51 comments on “Does reading (and learning a language) require two brains?

  1. Dear Mr. Harmer:
    Well i believe extensive reading plays more important role in learning,because while you read for pleasure there is no force to memorize the content, which mostly happens among the students, although it is not the case.So you internalize the material and learn it by heart as you are free of all aspects including anxiety.This is what Krashen says. Therefore, his theory is not that much superannuated and can be linked to current approaches.In fact during intensive reading you do learn more since you peruse the text and analyze it but you remember less, but in ER it is viceversa.
    But i do not agree with David Hill as he says:”most students find reading in a foreign language difficult and not at all pleasurable, certainly at first.” and “when entertainment is the foremost reason for reading, publishers, teachers, and students have no focus for selecting titles”. As a student of foreign language, i think he has generalized it too much and why not go for edutainment?!
    At last it behooves me to thank You for all your inspiring words.
    sara

    • Hi Sara,

      thanks so much for commenting on my blog post.

      The thing about reading for pleasure is to wonder (as I was doing in the blog post) what effect it has. Does it have a different function/is it done differently from other kinds of reading? That’s what fascinated me.

      It is interesting that you mention edutainment, because in a sense that’s what this is all about. How much do we learn from watching a fictionalised documentary? How much – and perhaps this is the key question – do we remember?!

      Jeremy

      • Thank you so much for your prompt reply.
        Your question have made me to think more deeply.i believe our brain reacts differently to ER than the other as the research of Ms. Philips proved that.But which one is more useful? Both of them are needed and they complement each other .So how about amalgamating these two and make a new reading process like EIR? By this I mean choose our own topic and provide that relaxed and enjoyable condition but peruse the text!
        sara

  2. Hi Jeremy

    Thanks for the post.

    As you know, I’m also an advocate of Extensive Reading, so this gets the juices flowing. For me, you seem to be writing about two quite big issues here. The first is whether or not ER excites the brain that other activities don’t reach; the second is how we ‘sell’ ER to our audience(s). And as David R. Hill says, if we had some proof of the first, it would really help with the second.

    I think Hill makes a very good point in the passage that you quote- I do think we have to be careful about assuming that our students and their parents have the same enthusiasm for reading as we do. But there is another issue, I feel, and one which gets a bit lost in all the hyperbole about ER. It’s this: I think my brain, like yours, would definitely register excitement when reading Jane Austen. But I know plenty of people who might well register the exact opposite. In fact, they may find Austen a bit of a chore- and maybe the part of the brain that registers concentrated/study reading is then activated. Who knows?

    The point is this: as native readers of the language, we are extremely varied in our tastes, and, certainly as adults, we don’t read what we don’t like unless doing a course in Eng. Lit. We choose what we want to read. I like Ian McEwan, but I don`t like Martin Amis and never read him. There will be people who read this who are the exact opposite. Yet when it comes to providing fiction for students, it often comes down to ‘Read this’, or at worst ‘We have to read this.’ I know that many enlightened teachers have class libraries, but I also know that in many parts of the world, teachers simply give out a reader for the whole class to read. If we don’t give students choice about what they read, then how can we assume that they are enjoying it? In fact, it would be incredible if a class of 25 students all enjoyed the same book! In other words, we are trying to mix reading for pleasure, which implies the freedom to choose, with `Read this`, which harks back to a different methodological framework.

    I can believe that ER and IR are different processes. But the information you give about the cognitive psychologist raises a lot more questions in my mind. Questions such as ‘Does the brain register in a different way when reading with displeasure?’

    I’m an Extensive Reading enthusiast, but I don’t think it’s a magic bullet. For me, the key questions are how teachers approach ER with their students, and how much choice students get in the reading they do. Additionally, we have to be very careful about how we promote ER, and the claims we make for it. I think the passage you quote from Hill, however startling, is very astute.

    • Hello Sue,

      thanks for coming along!

      I love the idea of reading for/with ‘displeasure’!!

      I absolutely agree with you that a key feature of successful extensive reading (when promoted by teachers, that is) is student choice. IF reading for pleasure is our aim (and even though David R Hill has got me rattled I still hold to that!) then one of our main functions as teachers is to help that pleasure happen! And, exactly as you say, that will only work when/if the readers (aka students) make their own enthusiastic choices about what to read and enjoy.

      But I think what really interests/interested me about what I read was whether IR might actually be better for you – I mean whether you are more likely to remember what you study when reading intensively than you are when you read in a relaxed and enjoyable manner….

      Jeremy

  3. Fascinating post, Jeremy – and one that raises all sorts of issues, none of which I’m going to explore here (as much as I’d like to) except to defend my characterization of Krashen’s Input Hypothesis and Monitor Model as ‘superannuated’.

    It’s superannuated for at least two reasons:

    1. while the distinction between acquisition and learning is useful, Krashen’s insistence that the latter can NEVER become the other (the non-interface position) and hence that there is little or no value in formal instruction, is contradicted by logic, a ton of anecdotal evidence, and number-crunching syntheses of research studies (e.g. Norris & Ortega 2000);

    2. Krashen construes learning in somewhat mechanistic and computational terms, his models being firmly rooted in a cognitive paradigm in which, as Long and Richards (2001) put it,

    “second language acquisition is first and foremost a mental process – one that
    occurs in a behavioural and social context, to be sure, but fundamentally a
    matter of acquiring a new knowledge system. Cognition and cognitive factors,
    therefore, are central to any account of how and why SLA works, or so often fails”.

    This narrowly-conceived, de-contextualized, disembodied view of (language) learning may have suited an era in love with cybernetics (Pinker once described the mind as ‘an on-board computer of a robot made of tissue’), but, as many have argued since (in the words of the late lamented Leo van Lier, 1996):

    “we need to move away from viewing language learning (or any learning, for that matter) in terms of the input/output metaphor (or, more generally, from an information-processing perspective)”.

    This metaphor, he claims, promotes “a causal, and rather mechanistic, perspective on learning in which the establishment of intersubjectivity and reciprocity, and the social nature of language and cognition, are ignored”.

    Thus, reading (and learning to read) is not just about information processing, and whatever a scanner reveals about blood flow in the brain is simply the merest trace of processes that involve the reader’s personal history, his/her total language experience, the context (spatial-temporal, and socio-cultural), his/her body, identity, motivations, etc etc. Thus, the answer to the question as to why one person is an avid reader and another isn’t is probably not located in the brain at all!

