I’m a believer in Sustained Silent Reading. As Stephen Krashen (among others) says, the best way to become a better reader is to read — a lot.
But SSR is not the only answer when it comes to getting students to read more. Here are four reasons why:
1. SSR isn’t long enough. My last school carved out 20 minutes three times a week for SSR. That’s not bad. But most students didn’t take their books home and therefore didn’t read anywhere else. That means that most students completed just two to four books a year. That’s not enough. SSR needs to be daily, and we must expect students to read in other classes (and at home), too. Otherwise, reading is not voluminous.
2. SSR can have a lot of fake reading. Just because students are silent and looking at their books does not mean that they’re reading. Last year, 0ne of my students, as a joke, “read” his book upside down to see if I’d notice. If the teacher isn’t taking SSR seriously (by reading herself, by conferencing with students, by connecting students to books), then the students won’t, either.
3. It’s not easy finding good books. Many schools require SSR but don’t supply teachers with high-interest books. Students love reading, but only if the books are new(ish) and compelling. If the books aren’t interesting, it’s much easier for students to daydream or take a nap. That’s why it’s crucial for each classroom to have a rich classroom library. Classroom libraries take time and effort to build. (It took me two years to get to 500 titles.)
4. SSR programs often lack purpose. Do the students know why they’re reading? Are they talking about their reading? Is there a goal? Because our society has largely decreased its focus on reading, students may not recognize why so much school time is being invested in the activity.
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I love SSR. But like everything in schools, it needs to be done well, and it needs to be part of an overall school reading plan. More than anything else, the two most important ingredients are good books and teacher investment. SSR works well if students like their books and if teachers take it seriously.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.