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Using the C-Test generator for self testing in extensive reading programmes

Using the C-Test generator for self assessment in extensive reading programmesThere’s growing interest in Extensive reading (ER), sustained silent reading (SSR), free voluntary reading (FVR), or reading for pleasure programmes for second language acquisition. They can be highly effective for second language acquistion and have been shown to significantly improve the fluency, complexity and accuracy of learners’ language use in authentic, real world tasks. If you’re considering introducing extensive reading programmes in your class(es) at your school, academy or institution, read on…

Why extensive reading programmes?

In short, extensive reading:

  • allows learners to meet the language in its natural context and see how it works in extended discourse beyond the language met in textbooks.
  • builds vocabulary. When learners read a lot, they meet thousands of words and lexical (word) patterns time and time again which helps them master them and predict what vocabulary and grammar may come next.
  • helps learners to build reading speed and reading fluency which allows them to process the language more automatically leaving space in memory for other things
  • builds confidence, motivation, enjoyment and a love of reading which makes learners more effective language users. It also helps lower any anxieties about language learning the learners may have.
  • allows learners to read or listen to a lot of English at or about their own ability level so they can develop good reading and listening habits.
  • helps learners get a sense of how grammatical patterns work in context. Textbooks and other study materials introduce language patterns but typically they don’t appear often enough in a variety of contexts to facilitate a deep understanding of how the patterns work.

Source: ER Foundation’s Guide to Extensive Reading handbook (PDF).

There has been a lot of research into extensive reading programmes for both first and second language acquisition in children and adults, which have given promising results. However, relatively little attention has been paid to the results by TESL and TEFL practitioners. A notable study was Dr. Patsy Lightbown’s New Brunswick Experiment* in which school children in French Canada where given 150 minutes (one 30 minute session per day) of extensive reading in English per week in place of traditional classroom instruction. It appears to indicate that learners can indeed “Do it themselves” and in some areas of language use, significantly outperformed classroom instructed learners, although the paper calls for further investigation.

The Extensive Reading Foundation provides help, advice, research evidence and reviews of graded readers and other books for anyone who’s interested in trying out extensive reading with their learners. A good place to start is with the ER Foundation’s Guide to Extensive Reading handbook (PDF).

*Lightbown, P. Can They Do It Themselves? A Comprehension Based ESL Course for Young Children, Comprehension based Second Language Teaching, by Courchêne, Glidden, St. John and Thérien (eds.), University of Ottawa Press, 1992.

Why use the C-Test MILA in extensive reading programmes?

It’s important and motivating for learners to be able to assess how much they are learning from their activities, i.e. how much progress they are making. Some learners (and teachers) can be sceptical about the value of extensive reading and reading for pleasure without a dictionary, grammar exercises or reading comprehension questions. The following is an attempt to address this issue constructively by allowing learners to do assessments specifically related to the texts that they are reading without changing the basic nature/procedure of extensive reading activities and requiring little, if any, extra input from teachers. An added benefit is that learners and teachers can easily monitor learners’ reading and overall progress from the c-test results in Moodle’s grade book.

How does it work?

Here’s one possible scenario for using the C-Test MILA for extensive reading. Learners:

  1. pick 3 paragraphs randomly from the text/book
  2. generate 3 c-tests by copying and pasting the 3 paragraphs into 3 instances of the C-Test MILA
  3. attempt the 3 generated c-tests; the c-test results and paragraphs of text are stored in Moodle’s grade book
  4. read the entire text/book over a period of hours/days/weeks
  5. repeat steps 1-3 with different randomly selected paragraphs from the text/book
  6. compare their results from before reading and after reading; Has their performance improved?

Additionally, if a learner scores particularly poorly on their initial attempts on the generated c-tests before they read, they may be well advised to postpone attempting to read that particular text until they’re “ready” for it and selecting an easier, more suitable text in the meantime. Learners can quickly generate as many c-tests as they need until they can find a book or text at a suitable level for them and that they’re interested in reading.

If your school has a library of graded readers, it would be considered fair use in most countries, i.e. within copyright law, to scan and copy paragraphs from each book and set up a selection of ready made c-tests for learners to take.

How to deploy the C-Test generator MILA

Example: How to set up the C-Test generator in Moodle. On the desired course page:

  • Create a new instance of the SWF Activity Module
  • Write the title, description, etc.
  • Select the C-Test MILA
  • In FlashVars Learning Interaction Data > Name, write “input”
  • In FlashVars Learning Interaction Data > Value, write “true”

FlashVars Learning Interaction Data

  • Click “Save and display” and test it with a suitable paragraph or two of text.

C-Test MILA Demo

There’s a demo set up on the Multimedia Interactive Learning Applications course on my R&D Moodle (login as a guest). Find a text to test yourself with (perhaps from Project Gutenberg?) and copy and paste it into the C-Test user input reading level test generator in the C-Test topic section (#11). There’s also some ready made c-tests there to try out.