    • Hello Scott,

      I’ve been mulling over your comments for twenty-four hours or so, not least because of your emphasis on a kind of social-constructivist view of things. ‘Avid reading’ may not be located in the brain at all. Now there’s a thought!

      But Krashen first! Yes, of course Krahshen’s Input Hypothesis was undermined by his detractors. Who, after all, can forget Gregg’s ‘Krashen’s Input Hypothesis and Occam’s Razar’ published as long ago as 1984 in Applied Linguistics 5/2? Especially if they were (sigh) around at the time! But what Gregg and other’s were objecting to is the suggestion (which you remind us about, of course) that there is no effective interface between acquired and learnt language. That seemed counter-intuitive apart from anything else. And yes, learning may have been very narrowly defined in Krashen’s formulations in those far off days. But in suggesting that there are different processes for getting input, however baldly stated, Stephen Krashen did us a service, and in that respect I think he is still relevant, If not, why, then, do we as a profession persist in communicative activities vs form focus events, pleasure vs pain (!). If we do NOT believe in any idea of comprehensible input then we’d better abandon (pretty quickly) a whole lot of things we have really enjoyed asking our students to do for years now….

      Now as to brains and social factors etc…well yes, avid reading may be a social construct, and without that avideness (-ity?) we wouldn’t read for pleasure at all. It’s a bit like music practice (another current interest of mine). Music practice can NOT be just a mechanical brain activity, yet brain-less practice (just messing around on an instrument) is far less easy to pin down in terms of possible benefits. And even more interesting (moving away from the brain, perhaps, in the mechanistic sense), why is it that some people do a lot of practice and others just can’t be a***d?!

      So I have no trouble in feeling enormous sympathy for the Leo Van Lier quote you included in your comment. Nevertheless once we have engaged with text (having decided in a non-mechanistic way so to do) then the way we do that IS interesting, I guess, and that’s what i found fascinating about the Standford/Michigan research.

      Am I making any sense. Only polite answers to that question please!!

      Jeremy

      • Thanks for your well mulled response, Jeremy!

        Yes, of course, we have a lot to be thankful to SK for, not least the way he has provoked argument over the years. But I don’t think it needed Krashen to suggest that there is incidental learning and intentional learning, and that reading can ‘fuel’ both types. (Isn’t that what you’re saying?!) It’s also well documented that readers ‘shift gear’ often when they read, especially when they encounter difficulties, hence reading slightly beyond your comfort level (i + 1 – oops, Krashen again!) can be good for you, because it forces attention on the language (e.g. what does this word mean?). Forcing attention on the language pays dividends in terms of memory, and, ultimately, learning.

        There’s a fine balance, it seems, between reading for pleasure (and not really learning anything), and reading for pleasure but with a little bit of challenge (and maybe learning something). How we – as teachers – calibrate this is anyone’s guess!

  4. Jeremy,

    Great post and questions. I think the key thing that stood out for me were your words, “enjoyed thinking about”. What exactly do we mean by this, did you mean? Can we ever define that? What does it mean when a student says, “I enjoyed reading “x”?” Your post was all about this fuzzy question and I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. I learned years ago (but have to keep reminding myself) – no definite line between what I teach and what students learn. Most important to keep many pathways available to the students so they will “enjoy”.

    In general, I’m dismissive of so much ER – it becomes less about enjoyment and more about tracking students, numbers of words learned, ticking off the boxes. I prefer a good DEAR program and sharing in reading circles our thoughts/feelings about the books we read.

    Are you familiar with the research of Maryanne Wolfe and her concept of “the reading brain”? She is big on promoting deep reading and just a brilliant thinker.

    I don’t think there are “two” brains but I do believe there are two different types of processing happening. Shallow (typically what we stylize as “learning”) and Deep (typically associated as acquisition). This video outlines well a famous study in this regard. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O7y7XEC66M (but is simplified and focused on vocabulary retention).

    I don’t think the question is “pleasure or no pleasure” – I really think that what is most important is what the student is thinking about when they are learning / reading – that they are making the deeper associations and connections to the language. That they are making the language their own through their own metaphors. This is where tacit knowledge (Polyani is a good reference) / deep processing / connectivism all merge in learning and which unfortunately is so hard to measure and why education shouldn’t be something as simple as input – output (as Scott so well addresses) or learning be something we can bottle. This is also the same process that happens when “time flies” or the student reads a homerun book and is transformed into a reader. Flow happens and we need more research and insight into how to make this happen.

    Sue – can’t agree more about choice!!!! It is commandment #1 and why self directed learning in general is something all language teachers need to consider as a necessary part of their teaching.

    .

    • Hello David,

      I managed to get round to watching the video you posted and it makes very interesting viewing indeed. The difference between deep and shallow processing sounds intuitively satisfying to me. As Professor Chew says, it’s what you get students to do while they study that matters – how you get them to relate to the subject matter at hand.

      Yet, the task of the teacher is get students to engage in reading in the first place. What Scott calls avid reading. Well, he did on this blog anyway! Chew says motivation is NOT the key to successful study. The type and level of engagement is.

      In that sense the MRI scanner stuff is of interest surely. Because it is highly possible that SOME pleasure reading is ‘shallow’, whereas other kinds are deep. Maybe Neal (below) is on to something with the way they go about it at Swansea University, even though the ‘choice’ element seems missing?

      Jeremy

  5. Hi Jeremy, such a timely post for me as I’m preparing my presentation for the IH Barcelona conference this weekend. I’m going to be talking about delving deeper into the language of reading texts in class – the IR that interested you and is what I really want to get at. It’s a practical workshop based on teaching intuitions (that by stopping and exploring the language in detail in one small section of one text together in class we can encourage more attention to language and forms in reading beyond the classroom) and it’s great to be able to stop and look at the possible underlying research and theories.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Ceri,

      I hope you have a great time at the IH conference in Barcelona. Terrific line-up of speakers. I loved it last year.

      I wish I could be in your talk because, yes, examining text in detail is/has to be incredibly rewarding for students. But what do they get out of it exactly? And what happens in their brains as they are doing it? Those are the questions that interest me and which the Standford/Michigan research teasingly discusses (at least in the press reports I have read). And is what your students get out of this detailed IR study qualitatively different from what they get out of a more relaxed consumption?

