Vinnie Jordan Henkin and Stephen Krashen chronicle the Naruto Breakthrough: How the discovery of manga books was a catalyst in the English language development of a teen
The concept of the home run book was introduced by Trelease (2001), who hypothesized that one positive experience can be enough to create a permanent interest in reading. Many children have testified that the home run experience is real, that one book started them on the path to becoming dedicated readers (Kim and Krashen, 2000; Von Sprecken, Kim, and Krashen, 2000; Ujiie and Krashen, 2002).
The importance of the home run book phenomenon is that a reading habit will result in improvement in all aspects of literacy (Krashen, 2004) and greater school success (see cases such as of Elizabeth Murray and Geoffrey Canada, described in Krashen, 2004).
We present here a report on a teenage acquirer of English as a second language living in Arizona, Ramon, whose interest in the Naruto manga series appeared to be the cause of a dramatic improvement in his school performance and English language development.
Ramon is now finishing tenth grade in the U.S. He started school in the U.S. in ninth grade, soon after arriving and knowing very little English, with only a sixth-grade education in Mexico. At that time, his score on the reading section of the AZELLA test, given to ELLs in Arizona, placed him in the lowest of three categories of English proficiency (“basic”). (See Table 1, pg. 36; his other scores on this test were not available to us.)
In ninth grade, Ramon was in a four-hour direct-instruction English program; he changed schools during the fall semester of that year, and in the new school was in a two-hour direct-instruction program that included guided reading, word study, and sustained silent reading (SSR) time. Ramon reported that during SSR he read only the simplest kindergarten-level books. Because there were relatively few ESL students in the high school, no sheltered classes were offered, and Ramon attended regular-subject matter classes that included accommodations for second-language acquirers.
Near the end of the fall semester, Ramon took the Renaissance Learning STAR test of reading comprehension, scoring at the 1.7 grade level (Table 2, pg. 36).
The Naruto Breakthrough
Ramon found his home run book during the winter break of his first year in high school: he discovered a Japanese manga series about a teenage ninja named Naruto, based on a TV series he had watched in Spanish while living in Mexico. After returning to school after break, Ramon started requesting library passes in order to take out books in the Naruto series. After exhausting the school library’s supply, he went to the public library to get more Naruto books.
The change in his school performance was dramatic. Soon after he started reading Naruto books, he became the star of his guided reading group and began to enjoy reading passages aloud. He asked clarifying questions, made inferences, and participated with vigor.
Table 1 (following page) presents Ramon’s AZELLA reading score in the fall of his first year in high school (discussed earlier) and again in the spring.
The AZELLA test categorizes scores into three levels: basic, intermediate, and proficient. In reading, Ramon progressed from the “basic” category to “intermediate” after only one academic year, scoring just below the “proficient” level—the level required to be reclassified as a fluent English speaker. He also scored at the intermediate level in comprehension, but did not do as well on other parts of the Spring (March) 2014 AZELLA, scoring in the high basic range in writing, listening, and speaking (Table 2).
On the Renaissance Learning STAR test of reading, Ramon did not improve on the first post-winter-break administration in January of 2014 and had improved only slightly at the end of the academic year (Table 2).
But most remarkable for a student with very low English proficiency at the start of the year, Ramon passed all of his mainstream classes in ninth grade, including English, Intensive Writing, and Algebra Foundations.
Ramon continued to improve in tenth grade, earning all As and Bs in his classes. As indicated in Table 1, at the end of tenth grade his AZELLA scores, with the exception of reading, were greatly improved. Only his modest decline on the reading test prevented him from being reclassified as a proficient English speaker. (Note that reclassification after even three years is quite unusual; Crawford and Krashen, 2015). His STAR test scores were less impressive, but still showed improvement (1/5/15 and 3/5/15; Table 2). His accomplishments were even more impressive when we consider the fact that his subject-matter classes, as noted earlier, were not “sheltered” but were mainstream classes with some accommodation for second-language acquirers.
Ramon also joined the soccer team in tenth grade. He reported that he joined due to his increased level of understanding of English and a desire to belong to a peer group at his current high school.
At the time of this writing (June 2015), Ramon is still reading Naruto, which he has found online in both English and Spanish. If Ramon’s interest in reading were limited to Naruto manga, his hopes for future literacy development and performance in school improvement would be extremely limited. This is clearly not the case. He is now completing reading the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan) in English, having read the entire series in graphic-novel format. He is also reading The Red Pyramid (also by Rick Riordan) in graphic-novel format. He is thus a “narrow reader,” reading series and books by the same author, a reading strategy typical of good readers (Krashen, 2004).
His continuing interest in reading predicts that his progress in English, especially academic English, will continue. His goal is to obtain all As in his mainstream courses in eleventh grade. Thanks to his home run book with Naruto, Ramon has a good chance of achieving his goal.
Postscript: Ramon and Spelling
Table 3 presents Ramon’s scores on a standardized spelling test (Words Their Way), a test linked to a structured word study program designed for elementary school students up to sixth grade. Ramon initially scored at the “Early Within Word” stage (first to mid-fourth grade), then improved to the “Late Syllables and Affixes” stage (fifth grade) just after the Naruto breakthrough (1/18/14), but made no additional progress over the next year. His immediate and dramatic gain just after winter break was unexpected; he had only just begun his reading journey. Also, his lack of improvement over the next year was unexpected.
Because of the demonstrated relationship between spelling and reading (Krashen, 2004), we predict that Ramon’s spelling will improve as he reads more. In light of his obvious academic progress and gains in AZELLA test scores, what we can conclude is that it is unwise to come to conclusions on the basis of spelling tests alone.
Crawford, J. and Krashen, S. 2015. English Learners in American Classrooms: 101 Questions, 101 Answers. Portland: DiversityLearningK-12.
Krashen, S. 2004. “The Case for Narrow Reading.” Language Magazine, 3(5): 17-19.
Kim, J. and Krashen, S. 2000. “Another Home Run.” California English, 6(2): 25
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited and Heinemann (second edition)
Trelease, J. 2001. The Read-Aloud Handbook. New York: Penguin. Fourth edition.
Ujiie, J. and Krashen, S. 2002. “Home run books and reading enjoyment.” Knowledge Quest 31(1): 36-37.
Von Sprecken, D., Kim, J. and Krashen, S. 2000. “The Home Run Book: Can one positive reading experience create a reader?” California School Library Journal, 23 (2): 8-9.
Vinnie Jordan Henkin has a MA in bilingual/multicultural education from Northern Arizona University and a BA in elementary education from the University of Arizona. She is beginning her 20th year of teaching and is currently an ESL teacher in southern Arizona, where she lives with her husband, two horses, three donkeys, a goat, and five dogs.
Stephen Krashen is professor emeritus at The Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California and a staunch supporter of public libraries. His concepts have influenced a whole generation of second-language educators, while his recent focus on literacy is changing the way students are being encouraged to read. http://www.sdkrashen.com