Reading Extensively and Teaching English

Reading is one of the greatest language-learning tools, period. Numerous studies show that avid readers in their first language generally tend to be better second-language learners. They also typically get higher scores on standardized tests like TOEFL and IELTS.

But reading is indispensable for the English teacher as well as for our students. I think it’s absolutely necessary for us to read extensively and not limit ourselves to books and articles related directly to teaching. Ok, I there’s no arguing that reading about Natural Language Acqusition theories has helped me immensely but that’s something any self-respecting teacher is supposed to be aware of anyway. I’d been foolish enough to have ignored them before but there’s just me to blame for it. Once you grasp the main principles of Krashen’s hypotheses, you’re ready to go and use them in your class. My point is you don’t really need to read THAT much on teaching methodologies at the expense of extensive reading across various domains.

A great teacher is someone with a distinct personality, someone who can bring a fresh perspective into the class, someone who can not only teach the nuts and bolts of the language but foster genuine, heart-to-heart communication with students. That’s where life experience and reading come in very helpful. 

I realize that I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I should have but this is changing. At the moment I’m reading several books, each one a great help to my teaching in one way or another. Here’s what they are:

TPRS in a Year and PQA in a Wink by Ben Slavic. Ben is one of the greatest foreign language teachers who has refined and perfected the TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) approach. He is such an inspiration to me and is a fantastic example to follow. I’ll talk about TPRS a lot in later posts as I’m so enthusiastic about the teaching philosophy the method promotes. 

The Willpower Instinct by Dr. Kelly McGonigal. This book is based on a university course taught by prof. McGonigal, who designed it to help people overcome their willpower challenges such as procrastination, overeating, smoking etc. The book is a treasure trove and I’m using it as if it were a course: reading and rereading the same chapter for seven days every day to make sure the principles she talks about sink in really deeply into my brain. I move on to the next chapter the following Monday. This is a great way to read books, by the way, since we tend to mindlessly skim even through the best books, jumping from one idea to the next without really digesting the previous one or giving ourselves time to digest them.

This book is great both for my own small willpower challenges (putting too much food on my plate and going to bed late) and as a source to draw upon to help my students become better language learners.

Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal and El Camino del Zen by Alan Watts. I’m reading “The Way of Zen” in Spanish because I believe a language teacher should be in the process of learning a new language all the time. Since I want to put my money where my mouth is (“reading is the most efficient way to learn a language”), I will keep reading this difficult but absolutely fascinating book. This is a shameless plug for Alan Watts, by the way. Check out his top-notch lectures or books, whatever you prefer. He’s does a fantastic job explaining the Oriental way of thinking to the Western audience and has a wonderful sense of humor.

The Art of Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie. Written nearly a century ago, this book is a classic I’m using to improve my presentation skills. I want to be able to engage my students better than I do now and communicate my ideas more clearly on camera.

The One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard. Common-sense (but not common-practice) advice here on how to help people become better performers in anything they do. As language teachers, I’m convinced, our job is to provide both instruction and coaching/management to our students, and the principles this book teaches are solid and sound, useful for both company managers and language teachers.

That was a pretty long list but I feel I need to be reading all of these books at the moment to become a better teacher. In fact, I don’t want to be a better teacher, I want to be a great teacher, and now, as the dots are beginning to get connected in my head, all I want is tons of furious reading and teaching practice.

I’ll write about the lessons I’ve been learning from these books as a way both to share with whoever may be interested and track my own progress. 

– Alex

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