      That’s silly, all I’ve done is re-state the question that this blogpost is all about!
      Jeremy

  6. Thank you all for your thought provoking ideas.

    To share our experience relative to these matters.

    At Swansea University we have embedded an ‘extensive reading course’ in our English for University Students programme. The quotation marks indicate we work with the material in both extensive and intensive style activities e.g. discussion circles, cultural connections, text analysis for grammar, vocabulary, theme and research (of theme and story content). Reading is supported in class and written work set to test understanding of meaning. Their best work is added to a portfolio and graded for assessment purposes. It counts as 20% and the entire portfolio is 70% with the last 30% being an exit exam.

    Thus we have been working with both models of reading activity with the same material. Each week is a discrete short story and we have variously used the Oxford Bookworms Club, Collections from Cambridge and right now more traditional text analysis activities around ‘Meet the Characters’, ‘A World of Difference’ and ‘Tales to Talk About’ short story collections from Black Cat. These are working brilliantly due to the duality of the activities and they way the teachers use them to connect and for analysis. Teacher and student feedback has been very positive.

    So the material we use can be classified as extensive, as are some of the activities but additionally there are intensive tasks. Reading for purpose but exploring themes and connections for interest. Does this not sound similar to the argument put forward by David R Hill and Scott Thornbury?

    This duality has arisen to meet students needs but seems to have a rationale in the findings and ideas raised here. I’d be interested in hearing about other institutions where this apparent crossover , driven by classroom practice, is benefiting students learning as we believe it is here?

    Neal Evans ELTS Swansea University

    • Hello Neal,

      thank you so much for coming along and commenting here.

      I am fascinated by the approach you have taken to extensive (and not so extensive) reading. In other words you are trying (and succeeding by all accounts) in trying to marry ER & IR approaches. But that begs a variety of questions of course. For example, if reading for pleasure involves a reader’s choice (see Sue Leather above, Scott, and Stephen Krashen below) in what they read, how is that catered for if everyone is reading the same text which they, presumably have not chosen? In other words the extensive reading part of your duality may not have the one characteristic that most ER enthusiasts ask for????

      What would be really nice is to see if David R Hill is right in this sense: how would it be if the students ONLY read the books for fun (but beating in mind the choice problem above) and then we found out what they thought and wheat, if anything, they had acquired/understood. And then we come back and do the IR stuff and see what the difference is/was. That would be interesting, I think.

      Thanks you for helping me to think more!

      Jeremy

      • There is little doubt our approach has moved away from reading for pleasure as predicated by the ability to choose your own story. This we have found, through operating a readers lending library and by other schemes, to have selective uptake and often not targeting those students we have measured to have the greatest need/gaps.

        The pragmatic need was to insist that the short story, of which students read one every two weeks is a vehicle for filing the gaps in language evident before attending university to study a subject specialism. A sort of reading for purpose and the pleasure will be the language gain plus the interest we predict you will get as discussions and investigation allow connections with your real life. Tying it to assessment has been a further step away from ‘choice’ but somehow this has connected more with the student than anything. Many extensive reading schemes, as ours started out have a convincing element to them and this has dropped off almost to be negligible since assessment came on and i certainly was not expecting that.

        Thus rather than being predicted on choice it is predicated on need which fits our EAP background. It is a cornerstone of our teaching and assessment and with all the demands on EAP programmes this in itself is evidence of something working. I am just not quite sure what?

        For some students it is the launch pad for greater autonomy and choice as they start to borrow regularly from the library. Mostly it just provides access to those harder to reach students and stimulates student (and teacher) motivation, interaction and production in a project style way.

        We have several of your readers in the library but they are too long to use in class and but we seem to break the perceived wisdom of extensive reading by working with short stories rather than longer stories with more opportunities for repeated language (narrower reading). Each short story is connected to more authentic language by way of newspaper articles on a related theme. Some stories are backed up by a similar themed story especially useful with the absolute highest level students (5.5-6.0 IELTS).

        This blend has certainly been unexpected but it has evolved through trial and error over 3 years to suit our students needs, possibly not to come under the umbrella of extensive reading at all. But it is fascinating.

  7. I wrote these notes on the Stanford study when it was first announced in the media, last October:

    Did the Stanford study really examine pleasure reading and critical reading?
    Re: Reading Literature Not Only a Pleasure (Language Magazine, October, 2012).
    Stephen Krashen

    The recent report on a study done by Stanford researchers on the difference between “pleasure reading” and more “serious” reading seems to support recent claims by Common Core advocates that we need to push heavier reading more in school. After all, it was found that “critical reading” stimulates blood flow in areas responsible for problem-solving, and involves “the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions,” while lighter reading seems not to.
    The research is still unpublished, so we don’t yet have all the details. From media reports, however, it is clear that the “pleasure reading” condition did not come close to real pleasure reading: Subjects did not select the book, and the pleasure reading was Jane Austen, not everybody’s choice for relaxing, interesting reading. True pleasure reading is self-selected and compelling, completely absorbing, even for the grad students in English literature who served as subjects.

    (In previous work in this area done by Victor Nell (Lost in a Book, Yale University Press, 1980), subjects selected their own reading; they were asked to bring a book they were currently reading and deeply involved in.)

    In addition, the academic reading was inauthentic. From information provided by Scientific American, subjects were asked “to read with heightened attention to things like formal structure and literary themes and patterns. Later, they were told, they would have to write a literary essay on those sections they had read critically.” Subjects were thus asked to analyze a text given to them, by an author they may or may not be interested in, and focus on form as well as meaning.

    True academic reading involves finding the answers to questions you pose yourself,, that you are deeply interested in. Also, true academic readers are focused on what the text says, not how it says it.

    Phillips’ results may only apply to reading in very artificial situations, in other words, reading in school.

    The conditions investigated in this study appear to be only dim reflections of real pleasure reading and real academic reading.

    • I was just writing a reply to some comments when yours came in so I’ll get round to it straight away before I start a webinar in a few minutes……

      (Yes, I know, too much information)

      But to the matter in hand. I had only just come across the Standford/Michigan studies (I’m a bit behind the times, I reckon) – or rather (and you are right, this is relevant), press reports of them. When, after all, does the press report science accurately? I am completely in sympathy with your worries about the artificiality of the whole enterprise. Who, after all, in any semblance of reality, reads anything for any reason in an MRI scanner?!

