul: Extensive Reading Foundation.
- Cote, T., & Milliner, B. (2014). Extensive reading on mobile devices: Is it a worthwhile strategy? In M. Abdullah, T. B. Hoon, W. B. Eng, F. Idrus, A. B. M. Razali, & S. Sivapalan (Eds.), Proceedings from the 12th Asia TEFL International Conference and 23rd MELTA International Conference 2014 (pp. 979-990). Sarawak, Kuching: Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA).
- Cote, T., Milliner, B., Flowers, S., & Ferreira, D. (2014). What’s going on at the MALL? PeerSpectives, 12, 37-40.
- Day, R., & Bamford, J. (1998). Extensive reading in the second language classroom. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Hinkelman, D. (2013). Blending technologies in extensive reading: MoodleReader in a Japanese university EFL program. In S. Miles & M. Brierley (Eds.), Extensive Reading World Congress Proceedings (pp. 91-100). Seoul: Extensive Reading Foundation.
- Krashen, S. (2009). 81 Generalizations about free voluntary reading (IATEFL Young Learner and Teenager Special Interest Group Publication 2009-1). Retrieved from <successfulenglish.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/81- Generalizations-about-FVR-2009.pdf>
- Robb, T., & Kano, M. (2013). Effective extensive reading outside the classroom: A large-scale experiment. Reading in a Foreign Language, 25(2), 234-247.