3 KEYS TO MAKING THE MOST OF SUSTAINED SILENT READING (SSR) TIME
The research is clear: The more kids read, the better readers they will be. Or is it the other way around: the better readers kids are, the more they will read? No one’s quite sure which is the cause and which the effect. But the bottom line is that there is a significant correlation between quantity of reading and reading proficiency.
Quite simply, kids who read a lot build more vocabulary and background knowledge. They get exposure to complex syntactic structures and literary elements, and that enables them to understand and appreciate increasingly sophisticated text. In a series of studies, Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich (2001) found that extensive reading was linked to superior performance on measures of general knowledge, vocabulary, spelling, verbal fluency, and reading comprehension—even among students with lower general ability.
Unfortunately, our struggling readers are unlikely to do much reading at all outside of school time. Consider the classic research by by Anderson, Wilson and Fielding (1984); they found that students scoring in the bottom 20% on reading assessments read less than a minute a day outside of school! With an increase of only ten minutes per day of school reading time, our most needy readers will go from reading 20,000 words a year to more than 300,000 words—an increase of almost 1500%! Even our “average” (50th percentile) kids will increase the number of words they are exposed to by more than 200%. That’s why it’s so important to build Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) into our timetable every day.
SCAFFOLDED SILENT READING
So, how can we make the most of independent reading time to ensure that our students build both competence and confidence as readers? Ray Reutzel and his colleagues (2008) have identified several conditions of effective Scaffolded Silent Reading practices, including student choice, accountability and social interaction.
1. Student Self-Selection of Reading Material—with Support
Any reader is more inclined to read something she has chosen herself. But independent reading should also be – independent! If a book is too difficult for a student to read on his/her own, then there will be neither enjoyment nor learning as a result. This is a time for easy reading practice. Many students will need some guidance from their teachers to find materials they are interested in and able to read on their own.
Teach students techniques for previewing a book, such as:
Start by reading the information on the back cover or fly leaf (called a “blurb”) Open the book at random and read a page. Does it seem comfortable for you? Are there lots of difficult words?
Try another page. Does the writing style appeal to you? Does it seem interesting enough that you’re willing to work through some hard parts?
2. Student Accountability
No one ever became a better reader by writing a book report or making a diorama. However, if we want our Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) program to be as effective as it can be, we need to ensure that students are actually reading. (In other words, don’t let accountability tasks distract from the actual reading time.)
A simple Reading Log invites students to record their daily reading, along with a few details about the text, without taking away too much time from reading. It’s especially handy for struggling readers to see a record of what they’ve achieved each day. It’s easy to adapt this reading log to include other information, such as a one-sentence summary of the day’s reading.
The Reading Log is also a useful tool for monitoring what students are reading, how much they’re reading and what their response is to the reading.
3. Interactions of Teachers and Students around Texts
Social interaction around reading can motivate wide reading and expand text selection. One of the best ways for students to account for what they’ve read is to have them talk about their reading with others. In fact, the US Department of Education’s Nation’s Report Card reported that students who talk about reading have higher average reading scores than those who don’t.
But interactions between teachers and students are even more important, according to Reutzel and his colleagues. We used to think that the teacher’s role during silent reading time was to model reading him or herself. While this practice offered a pretty peaceful way to spend 20 minutes of time with a class, it really didn’t contribute much to our students’ reading development. In truth, the best way we can spend our time is by circulating among students to talk about their reading, to listen to them read, and to suggest other reading.
As we confer with students as they read, we can ask questions, such as:
• What’s your reading about?
• Are you enjoying this book? What do you like or dislike about it? Has there been anything confusing or anything you’re wondering about? • What kinds of reading do you usually prefer?
• Would you please read this page/paragraph to me?
• Do you think you might like to try…?
In a 20-minute SSR period, it should be possible to meet with three or four students and record brief anecdotal notes on your conversations, thereby meeting with every student every few weeks. You might invite students to prepare a one-minute oral reading (yes, even in middle and high school). This can also be a good time to conduct individual oral reading assessments
Making time for sustained silent reading every day may very well be the easiest and most effective classroom intervention you can implement – not just for struggling readers, but for all readers.
Anderson, R., Wilson, P., & Fielding L. (1984). “Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23 (285-303).
Cunningham, A. & Stanovich, K. (2001). “What Reading Does for the Mind” Journal of Direct Instruction 1:2, 137-149.
Donahue, P., Finegan, D. & Lutkus, N. (2001). The Nation’s Report Card, Fourth Grade Reading. Washington DC: US Department of Education.
Jamison Rog, L. (2014). Struggling Readers: Why Band-aids Don’t Stick and Worksheets Don’t work. Pembroke Publishers.
Reutzel, R., Jones, C., Fawson, P., & Smith, J. (2008) “Scaffolded Silent Reading: A Complement to Guided Repeated Oral Reading that Works!” The Reading Teacher, November 2008, 194-207.