Photo Credit: Éole Wind
Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) continues to be a common activity in schools at all grade levels for students with various levels of reading ability. Unfortunately, students who struggle to read often select books beyond their reading abilities and outside their interests and therefore do not spend much time reading. Past research has shown that such students and their teachers have a poor opinion of SSR. In this article we propose a modified approach to assisting students choose books that match their ability and interest as a means to increase their silent reading during the designated reading time. This approach can be applied across all grade levels in which students engage in independent silent reading. Interviews showed that the students’ and teachers’ attitudes improved. In addition, the students demonstrated on-task behavior and understanding of their reading.
It was 9:10 in the morning, the beginning of second period. Diane Olson welcomed her students with various disabilities to class, set her timer for 15 minutes, and reminded them that it was time for Sustained Silent Reading. Diane took her seat in front of the class and started reading. As usual, a handful of students also got out their books and started reading. Also, as usual, the rest of the class got busy with other tasks such as asking to go to the bathroom, writing notes to friends, braiding their hair and playing drums on the desktops. Sam, an 18-year-old senior with an emotional disturbance has been enrolled in special education for eleven years and has an average I.Q. of 97 and a reading comprehension score of 80 on the WJ-III. This morning he is sleeping instead of reading as is typical for him. Jabar, a 17-year-old sophomore, is student with a learning disability and has an average I.Q. of 83 and a reading comprehension score of 75 on the WIATT-II. Instead of reading he is working on his social studies homework.
Although all of the students in Diane’s class struggle with various reading difficulties, they all share a lack of interest and motivation to read for pleasure. Every day, Diane wonders why is she compelled by the school to use her precious instructional time in this way. If she is supposed to encourage her students to read silently on their own, she must find another way to increase their motivation and attitude toward silent reading. In the case of Sam, he reads at a college level, but refuses to read because he is typically non-compliant. Jabar, on the other hand, reads on a fourth-grade level, and any reading material in the classroom is below his ability.
Diane isn’t alone in wondering how she could get her struggling and reluctant readers to read during SSR. In recent years, literacy experts and teachers alike have acknowledged that the still widely used practice of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) requires modification to be useful for many students, especially reluctant and struggling readers (Hairrell, Edmonds, Vaughn, & Simmons, 2010). The problem with the traditional versions of SSR (Hunt, 1970; McCracken, 1971) in which students are asked to choose a book or magazine on their own and then read it silently for a period dictated by a timer is that the students may or may not actually stay on task and engage in reading. Although the original guidelines about SSR specified that students were supposed to choose freely what they wanted to read, and to do the reading without restrictions or accountability measures, this procedure does not mean that struggling readers will engage. These procedures work better for students who already are motivated to read for pleasure and can engage in the process.
Nevertheless, teachers and scholars believe that, with modifications to the original idea of SSR, students can be motivated to read and can engage in a different process. For example, some guidelines for SSR (Pilgreen, 2000) instruct teachers to have a library available for students to choose reading material. However, this practice also may be a problem as students may choose something that is above their reading levels or of little interest to them, leading to off-task behavior during SSR, and as a result, a loss of instructional time (Anderson, 2009; Fisher, 2004). Students who have access to a teacher library are likely to pick up books randomly without taking the time to determine if it’s something they are interested in reading. Simply having a ‘library’ available for students to choose from with such diverse reading skills may cause problems for the students and teacher. As a result, valuable learning time is wasted, students do not become better readers, and students may even learn to dislike reading more than they would otherwise.
Other educators have devised more elaborate modifications to SSR that involve more scaffolding for students. For example, some have suggested one way to modify SSR is to make sure students select books that are interesting to them. The idea is that some students may pay closer attention, sit for longer periods, and learn more when they are reading a text that interests them (Yoon, 2002). Rehder (1980) and Cecil (1984) indicate that liking a book can affect reading achievement and students who read books in which they are interested have a higher reading attitude and better comprehension levels when compared to those less interested in their books. Preference for the books the students are reading may be a motivational element that can lead to an increase in reading attitude and reading comprehension (Yoon).
In another approach, Scaffolded Silent Reading (ScSR: Reutzel, Fawson, et al., 2008) made use of silent reading practice of independent-level texts selected with teacher guidance from among varied genres. Periodic teacher monitoring of and interaction with individual students is coupled with accountability through competed book response assignments. The investigators compared ScSR to Guided Repeated Oral Reading with Feedback (GROR) treatment groups from the beginning-of-year to end-of-year growth in accuracy, rate, expression, and comprehension. Students in the ScSR treatment group made progress equivalent to students in the scientifically validated (NICHD, 2000) comparison reading practice condition of GROR in reading accuracy, rate, expression, and comprehension. In a recent article reviewing the literature on SSR and struggling readers, Hairrell et. al. (2010) recommended: 1) Support book selection that matches students’ interests and reading levels; 2) Identify challenging words and promote word consciousness; 3) Preview the text and set a purpose for reading; 4) Scaffold SSR through progressively longer increments of reading, progress monitoring and paired readings; and finally; 5) Wrap up the reading and stimulate future reading.
