Doing Extensive Reading with SCRUM

scrumTo promote extensive reading, we show how teachers can use Scrum (Sutherland & Sutherland, 2014), an established method for efficiently managing projects. Our preliminary results show that Scrum may markedly help students increase the amount they read, possibly contributing to a 60% increase in reading word counts.

First, we outline a 10 step process for using Scrum to promote extensive reading. (1) Pick the General Scrum Reading Manager (the teacher). (2) Make teams of 3-4 members who will meet for a weekly Scrum. (3) Pick Reading Scrum Masters for each team. (4) Using post-its, each group makes a “Book Pile” of books that they want to read. (5) On their post-its, each member estimates how long a book will take to read. (6) Students set Reading Sprint Goals for the week. (7) Students make work visible, using the Scrum Board. (8) During Weekly Scrum, group members ask each other the three key Scrum reading questions. (9) Every 2 weeks, groups Report and Review their progress to the class. (10) At each Report and Review, groups reflect on how to improve.

During a period of four weeks, 27 students did a total of four reading Scrums. We then compared student reading word counts between the four week period before they did Scrum and the four week period while they did Scrum.

The results were encouraging. During the four week period before Scrum, each student read an average of 28,670 words. During Scrum, each student read an average of 46,919 words. This is nearly a 64% increase in reading amount.

At this point, we cannot claim that Scum will greatly increase student reading amounts. There are other variables that may have contributed to the increase for our students. However, this study does show the potential of Scrum for helping students read more, and we suggest that other teachers and researchers try Scrum in more rigorous experiments to see if it really works for promoting extensive reading.

This paper was presented at the 9th Annual Extensive Reading Seminar held at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan on October 1, 2016. The original title was “Applying Scrum Principles to ER Instruction,” by Joseph Poulshock and Douglas Forster. Click here for a PDF of the talk.

Sutherland, J., & Sutherland, J. J. (2014). Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. New York: Crown Business.

Reading Offers Huge Benefits

Reading Offers Huge Benefits to Individuals, Society

By Joseph Poulshock, Special to the Asahi Weekly, Sunday, June, 29, 2014


Joseph Poulshock, Special to the Asahi Weekly

In Japan, students usually do not read for pleasure in English. They read hard texts, meeting 20 to 30 unknown words on every page. This kind of reading is not a joy. It’s suffering.

Sadly, these learners probably do not know about “tadoku,” or extensive reading (ER). ER is an enjoyable and powerful way to learn English. How do you do extensive reading?

ER has three rules. The first rule is “Read easy.” You should know 95% to 98% of the words in a text. This helps you read without a dictionary and makes reading more enjoyable. ER books are graded into levels, so you can find books at the right level for you. The second rule is “Choose freely.” You are free to choose what you want to read. The third rule is “Read big.” This means read a lot! What happens when you follow these rules? You get results!

Click on the image for the full article.

The Scientific Education Group: SEG


Rain pours down on grey streets. The sky turns darker. People rush in and out of the ginormous and labyrinthine Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, popping their umbrellas. As we wait for a taxi, our feet get wet. It’s hot, muggy, and uncomfortable.

But it’s worth the trouble. Our taxi takes us to the famed SEG Campus. SEG stands for the “Scientific Education Group.” Now people may call it an after hours cram school, but it’s different. Word has it that this place loves life-long learning, not just high stakes test prep.

At SEG students study chemistry, mathematics, world history, and English. But we are here for the English program because SEG is big on “TADOKU,” that is, extensive reading, or as I like to call it: Big, Easy Reading. My student is doing a graduation thesis on the topic, and I came with him to observe this famous and extremely successful school.

Today, we are lucky because we will observe a “TADOKU” class taught by the president and founder himself, Dr. Furukawa. The schedule is simple: from 5:15 to 6:25 students read silently. At 6:25 to 6:30, there will be a brief time of “shadowing.” Then at 6:30, students will do a “reading speed check.”

It sounds simple, almost too simple. But there’s more. First, there’s the classroom. There are 36 desks. They fit snugly in the room, but it’s not cramped. There are two flat screen TV’s on either side, but they are not turned on.

Eight boys sit on the left side of the class, and five girls sit on the right. The class starts. Students eagerly read. During the break after the class, they talk about what and how much they read. It’s impressive. But there are two other impressive things. One: wall to wall books. Bookshelves surround us on all sides. In the back and sides of the room, thousands of books stand six shelves high. And the selection is broad. There’s even a shelf in the front of the class, three shelves high under the whiteboard. Dr. Furukawa says there are about 20,000 books in this classroom, and he has 28 classrooms just like it. That’s over 500,000 books. As far as books go, this is impressive.