      Furthermore, as Sue Leather says in comments above – and with which I completely agree as a paid-up fan of extensive reading – it is almost impossible to read for pleasure unless you have made the choice to do so. Giving readers (aka students) CHOICE has to be the key to any reading scheme of that kind.

      OK, so we agree there. But there IS something, an echo, at least in what Phillips appears to have found, an echo of the duality you asked us to consider in the 1980s? Isn’t there? Because if there isn’t I’ve been harbouring a delusion for years!

      All the musicians I know, associate with, and play with talk about different processes associated with concentrated practice vs playing out. We receive music differently depending on how much we concentrate on what we are hearing. The same is surely try of reading.

      Jeremy

      • Definitely true of music and many other areas. Lots of studies show that time spent in concentrated practice (music, ice skating, chess, wrestling) are better predictors of competence than “just playing, just skating, just competing.” (In fact, number of chess books owned is a strong predictor of chess mastery. Bobby Fisher had one of the best collections.) I can supply citations for this in a few days (on the road now).

        But this is not true of language acquisition and literacy development. Skating, music, ice skating are not innate, inevitable. Language acquisition and literacy development is innate, inevitable given lots of comprehensible and truly interesting (compelling) input. See all the arguments on the complexity of the systems to be mastered (vocabulary, text structure, grammar, phonics) and the many comparison studies showing comprehensible input to be the consistent winner over study.

  8. And I have to add my usual comment: I have never said that conscious learning is useless and should be forbidden. Rather, my conclusion from the research is that it is limited.
    S Krashen

    • And I hope none of us have accused you of saying that. What I have always understood you to say is that conscious learning is of limited use (as you say) and that its primary function is to monitor output. Have I got that right?
      Jeremy

  9. Hi everybody,

    i found all the posts very thought-provoking but what has mostly fueled my interest is the word “edutainment”. From my relatively recent experience as a learner and my relatively short experience as a teacher, I tend to believe that extensive reading and “studying” can be successfully combined. I don’t actually know whether they can occur at the same time (meaning if our brain has the capacity to go through these two processes simultaneously) but under certain circumstance the reader may switch from one process to the other.

    I say so because I’ve noticed that my 11-year old students’ reflections vary quite much. The other day, we worked on a couple of images taken out of a fairy tale with an aim to practice “speculations” (therefore functional language). The oral task turned out to be very intriguing for them and they asked me if we could read the story, so I printed two chapters ( about 6 pages each), taught some vocabulary beforehand, so that their reading experience would be “challenging” -not difficult- and there they went to read the first chapter. The next lesson was a revelation: some of them had read both chapters because “they wanted to know” without having looked up further vocabulary items, some others had made a list of words and three of them had identified and stuck to “a grammar mistake” ( it’s essential that she go … “why go? Isn’t it present simple? Shouldn’t it be goes? Subj-what????”).

    My point is that no matter what the teacher’s motive may be, the reader’s profile will eventually determine the learning outcome of an “extensive reading experience”. One may read just because the genre of the reading item inspires them and some other because they might as well see it as a chance to learn new words, structures etc. Don’t the boundaries become a bit vague while reading? And isn’t it somehow counter-productive to impose the one or the other objective without allowing for the individual’s (learner’s) eventual reflection?

    Oh, and I find the parallelism between foreign language learning and music particularly apt. I happen to play a fretless instrument and I can say that cognition matters a hell of a lot. It is indeed innate when telling the slight differences between sounds. Practice can’t help if you don’t “hear” what you’re asked to practise.

    Thank you all for sharing your ideas.They’re enlightening (especially for “freshmen” like myself).

    Eleni P.

    • Hi Eleni,

      thanks you so much for coming along and leaving comments.

      It is extremely interesting to notice that different students do/get different things from the same piece of reading. That could be something to do with learning styles etc. Yet Professor Chew in the youtube video that David has posted above suggests that learning styles have little to do with anything.

      I am sure that the two ‘different’ processes can exist together but in what way and in what kind of balance or blend (something that Neal talks about). And more to the point, as teachers, how should we direct students’ attention to their reading? How do we encourage and provoke the ‘deep processing’ that will apparently yield the best results – especially if different students will respond differently. But teachers have to do some kind of ‘directing’, surely?

      Jeremy

  10. swanseaelts :

    There is little doubt our approach has moved away from reading for pleasure as predicated by the ability to choose your own story. This we have found, through operating a readers lending library and by other schemes, to have selective uptake and often not targeting those students we have measured to have the greatest need/gaps.

    The pragmatic need was to insist that the short story, of which students read one every two weeks is a vehicle for filing the gaps in language evident before attending university to study a subject specialism. A sort of reading for purpose and the pleasure will be the language gain plus the interest we predict you will get as discussions and investigation allow connections with your real life. Tying it to assessment has been a further step away from ‘choice’ but somehow this has connected more with the student than anything. Many extensive reading schemes, as ours started out have a convincing element to them and this has dropped off almost to be negligible since assessment came on and i certainly was not expecting that.

    Thus rather than being predicted on choice it is predicated on need which fits our EAP background. It is a cornerstone of our teaching and assessment and with all the demands on EAP programmes this in itself is evidence of something working. I am just not quite sure what?

    For some students it is the launch pad for greater autonomy and choice as they start to borrow regularly from the library. Mostly it just provides access to those harder to reach students and stimulates student (and teacher) motivation, interaction and production in a project style way.

    We have several of your readers in the library but they are too long to use in class and but we seem to break the perceived wisdom of extensive reading by working with short stories rather than longer stories with more opportunities for repeated language (narrower reading). Each short story is connected to more authentic language by way of newspaper articles on a related theme. Some stories are backed up by a similar themed story especially useful with the absolute highest level students (5.5-6.0 IELTS).

    This blend has certainly been unexpected but it has evolved through trial and error over 3 years to suit our students needs, possibly not to come under the umbrella of extensive reading at all. But it is fascinating.

