It’s usually one or the other: either teachers are concerned that their students aren’t developing strong reading skills, or they’re worried that the students don’t get enough practice actually reading. I rarely, if ever, hear someone say that they’ve got the mix right.
Trying to balance intensive reading and extensive reading is hardly new. Researchers themselves have argued back and forth about how much of language learning is made up of simply reading comprehensible input vs. using the same strategies that successful readers use.
What’s new is the sheer number of options available to ESL instructors today. From websites to textbooks to text messages, there is an ever-expanding array of choices for teaching reading. While consensus among experts is still a long way off (if it’s even possible), two patterns are emerging.
Focus on Fun Texts with Minimal but Regular Skill-Building
Many reading instructors organize their courses thematically and opt for a greater emphasis on actually reading in class. As a rule, there is not enough time in a classroom setting for truly extensive reading to take place, but these instructors still devote a larger amount of class time to silent reading. They argue that students who are actually interested in what they read will be more likely to read–turning them into better readers along the way.
Focus on Intensive Skill-Building–with Extensive Reading for Pleasure
Another camp argues that there are so many different reading skills, and that these need to be studied systematically, which means that class time should be spent on building them. They believe that the structured nature of a classroom lesson lends itself more to studying and practicing discreet skills than silent reading. They content that time outside of class is much more appropriate for pleasure reading and emphasize longer reading assignments for homework.