Teacher Dereliction Anxiety Dissorder
(a follow up to my first extensive reading post here)
|T-DAD is not found in the
DSM-5 and is not likely to be
found in the DSM-6 or DSM-7
Extensive Reading, or carving out class time so students can read what they want for pleasure and hence spend reading time practicing reading, is a large part of my program here in Osaka. Students read for three 30-minute periods a week. There are no rules about what they can read, how long they have to continue reading one book, and no follow up exams. Students just read.
Now, if you don’t have an extensive reading component in your English program, you might have a few questions about how to set up an ER program for your school, in which case I highly recommend you check out the Extensive Reading Foundation’s Guide to Extensive Reading as well as Bamford and Day’s “Top Ten Principles for Teaching Extensive Reading.” And if you are looking for some evidence to back up that idea that this whole ER thing actually works, I recommend this, this and this which read together point to the fact that extensive reading improves reading speed, spelling, writing, vocabulary and attitudes towards reading itself.
But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about T-DAD and the fact that teachers are teachers and often have the very bad habit of wanting to actively teach something. Even more so, teachers
too often sometimes want to measure if students learn what the teacher has taken pains to actively teach. In general, a pure ER program, one in which students are just reading for pleasure, doesn’t really allow a teacher to do either of these things. And this can lead to some serious anxiety. Are the students really reading the books? Are they learning anything? Are they improving? I also suffered from these flashes of panic. I too was diagnosed with T-DAD. So I want to give 3 or 4 ideas of things a teacher can do to decrease the anxiety around extensive reading.
- Have students keep track of the number of pages they have read. They keep a running tally of the total number of pages they have read in their notebook. It’s amazing how quickly the pages add up. Don’t worry about the level of the books. Don’t worry about the rate of reading. Just have students keep track of this raw number. In my class, many of the students are reading starter-level books. Usually they are about 17 to 20 pages long. Most of them will complete one book in a 30-minute period. This means that at the end of a week, they get to add about 60 pages to their page tally. At the end of a month they usually get to tack on over 200 pages. At the end of a semester, a big number like 500 pages of English read really helps the students feel like they’ve accomplished something. And it also gives you, the teacher, something tangible to hang on to. What did your students really accomplish with all that class time dedicated to reading? THEY READ 500 PAGES OF ENGLISH! That’s what they did. Relax.
- Add a 1 minute speed reading sprint to the end of the lesson. Tell the students to read for one minute, time them, then have them count up the total number of words they read. Instead of just writing the number, have them plot it on graph paper. Students in my class have seen steady reading speed improvement over the past two years. Those steadily climbing line-graphs give the students a lot of confidence in their own reading abilities, and helps reduce my anxiety that ER is worthwhile. I just took my last reading speed rates for this semester and each and every student in my class is now reading at over 150 words per minute. Most of them over 200 words per minute. And most of them started with a reading rate at right around or under 100 words per minute. Sometimes their line graph will show a sudden extended dip, and this is almost always do to the fact that they have jumped up a level in regards to the reading material they are selecting. When this happens they get to enjoy watching the rates crawl steadily back up from 120 to 200 again.
- 3 sentence book reviews on the inside back cover of the book. Just what it says. Students only have to write three sentences about the book. They can write whatever they want. The book reviews are not graded, but they are signed. You can go back at the end of a few weeks and notice how the language the students use in these reviews changes and develops. And the best part, students think they are doing it to help their friends and fellow students read interesting books and avoid boring ones. They have no idea that actually, producing these short reviews is all about making the teacher feel good about the fact that students are picking up new vocabulary and improving their grammatical accuracy.
As you might have noticed, all of the activities above are low pressure and don’t require a lot of time and clearly show improvement in some way or another. This is key as the whole point of extensive reading is that students enjoy the act of reading. If ER comes attached with all kinds of difficult tasks and assessment components, than they joy of reading is likely to become infected with the taint of “school work.” Which is why I’m a little hesitant to share my fourth (and last) ER extension activity. But when it comes to easing the symptoms of T-DAD, this is the absolute best activity I’ve ever used. And I still use it in my classes.
・Read/Think/Write: This is an old activity recommended by Michael West, the guy who gave us the General Service List. It’s also something that my friend and mentor John Fanselow recommends highly and mentions in this article. But I don’t recommend it because it comes attached to big names, but rather because I have seen how well it has worked in my classes. The activity lasts 7 minutes. Students turn to the front page of the book they read during an extensive reading period. They read as much as they can easily hold in their working memory (as much as they can easily remember), turn the book over, count to 3, and write down what they thought that had just read. Then they draw a slash. Then they pick up the book and read from the last word they wrote down. Once again they read as much as they think they can easily remember, turn the book over, count to 3, and write down what they can remember, ending with a slash. It looks something like this:
They do this for seven minutes. They do not correct anything. They do not go over what they have just read. They just keep plowing ahead. And ahead. Right until 7 minutes is up. Then they count the total number of words they wrote and the number of slashes. If you divided the number of words by the number of slashes, you get a rough idea of how many words a student can hold in their working memory. Even better, if students are putting slashes in the middle of syntactic groups (those groups of words that hang together naturally in a sentence), you have a pretty good indication that something odd is happening with how they are reading the text. Reviewing their read/think/write notebooks can highlight students who are reading at an inappropriate level, are having trouble with spelling and sound relationships, and a host of other factors. Here’s a sample of two Read/Think/Write exercises from the same student, one at the beginning of May:
You can see that the average number of word per slash increased from 4 to 8, a pretty good sign that the student is starting to work with larger and larger chunks of language.
The final step in the read/think/write activity is to have the students compare what they wrote with the text and circle any differences between the two. Some of those difference will be perfectly acceptable, such as a student who wrote down “the very pretty girl was loved by her father,” instead of “the most beautiful girl was loved by her father.” Going over these differences with the students and showing them how some changes are OK while some are not, can help them to develop good summary skills and also helps you, the teacher, to see at what level students are comprehending the texts.
It usually takes a while for the students to get used to the read/think/write process; I’ve found that things go smoothly after about a month of regular practice. But just giving the students a chance to clearly see that they are working with larger and larger chunks of language makes the time and effort worthwhile. As an added bonus, read/think/write is an activity that students can use outside of class and with any text. So not only are they improving their English, students are also adding another activity to their autonomous learner’s toolkit.
So that’s my list of 1 relatively long (~12 minutes in total) and 3 very short extension activities you can do to reduce your T-DAD around ER. But these activities also reduce your students’ anxiety as well by giving them concrete evidence that they are improving. And that’s important, because as much anxiety as you as a teacher might have around extensive reading, I find it often pales in comparison to the anxiety students are feeling. For a majority of our students, learning English has been a story of struggle. They’ve been forced to read texts in which they have minimal interest, littered with language they cannot understand; even worse, once the text is read, it is usually only reviewed for the purpose of preparing for the test which looms at the end of the semester. So for many of our students, reading classes are by nature joyless and stressful. A well-structured extensive reading program combined with unobtrusive extension activities can convince students (slowly but surely) that this doesn’t have to be the case. And that’s a pretty good thing, seeing as how a classroom free of T-DAD and S(tudent)-DAD, is classroom where everyone can settle into a good book, secure in the knowledge that the joy of reading is very much the joy of learning.
In case anyone is wondering, at the end of the semester, we take the raw data from students’ ER extension activities and give each student a reading report. Here’s the report for one of my second year students from the second semester of this year:
If you’re interested in getting the Excel file (which includes all of the equations and graphs), just let me know in a comment or send me an email.