    Hell again, Neal,
    I find your account really fascinating and/but as you say, whether it really suits the idea of ‘extensive reading’ as we have tended to pursue it, well I’m not quite sure. That’s not by way of any kind of criticism, by the ay, merely an observation.
    Perhaps what you are describing is, as you say, a blend of different kinds of learning – or rather different ways of exposing students to language. Sometimes concentrated, sometimes more relaxed. What I really want to know is how the interface between them works. IN other words, where does a detailed study of the text ’emerge’ later on: and does conversation of a short story and the topic it deals with enhance the students’ knowledge of the topic, the lexis concerned with it, or the grammar that is around. Does such reading with is kind of 50/50 ER & IR lead to the kind of automaticity with David R Hill talks about?

    And further, if the reading your students do is ‘avid’ (to use Scott’s word) where does that avidness/avidity come from? Does the knowledge of grades etc provide a stick? So where’s the avid carrot? (BTW I can certainly attest to the power of grading on the discussion boards of a course I teach; it keeps the students online!)

    Jeremy

    • Jeremy,

      What a useful expression, the avid carrot. This has really got me thinking. Reading for pleasure is sufficient avid carrot for some, think for example of the Harry Potter devotees and anyone operating a readers library can probably identify those for whom the ‘choice’ element is motivational and critical.

      What of the reluctant reader ?
      Be they reluctant due to it through under exposure to a model of reading for pleasure (possibly through familial or wider cultural emphasis on reading for solely educational purpose). Or reluctant because of busy lifestyles and other more attractive leisure activities. Or reluctant because of a pressure to study to achieve entry to university (pass exams). Be there a physiological issue as in dyslexia which adds to the barrier.

      In all of these categories students will emerge with a better skills driven by a different avid carrot. That of reading for purpose, the authenticity of task relative to the student’s lives driving the learning.

      Now how does this correlate with the different blood flow in the brain? How best to achieve David R Hill’s automaticity, really knowing and using a language? Well maybe the labels of ER and IR and the materials developed from each camp are approaching the answer from the wrong point. Maybe deeper reading and the seeming greater difficulty in the skills necessary for this, as described by Jim Scrivener a few years ago In Brighton is describing the problem that has always existed for some students/people.

      Maybe teaching deeper reading through both IR and ER techniques and materials using the avid carrot individual to each student is the way to go. This is what we are finding at Swansea. The dense academic texts required to be understood at university are the goal and the fabulous engaging and graded material of ER a great step along the way and this we feel is evident to the students, as Diane Larsen-Freeman puts it, activities with psychological authenticity.( in this case an entire module within a programme)

      Lately we have found through student feedback that the more time a teacher takes to support genuine understanding of the themes ( not especially the vocabulary or language) the more pleasure the student gets from the individual stories. This further supports the psychological authenticity that avid readers for pleasure get and maybe we launch a few more who needed this exposure. It sure is fun trying to work it all out.

      • Neal,

        thank you so much for pushing this further (and yes, we need to do a talk about the ‘avid carrot’!!)

        What seems to be emerging in these discussions is (1) how to ‘find’ the avid carrot for different students (and both you and Jed offer a different perspective to the usual ‘they must have choice’ mantra), and (2) Deep rather than shallow reading seems to do the trick. But (pace Stephen Krashen) is that deep reading ‘conscious’ or unconscious? Is a discussion of themes and topics – in which students are encouraged to THINK about what they are reading – a way of provoking deep concentration and what would that look like in a scanner?

        Jeremy

  11. Stephen Krashen :

    Definitely true of music and many other areas. Lots of studies show that time spent in concentrated practice (music, ice skating, chess, wrestling) are better predictors of competence than “just playing, just skating, just competing.” (In fact, number of chess books owned is a strong predictor of chess mastery. Bobby Fisher had one of the best collections.) I can supply citations for this in a few days (on the road now).

    But this is not true of language acquisition and literacy development. Skating, music, ice skating are not innate, inevitable. Language acquisition and literacy development is innate, inevitable given lots of comprehensible and truly interesting (compelling) input. See all the arguments on the complexity of the systems to be mastered (vocabulary, text structure, grammar, phonics) and the many comparison studies showing comprehensible input to be the consistent winner over study.

    Stephen Krashen :

    Definitely true of music and many other areas. Lots of studies show that time spent in concentrated practice (music, ice skating, chess, wrestling) are better predictors of competence than “just playing, just skating, just competing.” (In fact, number of chess books owned is a strong predictor of chess mastery. Bobby Fisher had one of the best collections.) I can supply citations for this in a few days (on the road now).

    But this is not true of language acquisition and literacy development. Skating, music, ice skating are not innate, inevitable. Language acquisition and literacy development is innate, inevitable given lots of comprehensible and truly interesting (compelling) input. See all the arguments on the complexity of the systems to be mastered (vocabulary, text structure, grammar, phonics) and the many comparison studies showing comprehensible input to be the consistent winner over study.

    Of course I understand that music performance, ice-skating etc are not innate. However the Input Hypothesis, the acquisition/learning duality became a field of battle (skirmish?) not just in the domain of childhood acquisition of language (which is assuredly NOT the same as learning a musical instrument for example), but also in the learning of second and other languages – from ages at which acquisition is a less obvious process. That’s not your ‘fault’ of course, but that’s where much of the discussion in my world took place. And I would contest that though language learning and musical instrument learning are not the same, still they have points of contact and issues of learning in common. Most second language learners from about 8 or 9 years old do not, I would contend, only acquire language, especially in an educational setting. They have to (at least partly) work for it. So that’s why the analogy does it for me. And so, to come back to the unnatural scanner, knowing that different kinds of reading produce different neurological responses is surely interesting?
    Jeremy

  12. “knowing that different kinds of reading produce different neurological responses is surely interesting?”

    I don’t think the Stanford study showed that. Or much of anything about real reading.

    Please tell us what aspects of language aquirers older than 8 have to work at? There are case studies of those who have reached very very high levels of competence from comprehensible input alone (eg the case of Armando (What does it take to acquire language? at http://www.sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=6) as well as many cases of acquirers showing profound improvement thru pleasure reading alone, studies by Kyung Sook Cho and Beniko Mason.

    • I had heard about Armando before from the many enthusiastic attendees at your plenary in istanbul at the end of last year. I was pleased to quickly skim through the article thanks to your link (I’ll read and inwardly digest more carefully later). I find his case compelling. But it is surely compelling about Armando and not necessarily (though it might be – but I don’t have enough evidence for that) compelling for all, it seems to me. Yes, some people ‘get’ a second language in the most compelling way through interaction, comprehensible input, necessity and, anecdotally (which is no way to conduct a discussion, I guess) I have met some! But that is not all, as any cursory meeting with foreign-language speakers trying to get the target language of the country they are living in must surely show.

