Reading in L2, Running (and Yoga…)

When I went home for Christmas, I set myself the target of reading in Italian at least a little bit every day. I succeeded, but it was quite a struggle: obviously there were plenty of distractions – people to see, things to do, places to go… Some days I read only for a few minutes, one or two pages. On the days where I had some relaxation time built in, I managed a bit more, though other books (about learner autonomy and about motivation) also clamoured for attention, as did actual relaxation ( :-p ). I also set myself the target of getting out running as often as possible, to try and get back in the habit of it so that on returning to Palermo, I could kick-start some healthier habits than I had got into by the end of last term. Due to afore-mentioned lack of healthy habits last term, this was difficult. I knew it would be hard work, so I had to really push myself to get out (and stay out!). As the holiday progressed, and the little running outings added up, it became easier and I began to look forward to it again. I’ve only been back in Palermo just under a week but I’ve been running 3 times and have another running outing planned for tomorrow. As for the reading, I’m back to my usual 20 minutes in the evening, plus ten minutes or so during my lunch break, each day.

So what has the one got to do with the other? And where does Yoga fit in?

It’s all about there being no substitution for actually doing it.

  • If you don’t read in L2, run, or do yoga regularly, they all get harder. And it gets harder to motivate yourself to do them because you know it will be harder due to how long you’ve spent not doing them. You also get slower (reading, running) and stiffer (yoga), which again makes it less enjoyable, which negatively affects your motivation to do it next time.
  • Conversely, if you get in the habit of doing them regularly, they are enjoyable, you are able to do enough (succeed sufficiently) that you feel motivated, and they do you good (in terms of language learning or health). That they are now enjoyable also means you feel motivated to do them more often.
  • Setting targets can be helpful in terms of actually making you do any of these activities and it can add to motivation each time you meet such a target. (This week, my running target is 27k – I’ve to do 10k tomorrow in order to meet that target, so I shall see if I can still run that distance! For my learners, setting reading targets has been useful.)

Following my own reflections, I put the question to my Upper Intermediate class, as a warmer:

I divided my learners into in groups and asked them to brainstorm similarities between running and reading, giving each group an opportunity to summarise their ideas for the rest of the class. They came up with some interesting ideas:

  • If you get bored of running the same route, you can change your route, while if get bored of reading, you can change your approach to reading. (We’ve previously discussed different ways of reading and pros/cons of each, validating learners’ approaches and encouraging experimentation with different approaches, so I was pleased to see this aspect brought up spontaneously by them in this discussion, with no prompting from me!)
  • In running, there are many different types of shoes you have to choose the right pair of shoes for yourself in order to enjoy running and get what you want out of it. In reading, there are many different kinds of books and other things to read that you have to choose from and in order to enjoy it, you need to find the kind of material that is right for you. (This made me happy because at the beginning of the term, there was a lot more insecurity re what “should” we read, what is “correct” etc. and we discussed pros and cons of different types of reading material and I emphasised the importance of what they read being what they WANT to read, and now they are much more confident in choosing material that they actually enjoy for their extensive reading)
  • The more you run, the faster you can get and the further you can run. The more you read, the more you will be able to read in a given time (i.e. your reading speed/fluency will increase as well as your stamina).
  • Some people prefer running alone, some prefer running in groups. With reading, some people prefer doing it independently while others prefer the social aspect of being part of a book club and sharing the reading experience that way. Some people like to discuss what they are reading, others aren’t bothered about doing that.

What would I do differently next time? I’m planning to do this little discussion activity with another group of mine, with whom I have also been doing my reading project, but I think this time, after letting them brainstorm (so that I don’t influence their ideas initially, as I am very interested in what they come up with by themselves), I will feed in a few prompt words e.g. goals/targets, motivation etc, and see if they can also identify some of the ideas that I had. I will also elicit the metacognitive purpose of the activity – reflecting on different qualities of reading in order to compare it with running and raising awareness of the importance of frequency/regularity in order to benefit. I attempted to do this with my upper intermediates, but when they didn’t generate the ideas I was after, I explained it rather than guiding them to it. As ever, room for improvement…

Why am I using valuable class time for this kind of discussion? To encourage valuable collaborative reflection on learning – in this case, reflection on the reading process – which feeds into development of awareness and autonomy (in terms of the choices they make, and how this changes over time, with regards to their reading, which also continues to be collectively reflected on). I would say it was successful to an extent – it certainly brought out some interesting points (including things that I hadn’t thought of, when I had thought about it myself in relation to my own L2 reading), which showed that my learners have gained from everything we’ve been doing in addition to learning all the required content. It’s also interesting, as I have been pondering the issue of collecting useful feedback with regards to my various projects, as the courses are all nearing their end, and this has unexpectedly given me some extra food for thought. However, as mentioned above, I will be making changes to how I do it next time I do it! 🙂

And now a question for you: Would you use this discussion activity with your learners? How would you change/adapt it? …Or do you think I’m just bonkers? 🙂

no running in the library

Nooo…. 😉 (Image taken from Google image search, licensed for commercial use with modification)

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