Then there is the impressive Dr. Furukawa himself, with his long hair in a pony tail and his horn rimmed glasses. He’s a book guru, mathematics wiz, and the boss of a company that, according to the SEG website, grossed 13.5 billion yen last year. He is the most impressive factor and actor in this room because he appears to know all the books, and he sometimes disappears and brings books from other rooms as well. As we observe, he brings us many books with a smile on his face. And we read.

I read Piggybook, a story about a typical family, 2 boys, a father, and a mother. The mother works tirelessly for the boys and father who take her for granted. And there are pictures of pigs hidden all over the book, on doorknobs, faucets, and wall sockets. Eventually, the wife leaves, leaving a note that says, “You are pigs.” With the mother gone, the men are lost, and the house turns into a pigsty. And just as all hope is gone, the mother returns. There are apologies and forgiveness. The boys and the father begin to help around the house. The wife fixes the car. It’s an amazing story. And it packs a punch.

Dr. Furukawa is not messing around. He gives me Out, a gay coming out story. A girl falls in love with a boy, with whom she has been friends forever. Just as she is about to confess her love, the boy comes out to her. He’s gay. She is broken-hearted, and her love remains silent to the end. Dr. Furukawa gives us a “Three Little Pigs” story, turned upside down. It’s the three wolves. They are good; the pig is mean and badass. But at the end, the story has a great twist of kindness. He gives me a book about a tadpole and caterpillar, which tells of a budding love and a break up. Time passes. Separated, the now butterfly and frog long for each other. The butterfly returns, looking to reconcile, only to be eaten by the frog who, after his meal, continues to long for his love. I read a story called The Harmonica from Iranian cinema, and another called Clueless George, which is a Curious George style illustrated slam on George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove. Boom!

I find the recommendations mesmerizing. The choices are bold, and they work for me. Furukawa is an expert book whisperer. And he knows it. He walks around the room passing out books left and right, and the students read. It’s the best session of free voluntary reading I’ve ever seen, supported by a superb classroom library and Dr. Furukawa’s wizardry with books.

Near the end, we do 5 minutes of Shadowing. Dr. Furukawa plays a tape. Students shadow aloud as they listen to and read the text. The tape is loud and clear! The students shadow it twice. Done.

After the shadowing activity, we do a timed-reading. Dr. Furukawa gives us a timer. Hit start. Read the story. Hit stop. Then answer the questions. As we read, answer sheets are passed out. We check our answers and write down our reading times. Class is over!

After class, Dr. Furukawa looks at my student’s reading speed time and says “slow.” Ouch. He looks at mine and says, “fast.” He leaves and comes back with the classes timed-reading results. Some are slow, but some are even faster than mine. Wow!

After a break, Neil comes in, a native speaker from New Zealand who leads the next session. The students are boisterous, but they work on meaning-based, communicative activities, not drills, and not high stakes test prep. It’s intensive reading, but done well. Great students, keen on study; they talk noisily in Japanese, but always about the lesson. Neil expertly manages this content-based class, and he keeps the focus on learning interesting content through English. During the whole evening, Neil and Dr. Furukawa say nothing about tests, exams, and getting ready for examination hell. It’s real education, a curiosity-filled time of learning.

Today it’s just 2 classes; there’s so much more to take in, but not enough time. Afterwards Dr. Furukawa shows us SEG’s book storage room. Tons of books. Multiple copies. Books in boxes waiting to be stacked. Overwhelmed, I asked to come back to learn more about all the books. Dr. Furukawa kindly agrees.


Doctors Poulshock and Furukawa

We say “Goodbye” and “Thank you” and walk away into the Tokyo night; the rain has stopped, and the sky is clearing. I’m impressed, inspired, and deluged. This seems like after school education at its best. But how can one learn to be a book whisperer like Dr. Furukawa? Since his knowledge of books seems encyclopedic and his ability to “book whisper” seems telepathic, before leaving I ask him where he finds time to read. He says, “in the schema.”

Perhaps this is a Japanese usage of the Greek word, meaning “form or figure.” But it’s an answer that big readers often say. Read in the schema. Find time to read in the cracks and corners of daily life. Make reading a part of the form, figure, and contour of your time on earth. Teach your students to do the same. This is one way to open up, change yourself and the world around you. Because reading is change, read whenever and wherever you can — because curiosity, language, and life ask it of you.

Review: Reading in the Wild

Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits
Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In “Reading in the Wild,” Donalyn Miller provides tried and tested advice for helping teachers inspire “wild” reading in their students. Wild reading is a habit of independent reading, a lifestyle of reading, and ideally lifelong reading. Miller seems to have read practically everything her students might read, so the book is full of highly recommended books that young students may like. The book is also full of hands on material that teachers can use to inspire a life of wild reading.

