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Fake reading and why SSR by itself isn’t effective

 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.

* * *

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. 


  1. Jenni

    I totally agree, Mark! I am teaching rising 6th graders in a six-week summer enrichment program, and I am thinking of ways to make SSR as meaningful as possible for them (today was Day 1). Starting tomorrow, they’ll read 20 minutes per day at the start of class (we have 90-minute sessions 5x a week) and then another 30 minutes at home each night (their hw tonight was the 30 minutes). In class, post-SSR reading, they’ll reflect upon their reading in their Reader Response Logs and have opportunities to share their responses with their classmates (and of course with me and the undergrad assistant). I have a small but good classroom library, and I’ll be reading alongside them during the 20 minutes. While I’m hoping all these things will show them that “hey! we take readers and improvement in reading seriously here!” I wonder if there is something else I could be doing better. I’d love to hear what others have to say!

    • Vanessa

      This reminds me that there were are couple of times in my student teaching where my 11th graders were whining about not wanting to do some activity, that it was boring, that it was pointless. In one instance where they were complaining about annotation, I sat down for a minute and talked to them about some of the research (in very broad strokes) showing that annotation helps reading, etc etc. They were amazed that there was actual thought going into what I asked them to do and went back to work much more readily.

      Now, I don’t think that this kind of explanation will put an end to all whining about schoolwork by any means, but it would be nice to have some materials ready to hand for occasions like this. Perhaps even when we first teach (or reteach) a skill or introduce an activity. It seems like it could do good in a couple of ways: increasing student trust in the teacher and curriculum and modeling thoughtfulness and metacognition.

      It would be really cool to develop a collection of materials for various levels and activities that we could draw on! (summaries, excerpted articles, etc)

    • Mark Isero

      This sounds great, Jenni! It sounds like you’re doing all the crucial components of a solid independent reading program: (1) time to read, (2) championing reading, (3) good books, (4) time to talk about reading.

      Let me know how your Reader Response Logs go. When I taught ninth grade, my gut said not to do them, but on reflection, I changed my mind.

    • Mark Isero

      Vanessa, I think it’s great that you engaged your students into talking about the importance of annotations. For most students, annotating text is a crazy thing. (I didn’t start marking up text until college.) My hope is that we can find a way where students can interact with text and demonstrate what they understand…all through annotations.

  2. Chris Mercer

    “What do we do when nothing is due?”

    I recall that many students wanted to use SSR time to do homework. There is a compulsion to “do” something when we feel stressed, short of time and everyone is sitting quietly with book bags at finger tips.

    It’s hard to get kids to read for the sake of reading because nothing is actually due. For many, including myself sometimes, reading takes the form of skimming for answers and if there are no questions to answer then, what’s the point? (Even when reading logs are required, some students read just enough to be able to fill something out, they miss the point.)

    That’s where developing a school wide culture of reading comes in. Perhaps a class brainstorm followed by posting a list of reasons to read would be a good start. 1. Reading is fun. 2. Reading boosts your vocabulary. 3. Good Writers are good readers. etc.

    We live in a product driven world and reading doesn’t produce tangible results. We need to make the invisible rewards of reading visible.

    • Mark Isero

      Chris, you’re spot on when you write, “Reading doesn’t produce tangible results. We need to make the invisible rewards of reading visible.”

      Students don’t know of reading’s benefits because they simply don’t read enough. Most of their information (and therefore, their knowledge and identity) comes from TV, the Internet, and their friends. Reading is what’s done in school for teachers.

      If students read more (nonfiction in addition to fiction), they would probably realize that reading is a great way to add to their notions of the world.

      But this is challenging task. That’s why I like your emphasis on creating a school culture that promotes reading. Because reading is mostly invisible, and because students have a fixed mindset when it comes to reading, educators need to take the mask off of reading and put it out in public.

Please share your brilliant insights!