      And, to be anecdotal again, like many people my command of the second language I speak (which is by no means ‘native – a loaded term if ever there was one) was fashioned from input and interaction, but, crucially, fed an nurtured by constant thought and questioning of informants in the most conscious way. All the conscious learning that goes on in classrooms around the world must surely have some positive function for those who end up with competent language use, because the time for unconscious acquisition through RTI is not enough, on its own, to make the case for the absolute primacy of CI.

      That’s certainly the way I have always seen it….

  13. “All the conscious learning that goes on in classrooms around the world must surely have some positive function for those who end up with competent language use, because the time for unconscious acquisition through RTI is not enough, on its own, to make the case for the absolute primacy of CI.”

    Are there attested cases of people who have reached high levels of competence from conscious learning,with little or no acquisition?

    • “Are there attested cases of people who have reached high levels of competence from conscious learning,with little or no acquisition?”

      Ah, that’s a different question! And not at all what I was trying to suggest (my fault for not being clear).

      Of COURSE some acquisition takes place in classrooms. I make a great point, always, of good teachers being a primary source of good comprehensible input. I would never suggest that acquisition does not play a significant part in the language-leanring experience (learning used here in its most general non technical sense). But there is not enough time or exposure (except fort the very keen few) to be sufficient on its own.

  14. Concerning the question of time: I think the goal of the classroom is to help students become intermediates: acquire enough so that they start to understand at least some authentic aural and written input, and give them the knowledge so that they can improve on their own. Our job is not to bring students to the highest levels of competence.

    • I think that the ideal is as you say: we teach so that learners end up not needing teachers! But in many areas of life (and language learning fits here) coaching and guiding really can help. I know that if/when I have the time I really want to study advanced Spanish so I can be lead to areas that I either don’t know about or I am to intellectually lazy to have pursued…

      My point? The goal of language teaching is to help students ‘get’ language in whatever way that suits individual learners. I don’t think that ‘getting’ is necessarily always achieved, post-intermediate, by teacherless learners.

  15. Jumping into the fray here- Stephen, I think that’s a very good point that you make about the purpose of the classroom and teaching. Speaking from personal experience, a good classroom start followed by actually living and working with the language seems to be ideal. And these days it’s become much easier for learners to get access to input even in a non-English speaking environment.

    I’ve sometimes wondered whether the whole idea of post-intermediate learners in language classrooms isn’t a kind of ‘it will do no harm’ kind of thing, or in my more paranoid moments, a marketing ploy. Unless they’re taking an exam, of course, in which case it isn’t really about language learning much at all.

    • Hello Sue,

      wow! (I’ll explain)

      Yes yes yes to living in and among the target language (though many people don’t ‘get’ language well even in those circumstances…something to do with volition and opportunity, I guess).

      BUT

      My ‘wow’ is your comment about exam taking not having much to do with language learning. That works on various levels. But I think that the motivation of a future exam can be incredibly powerful and a student’s linguistic ability can be greatly enhanced by the extra concentration that exams provoke. And – to bring us right back to all this – that conscious concentration must have some benefit, else how do people progress so markedly from level to level.

      Which is why music practice IS relevant (I still think). The grade system in the UK gets kids practising and thinking about what they are doing – and motivates them/provokes them into doing it. And no, I am not equating music getting with true 1st language acquisition……

      You may be right that some post-inter learning is marketing-rich, but good advanced lessons can be uplifting and genuinely insightful. Least i hope so otherwise I wasted lots of people’s time in my earlier days!!

      Jeremy

      • Hi Jeremy,

        Well yes, perhaps I overstated it a bit, in a red mist of rage against exams.

        Of course your advanced lessons, like mine, were both uplifting and genuinely insightful. And the very thought of us wasting people’s time is tantamount to heresy.🙂

        Sue

  16. Hi Jeremy, it’ll come as no surprise that I was immediately interested in this post! I was going to write about different reading purposes and draw on some of Ronald Carver’s ideas which I quite like, but then I read your comments about giving readers ‘choice’. This is an area I’ve now started to take a bit of a different stance on. While I completely agree that allowing learners to choose their own books is an important aspect of extensive reading in general, I believe there may be some value in ‘occasionally’ taking the choice away.

    I recently set up an extensive reading programme at a university in the UK which led to a substantial order of graded readers with a well known publisher. Unfortunately there was a small problem with the order and we didn’t receive all of the books that we had requested. As a result, two teenage boys ended up reading ‘romance’ graded readers rather than the ‘murder mystery’ books they’d hoped for. While they both admitted that they were initially reluctant to read ‘girls books’ (their words) … when they finished the book, they immediately requested another book by the same author! Furthermore, their enthusiasm for this particular title prompted several others in the class to read this book.

    On a more personal note, I have experienced this first hand at my own book club! As you know, I’ve been running book clubs in cafes for English language learners for a number of years now, and this has seen some learners go right through the entire graded reading series and improve their reading ability sufficiently to read non-graded literature for pleasure. This has led to a small group of us (yes me included) now all reading the same novels and discussing them as in a traditional book club. A few months ago, one of these learners suggested that we read some of the ‘classics’. However, I’ve never been a huge fan, and I know you’ll go mad Jeremy, but Dickens just doesn’t do it for me! … Anyway, reluctantly I agreed…and so we went to a well-known bookshop to have a look through the ‘Classics’ section and see if we could agree on a book to read. We chose ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins – we were all completely blown away by this novel, and I would have to say, it’s probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. I can now add ‘The Monk’ by Matthew Lewis, and ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ by James Hogg to this list! …

    So, yes learner choice is really important, but ‘occasionally’ taking that choice away could open up a whole new world…After all, even choosing your own book is no guarantee you’ll like what you read. Food for thought?

    • Hi Jez,

      We met, albeit briefly, at one of the extensive reading presentations at the Brighton Conference 2011. I followed up by looking at the blog of the book clubs outside of the classroom which did inspire me to facilitate a few here in Swansea. I am interested that you have now set up a scheme in a UK university and wonder if we have commonality in encouraging/insisting on extensive reading materials as an important element in EAP. Which university have you instigated this scheme in?

