Extensive reading – Who chooses the books? Teacher? Or Student?

Extensive reading, in which one reads books graded to one’s level, is an important element of foreign language study. Students should be able to read the book easily without a dictionary.

One of the ten principles of extensive reading (Day and Bamford – Reading in a Foreign Language, Volume 14, No. 2 October 2002) is that “learners choose what they want to read”. What the students want to read, and what the teacher wants them to read can differ.

I have been teaching university and college level students, and adults students on a full-time and part-time basis for 19 years. During that time, I have recommended extensive reading to my students, and very often, they have asked me what kind of books I recommend. Early on in my teaching career I used to recommend classics by Dickens, Shakespeare, and Austen. When I followed up with the students to see how their reading was going, I found that in some cases, it wasn’t going well. “I just can’t get into it”. “It’s just not my type of book”, and “Even in Japanese I don’t read old classics”, were some of the comments I received as feedback. So I told them to do as Day and Bamford say, “choose what you want to read”. This had a much more positive outcome, and showed me that what we as teachers want our students to read is not necessarily what our students want to read. We often think that, as teachers, we are responsible for our students’ learning, and we are, up to a point. We plan the curriculum, we choose the class textbooks, we conduct the classes. However, there comes a time when the student must take responsibility for his or her own learning. Extensive reading is one of those times. As the phrase implies, students must read extensively to get the benefits of graded reading. Thus, they have to enjoy what they are reading. If they don’t, it becomes a chore, and the benefits are lost.

When I started publishing graded readers, I did some market research. Students, rather than teachers, were the first people I approached. They told me what they wanted to read. We started out writing books for our students, with an awareness of what they would enjoy. We have since made our books available to the general public and to other universities and institutions. The kind of books ordered gives us insights into what is popular and what is not. For any company, when planning a new product, the end user’s desires are of great importance. It is, after all, those who will buy and use the product. Graded readers are no different.

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