MAKING THE MOST OF INDEPENDENT SUSTAINED SILENT READING 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 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; 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
How can we make the most of independent reading time to ensure that our students build both competence and confidence as readers? Researchers have identified several conditions of effective Scaffolded Silent Reading practices, including student choice, accountability and social interaction.
CONSISTENT ROUTINES & EXPECTATIONS
Ten minutes a day isn’t much time out of the schedule and, in truth, not really enough time for most readers to really get into a piece of reading. But even at middle and high school levels, some students will gradually need to build the stamina to engage with text for our ultimate goal of twenty minutes or more. It helps to have some routines in place. Schedule SSR for the same time every day; how about first thing in the class period as students are entering the room? Leaving SSR to the end of the day pretty much guarantees it will often be interrupted. Establish the expectation that students will have enough reading material for the entire reading time. Make sure you have some alternative materials on hand to give to those who don’t have their own. This is not the time for trips to the library and the bookshelf.
SELF-SELECTION AND HIGH SUCCESS READING
Any reader is more inclined to read something she has chosen herself. But independent reading should also be – independent! If a text is too difficult for students to read on their own, it’s unlikely that they will enjoy or benefit from the experience. 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.
Literacy expert Richard Allington has long argued for the importance of HIGH SUCCESS READING. He maintains that students are more engaged, read more and learn more from texts that are easy for them. Even the Common Core State Standards advocate that students should have opportunities to “experience the satisfaction and pleasure of easy, fluent reading.”
What does HIGH SUCCESS READING look like? The generally accepted guideline for “independent” level text is 98-100% word accuracy, though it’s important to also include fluency (pacing, phrasing and expression) and thorough comprehension. And it goes without saying that regardless of how easy the text is, it’s not truly “successful” reading unless the reader is engaged in the content. That’s why it’s important for students to learn to select reading materials that they can read and want to read.
Help students build independence with strategies 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?
HIP NOVELS are designed for HIGH SUCCESS READING, with exciting, well-crafted stories geared to the interests of students in Grades 4-12 and beyond, but at manageable Gr. 2-3 reading levels. Read more about WHAT MAKES HIP BOOKS THE VERY BEST BOOKS FOR STRUGGLING READERS.
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.
SOCIAL INTERACTION AROUND READING
TWO MINUTES TO TALK
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.
Here’s an easy and effective routine: TWO MINUTES TO TALK. Simply give two minutes at the end of reading time for students to tell a partner about what they read. Of course, it’s important to demonstrate and practice how to talk about reading, as we do with any other routine.
Especially for struggling readers, it’s helpful to teach WORDS THAT MAKE YOU SOUND SMART WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT READING.
TEACHER TALK: THE “BUMBLEBEE” CONFERENCE
We used to think that the teacher’s role during silent reading time was to model reading him or herself. Now we know that the best way we can spend our time is by circulating among the students to talk about their reading, to listen to them read and to suggest other reading. In other words, we “buzz” around the room, briefly “alighting” at each student’s spot, not unlike bumblebees! 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?
- What do you think will happen next?
- Do the characters remind you of anyone?
- What kinds of reading do you usually prefer?
- Would you please read this page/paragraph to me?
- Do you think you might enjoy…?
Even at 1-2 minutes per student, you’ll be able to confer with every student every couple of weeks; plus, you’ll gather valuable information about your students’ reading skills and behaviors.