    • Hi Jez,

      thanks for coming along!

      I have always been inspired by your book club/café reading setups. I wish people did more of that kind of thing.

      I’m getting increasingly interested (thanks to this blog and the comments from Neal and now you) about not making choice the mantra. If we only read what we think we want to read, how will we ever read anything else?! I talk a lot about teachers getting out of the comfort zone to ‘spice up’ their teaching and learning; your teenage boys exemplify that philosophy perfectly.

      But the main topic, for me, is how to get students to read with enthusiasm – to ‘go for it’ with something more than a sense of duty. Because that’s when ‘avid’ reading (see I’m hooked on Scott’s phrase) kicks in, and that avidity may be the key to all – maybe even the scret code that makes comprehensible input so useful?

      Jeremy

  17. Hi Jeremy…

    Wow, what an amazing comment thread…

    As usual I have held myself from commenting quite a bit, but it’s stronger than me… Now Stephen Krashen (whose plenary in Istanbul last December stunned me) and Sue Leather – Sue much softer – have both made comments that poor me (just) being an English teacher feel I have to comment on (stronger than me, really).

    I am an English teacher.I teach beginners up to advanced levels. And in my context (teaching in Brazil) I completely see the point of students past the intermediate level coming to class. What I hear from my students (Yes, I ask them questions) is that they are there because they want to hear proper, correct English, be exposed to (guided) better language and (most importantly) they want to be corrected and guided.

    I am a big supporter of real-life experiences, of using English outside the classroom and all the resources students at that level, especially, have available.However, in my experience they are unsure of things and sometimes do not have the chance (or time) to experience those and they rely on me and the classroom for that.

    I am, as you know, a firm supporter of reading – extensive, for pleasure (or not for a couple) reading – as means to acquiring and developing better language. I have a habit of conducting book clubs in my groups and use them to develop the students’ critical thinking skills. And I’ve been successful at it.

    I do, however, think there is a place for intermediate+ students in a language classroom.

    But hey, that’s just me.

    Cheers, thanks for a wonderful discussion.

    Ceci

    • Hello Cecilia,

      thank you for commenting on this blog.

      I think I am far more in agreement with you on this than with the view that somehow the teacher’s work is done once students have reached the top end of intermediate. This presupposes that such students can become effective language learners on their own.

      Well yes. And no. (I keep saying that) Of course people living in target language communities (or people who are able to access target language) can ‘get’ language on their own (I use ‘get’ to be a non-value judgment word which sidesteps the ‘Acquisition/Learning’ discussion). But the fact is that many people gain huge benefit from having their attention directed to certain aspects of language; having guides to scaffold their knowledge; having people with a greater linguistic sensibility (in the matter of the foreign language) who can help them to understand more. There would be no argument in favour of guides and coaches if we were to deny that.

      What has begun to interest me, in this discussion, is how much ‘deep processing’ may help this language ‘getting’ – and what kind of processing makes it deep!

      Jeremy

  18. Hi Jeremy,

    I definitely think that stepping out of the comfort zone and ‘taking risks’ is a huge part of development for both teachers and students alike.

    How to get students to read with enthusiasm? Well, I think this begins with the teacher, I believe it’s essential that the teacher is passionate and enthusiastic about reading in the first place. I think the goal is then to try and turn the class into a community of readers – I love the idea of Drop Everything And Read (although I’m not so keen on the acronym!), whereby everyone stops what they’re doing and just reads for 15-20 minutes or so (even the teacher!)…From my experience, following this activity, learners often ask if they can then take the books home to finish.

    While allowing ‘learner choice’ in selecting books is important, allowing and encouraging learners to ‘stop’ reading if they don’t like the book is equally important. Let’s face it, even if we enjoy reading, we don’t enjoy every book we read! … We don’t want to become confused between a learner who hasn’t enjoyed a book, with a learner who doesn’t enjoy reading.

    Discussing the books is a key element of my approach to Extensive Reading (ER)… This way, talking about books students dislike becomes as important and valued as discussing the books they do like, and brings about a wider variety of language. In fact, I remember some of my more advanced readers from my book club discussing Ian McEwan’s ‘The Innocent’. One learner had given up half way through saying it was a bit boring. The other learner argued that it all comes together in the second half of the book and the final pages are some of the most beautiful pages ever written… you can guess what the first learner then went home and did!! I think by creating a community of readers, learners encourage each other to read more, and it becomes a part of the classroom culture. From my experience, learners who were initially reluctant to read become infected with the reading bug.

    To address one of Scott’s points, ‘reading for pleasure (not learning anything)’ … I think what Scott meant by this was not learning any new vocabulary? Well, if a learner knows all of the running words in a text (i.e with 100% coverage) then of course, no new words will be learnt. But this doesn’t mean there is no reading development. Firstly, reading with this level of coverage has been shown to strengthen existing word knowledge while also developing word recognition speed and automaticity – all leading to development in reading fluency. In other words, fluency development needs to be carried out with easy materials with no unknown language items (Nation, 2009). Easy reading materials are a necessary part of reading development. More often than not this requires the use of graded readers as unless learners are advanced, the vocabulary load is likely to be too high.

    In terms of learning from reading in general, one paper that seems to have flown below the radar, but certainly one that I value and tend to harp on about in my talks and workshops now is Patsy Lightbown’s (2002) research in Canada. Basically, due to a shortage of teachers, a school in Canada created a reading room full of graded readers with audio CDs. One group of learners had half an hour each day of just reading (and listening) with NO instruction whatsoever, while the other groups had 30 mins each day with a teacher (audio-lingual style). What makes this paper stand out for me is that this went on for 5 years! … After 3 years all of the learners were assessed together…the groups that had nothing but reading/listening (comprehension-based) performed as well, or better, on every measure as the instruction-based groups – this included speaking. I think after 4 or 5 years writing skills had fallen some way below, but nevertheless, this highlights the benefits of reading for pleasure. Imagine what they might have achieved if they’d had instruction as well??!!

    (see Lightbown, 1992, Lightbown & Halter, 1989, Lightbown, Halter, White, & Horst, 2002)

    (Hi Neal – good to hear from you on Jeremy’s blog🙂 … I set up the reading & vocabulary program up at the University of Lincoln as a pilot scheme last year – it was as part of the EAP program and was met with particular success. I’m currently drawing up the revised program based on the findings from the pilot…drop me an email jezuden@hotmail.com and I’ll be happy to share/swap ideas!!)

