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Visualisation and the Implications for Writing Extensive Readers
by Jo Appleton
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What is Extensive Reading?

This article focuses on the importance of visualisation when reading extended texts, and discusses the implications for materials writers, teachers and learners. The research I conducted looks at an Extensive Reader and how content, style and genre which encourage visualisation can provide greater pleasure and therefore motivation for the language learner to read in the L2.

What is Extensive Reading?

The literature provides numerous definitions for Extensive Reading. For example, 'Pleasure Reading ' (Krashen & Mikulecky) and 'Free-Voluntary Reading' or 'Sustained Silent Reading' (Krashen). For me Extensive Reading is 'to willingly engage with extended texts for pleasure'.

What is Visualisation?

Through my own reading and teaching experience I have discovered how vital the role of visualisation can play. Not only is visualisation widely used in the world of Sport Psychology, Therapy, and Counselling, it is used in our everyday lives as a kind of water-colour of the mind's eye. It is to me what speech is to audio communication as visualisation is the language of the processing of thoughts. In this article I use visualisation it to refer to both visual images and aural images, but others such as touch, hearing and smell are also important. A mass of data can be found confirming the prevalence of visualisation in first language (L1) reading (see Thompson, 1987). Tomlinson (1996: 255) reports ' among 80 L1 teachers of English at seminars in England, Japan and Spain revealed that 95% of them saw images in their minds (varying in detail and vividness) when reading texts such as 'River Station Plaza' by Sheldon Flory (1990)'.

Theoretical Benefits of Extensive Reading

A mass of documentation provides us with the theory explaining the benefits of Extensive Reading. For example: Reading begins with the automatic recognition of words. Students become able to do this with lots of practice (Koda 1996; Paran 1996). By experiencing language in context, students deepen their knowledge of vocabulary use (Coady 1997; Nation 1997). Successful individual reading experiences promote learner autonomy that leads to success and enhances motivation (Dickenson 1995:174)

There is also a substantial body of research that supports the claim that Extensive Reading has significant impact on language learning.

" Longer concentrated periods of silent reading build vocabulary and structural awareness, develop automaticity, enhance background knowledge, improve comprehension skills and promote confidence and motivation".
(Grabe, W. 1991: 380

Tomlinson goes as far as saying other gains when reading extensively can include: Affect, Visualisation, and use of the Inner voice (speaking to yourself in your mind).

(See also Hafiz and Tudor 1989, Robb and Susser 1989, Elley 1991, Krashen 1989. for more discussion on the benefits). I believe that all the mentioned benefits are possible and that there is significant evidence to show the potential of extensive reading for our learners.

Theoretical Benefits of Visualisation

Through reading literature in the field, personal research and existing research data on the benefits of visualisation I tend to agree with Tomlinson (1998; 267,269) when he states that:

"For many L1 readers visualisation plays a major role in helping them to achieve involvement comprehension, retention and recall"…. therefore…. " There is little doubt that visualisation is functionally significant in L1 reading and there is a strong possibility that it could therefore play a beneficial role in L2 reading too".

As suggested above there have been many claims put forward for the functional significance of visualisation in L1 reading. It is claimed, for example, that L1 visualisation can help:

- to achieve tolerance of ambiguity by enabling the reader to make hypotheses which can be retained visually until they are confirmed or revised as new information becomes available from the text (Tomlinson, 1993);
- to achieve affective impact ( Esrock, 1994 & Arnold 1999);
- 'to create images endowed with a descriptive power capable of representing more upper levels of discourse, such as a paragraph, or a chapter, or general theme'
- to increase comprehension of a text (Tomlinson 1997, 1998)
- to achieve 'the "experiencing" of a text, not just the comprehension of information' ( Esrock 1994 & Tomlinson 1997, 1998)

Tomlinson's claim of benefit to the L2 reader seems to be logical and I, therefore wanted to test part of the theory that visualisation can aid reading and maybe even encourage learners to read more extensively.

Introduction to the Action Research

My interest in Extensive Reading came about when I had struggled to get learners on an International Foundation Programme at Leeds Metropolitan University to make use of their reading week in semester 1 by reading extensively.
So, I decided to investigate by finding out from the learners what they read in their first language, how and when they did this etc. This gave me a useful insight into what they enjoyed reading. I then participated in an 'Extensive Readers Workshop' run by the Materials Development Association (MATSDA) in the summer of 2001 led by Brian Tomlinson, Alan Maley and Hitomi Masuhara in North Yorkshire. This then in turn inspired me to write an Extensive Reader named 'Jungle Fever' based on my own experiences of travel and tips from my own classes of learners.

Action Research setting

The research undertaken was conducted in the School of Languages at Leeds Metropolitan University at the beginning of 2003. There were roughly 30 learners and 6 teachers involved in the process.

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