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Review: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Malcolm loaded his gun. He took aim and fired. Nine shots rang out and echoed through the valley. After the smoke cleared, he walked forward to see the damage he had done. There were nine bullet holes in the bright, red side of a barn, and they formed the shape of a great big, inverted-U curve. Like this: ∩.

Then Malcolm picked up a paintbrush from a can of white paint that was sitting by the barn, and around each bullet hole, he drew a circle, around a circle, around a circle. With another brush, in the middle of each circle, he painted a yellow bullseye. “Done,” he said. “Nine perfect shots!”

Painting a bullseye around a shot already fired is called the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy,” and critics accuse author Malcolm Gladwell of doing this in his book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”

Gladwell is famous for translating the social sciences into adventure tales, but Christopher Chabris, and other critics, make Gladwell infamous, saying that he overstates claims. They say he may hit the bullseye with his essay and storytelling skills, but not with his science. I want to disagree with the critics, but up to a point, they have a point.

Gladwell is one of the top writers of non-fiction in the English speaking world, so why do critics shred up the top guy in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and two times in the New York Times? If you search, you may have trouble finding a positive review of David and Goliath.

But people love Malcolm Gladwell because he doesn’t just popularize social science. He sets it in memorable and compelling narratives (stories) that come to life. He makes social science feel like a series of conflicts that we experience, showing us subtle and deeper shades of meaning in life.

Contrast this with many academics. They lard their prose with obese nominalizations, with 15-word subjects of sentences, with no actors who act, and with no story to compel the mind. If we read them, it’s hard work, not just because the content is demanding, but also because the prose is poorly written.

But Gladwell writes to put the reader in a state of flow. He takes the dry data and logic chopping of academic discourse and spins it into a story that we can’t put down. And just what is the story of David and Goliath? The strong have weaknesses that come from their strengths, and the weak can become strong because of their weaknesses. Power can produce vulnerabilities, and weakness can contain the seeds of strength.

For example, Gladwell summarizes research that says there are a high percentage of dyslexics who are successful in business, and he concludes that they succeeded not because dyslexia is good, but because it was an obstacle that made them work harder.

This seems true enough, but Gladwell also says that there are an overwhelming number of dyslexics in prison. This does not refute his argument, but it places a condition around it, and so on this point, Gladwell shows he is careful enough to hedge his claim.

In fact, he never tries to convince us through emotion, but he may need to state his claims more in the language of probabilities and tendencies. This is important because readers may get lost in the stories he tells and forget that stories do not always represent the overall pattern of reality.

Of course Gladwell tells these stories because he wants to show that they do represent the patterns in the real world. Take the pattern of the inverted-U curve. Being bigger, smaller, richer, or stronger is only better up to a certain point. For example, Gladwell says, “Wealth contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

With hard work, a man may become rich, but once he is rich, he will have trouble teaching his children the value of money, so parenting becomes harder after a certain point. This is true. Just look at Paris Hilton! She is an inverted-U curve.

This is my example, not Gladwell’s, and Paris Hilton may look like a social parasite living for a party (that represents a pattern), but in reality she, or someone just like her, may be a wonderful person who makes tremendous contributions to society. My speculation and subsequent generalization about her may be wrong.

And generalizing is the problem. David and Goliath is filled with factual and historical storytelling that is informative and inspiring. However, Gladwell must often speculate and generalize when he makes conclusions from these stories or when he extrapolates data from research into these stories.

But how do we know when speculation becomes over-speculation? How do we know when it is hedged, balanced, and constrained enough by data? How do we know when the patterns are real? For most of us, these questions may be too difficult to answer.

This is Steven Pinker’s main problem with Gladwell’s previous work. The writing is brilliant, but we should “watch out” for the over generalizations, which may be misleading or wrong. Gladwell says that his readers know better, but we may actually need a social scientist to research whether we know better or not!

Certainly, through Gladwell’s books, we are faced with the problem of knowledge. He does not appear to be a post-modernist who denies the possibility of knowing anything real (as Chabris wrongly suggests). Gladwell is surely a realist, who believes in a real world that we can know about.

However, Gladwell might do better to become more of a critical realist who believes that we can know about a real world, but who also realizes that knowledge is conditioned by filters. We filter knowledge of reality through our cultural and historical place in the world, through the limitations of cognition and language. We know the real world as but a reflection.

After all Gladwell’s stories, we are left with questions about how to interpret the rules, laws, and patterns that purportedly emerge from the stories (and data). At worst, we may be mislead by our lack of knowledge and critical thinking skills. But at best, I think we can rest assured that these stories are indeed true, at least partly and sometimes so.

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