    Jez

    • Thanks for coming back, Jez!

      You’re pushing at an open door here! I completely agree with your championing of extensive reading. Of course I do🙂

      But what is beginning to really interest me, as a result of this blog, is how students make something out of the extensive reading experience.What is the benefit for them? How does it help them to ‘get’ language (see my explanation of the word ‘get’ above). And in my simplistic way of looking at things, I DO find the experiment which started this discussion interesting (despite Stephen Krashen’s entirely legitimate worries about its unnaturalness). And then, if Neal is right, and if you reading groups mean anything (I think they do!), then something is going on in those discussions? Some form of ‘deep processing’? But what is it? What is happening? And what effect is it having?

      Simple questions!!!

      Jeremy

  19. Sue Leather :

    Hi Jeremy,

    Well yes, perhaps I overstated it a bit, in a red mist of rage against exams.

    Of course your advanced lessons, like mine, were both uplifting and genuinely insightful. And the very thought of us wasting people’s time is tantamount to heresy. :)

    Sue

    Hi Sue,

    how interesting that testing pops up like this at the same time as Scott is going on about Outcomes over on his blog at http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com! I don’t have your anti-test feeling (although i acknowledge the dangers). But I think it is also possible to see assessment and a genuinely positive agent of change. But then, of course, we’d have to talk about what kind of tests etc etc .

    Advanced teaching? I think Cecilia says it pretty well further down. And yes, of course, you and I were perfect advanced teachers!!

    Jeremy

  20. And then, if Neal is right, and if you reading groups mean anything (I think they do!), then something is going on in those discussions? Some form of ‘deep processing’? But what is it? What is happening? And what effect is it having?
    Simple questions!!!
    Jeremy

    Hi Jeremy,
    Coming back to the conversation after a few days and these questions keep on coming back up! They’re fascinating and at the moment I’m fascinated by the very small scale “action research” going on in my family. My son, aged 10, has found “avidity” in the last year and a half and has become as addicted a reader as he is a gamer. He gets equally lost in both. And it’s fascinating to watch how language (and in his case vocabulary in particular) “grows” from the books he’s reading. He loves talking about the books. He tells me about the words he’s learning (scald, kin, clan) and he tries to weave them into conversations. He’s educated solely in Spanish, so his exposure to written English is uniquely through the books he reads and what has fascinated me recently is the interface between reading, pronunciation and learning – the function of the phonological loop – and I think that maybe one, of the many, many, things that discussions and deep processing can do is kick off a more efficient/effective functioning of the phonological loop and aid retention and “deeper” learning of words, chunks and patterns.

    • Hi Ceri,

      yes, so it’s the discussion that does it, the necessary recall – and in Extensive reading terms that has always been (with the exception of people like Jez – see above) less important than just getting students to read.

      But what your boy seems to suggest – and everything that Neal and Jez have said here – is that talking about it (and/or thinking about it internally etc hold the key to all this.

      I ike blogging. I get to have my mind altered!

      Jeremy

  21. And you get to alter the minds of others:)
    I agree with most of what has been said, which to me would suggest that different people are approaching the issue from different angles but in fact agreeing (on the whole).
    As someone who has learned a new language (mostly) by reading I find that encouraging leraners to read is not adding another layer of cmpetence but laying the very basis of any future ability to aquire language independently.
    What struck me when I started living in the Middle East is how divorced spoken language is from the written version.
    Most of my students find reading in their own language a huge bore, pretty much as we would if we were encouraged to read Beowolf on our way to work on the tube.

  22. Hello ‘traveller’,

    you make a very good point – the one about British people, for example, not reading Beowulf for fun. In fact even in the UK the number of people who actually READ for pleasure is not huge by any means.

    But the people who DO read are greatly encouraged by book reviews, by book clubs, by talking about books etc etc. And it’s beginning to seem to me (in the light of comments on the blog post) that it’s that kind of encouragement that needs to be promoted here…that IF deep processing is the necessary component for language memory such external-to-reading activity may be the key to make (?) even Beowulf could be fun?

    Jeremy

  23. Thanks, Jeremy.
    I agree that the social aspects of reading (book clubs, blogs, facebook reviews etc) influence (and in some cases even create) the appetite for it.
    I once asked my students why they found reading “boring” and one of the answers was “because it’s solitary”.
    It doesn’t have to be…Its solitary nature is just a product of cultural practice(which in the Western world is being changed as we speak).
    It would seem to me then that deep processing has a golden future (although solving the question of how we read may not necessarily bode well for what we read.)
    Silvana

  24. Hi Jeremy
    Your post began with reference to the work of Natalie Phillips. It’s interesting stuff, but we need to be very careful about drawing any conclusions for the classroom from such work. If anyone is interested, an article by Robert Sternberg (one of the world’s most eminent psychologists) explains why. Brain research, he says, has yielded too many contradictory findings for educators to know with certainty which policies and practices to adopt. The article can be accessed here: http://www.pdkmembers.org/members_online/publications/archive/pdf/k0802ste.pdf
    Reading in the brain is a complicated matter! But, again, if anyone is interested, I’d highly recommend ‘Reading in the Brain’ by Stanislas Dehaene (Penguin, 2009), an entertaining and very readable account.
    Philip

    • Philip,

      I am so so sorry that i didn’t reply to this comment before.

      I am completely comfortable with the implied criticism that you, Sternberg and Stephen Krashen (above – not so implied in his case!) offer of the limits of brain experiments, and how that can/could/doesn’t translate into anything like the classroom – or perhaps into other spheres of learning. I think the idea of reading Jane Austen in a scanner is totally bizarre!

      However, the issue of what we get students to focus on – ho we attempt to direct their focus – IS of interest (something I tackled in that rather ramshackle talk I gave in Barcelona last year (ramshackle is my latest favourite word!). Both neil and Jez (above) argue for directed engagement with reading texts, and the research just kind of taps into that a bit.

      We live by metaphors in our business – and brain research might just be a source of those, rather than of evidence itself…

      Apologies again.

      Jeremy

      • Yes, there’s no question that metaphors can be a very useful heuristic. I sound a note of caution because – before you know it! – someone is misusing brain research to justify the IWB they’re trying to sell you. Or something similar.
        Philip

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