In that spirit, we worked with Diane to develop a process that worked in her classroom to motivate her students to read and improve their attitudes toward silent reading. In addition to Sam and Jabar, there were 10 other students enrolled in her 11th grade developmental language arts class, including six with learning disabilities, three students had cognitive disabilities, and one was other health impaired for Tourette’s Syndrome. Just as those described in Diane’s class, prior to this intervention, some students read books during SSR but others were observed off task reading magazines, talking, walking around the room, and sleeping.
In our discussions with Diane, she mentioned that although she had books available in her class library, they were either too difficult or uninteresting to her students. So, we decided to devise a process to assure the students were reading books at their reading levels and that were of interest to them. We also believed that we should implement some accountability for the reading by assigning them a designated number of pages to read that we would record.
To start, we matched students’ abilities and interests to appropriate text. To do that, we conducted individual interviews in which we asked students 14 questions to gather information about their reading interests, preferences and habits. Table 1 shows the 14 interview questions. Following the interviews, we reviewed the student comprehension scores from the Qualitative Reading Inventory-3 (Caldwell, 2001) as well as the results from the interviews we conducted. The analysis of students’ scores showed the students’ grade levels ranged from 4-12. We then met with the high school librarian to identify books that matched the reading levels and interests of the students. From there, we generated a list of ten books (e.g., Slam! by Walter Dean Meyers and Things they Carried by Tim O’Brian) based upon all these factors.
To assure that the books offered to the students were within their abilities, each book‘s readability was determined with the Flesch-Kinkaid Readability Index, a tool found in Spelling and Grammar in Microsoft® Word. It is important to select at least three passages of text to ensure that a representative sample of the book is being evaluated. See Box 2 for step-by-step directions on how to conduct the readability test. The students were then shown ten different books and given a description of each book. They were asked if they had read the book, if they would like to read it and then ranked their top four choices. The first assigned book for the study was the students’ first or second choices from their personal rankings. Subsequent books assigned included both those from their original rankings, author preference or other student recommendations. As students completed books, we met with them individually to select their next books. We reviewed the students’ previous book survey and then conducted an individual ‘show and tell’ with the student by showing them books on topics in which they were interested (i.e., from the reading survey) and then providing them with a detailed description of the books contents. The students were offered 2-3 books from which to choose.
We observed several interesting changes in the reading engagement of the students over the semester. Students who had exhibited limited willingness in the past to engage in silent reading, were participating and enjoying their reading. All of the students read and several completed whole books. Table 2 shows a complete list of the books and number of pages each student read. In addition, students were asking for more time to read beyond the 15 minutes allotted to them in the morning. Sam who was quite vocal about hating school, made several comments about how much he liked the books he was reading and often wanted to talk about what he was reading. He indicated an interest in reading historical fiction and fantasies. His first book was Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brian, set during the Vietnam War; it is an in-depth exploration of the life of a soldier. His second book called MEG, by Steve Alten, was an adventure story about searching for a long-lost ocean dinosaur. At mid-semester, he dropped out of school, but called Diane to tell her that he had checked out from his local library the sequel to one of the books he had read.
Jabar indicated that he only read picture books, sports books, and biographies. He read three books in their entirety throughout the course of the semester, including Forged by Fire, by Sharon M. Draper, a realistic novel about an abusive family. His other book choices were, Slam!, by Walter Dean Myers, and Running Loose, by Chris Crutcher, both about high school athletes. He complained to Diane on several occasions that the assigned reading time was too short and often asked to have additional time. Other students read a variety of books including love stories and mysteries. They often recommended books to one another from the list we created.
We also were interested to learn that students’ overall attitudes toward reading improved. To figure this out, we administered The Rhody Secondary Reading Attitude Assessment (Tullock-Rhody & Alexander, 1980) to all the students before and after completing our study. This instrument is a 25-item checklist to categorize a student’s attitude toward reading and books. The scale allows students to express their feelings ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” Some example items from the scale are, “You think people are strange when they read a lot,” “You like to get books as gifts,” and “You are willing to tell people that you do not like to read” (p. 612). Of course these data are limited, because the checklist is a self-report and may not be reliable.
We found that eight students’ attitude scores increased and four of the students’ attitude scores decreased by no more than five points. Three of the students had a substantial increase in their attitude scale score; Sam increased his attitude score by 22; Jabar increased his score by 29 and Sue by 41 points.
The students also were interviewed with a protocol we developed. When interviewed at the conclusion of the study, 11 of 12 students made very positive comments about the SSR procedure. Eleven students reported that the SSR study was a positive experience for them. In reference to SSR the students made comments such as: “Add 5 more minutes to the reading time” and “Not enough time to read.” One student said, “…reading is cool if you have a good book.” Sean was the only student who expressed dislike for the modified version of SSR. These results suggested that the attitude survey data may have been inconclusive.
Three students whose attitudes decreased (Ned, Cy, and Stan) indicated in the interviews an interest in continuing SSR for the following year.
In the end, Diane was thrilled to see the changes in her students because of the modifications to the process. She said she would continue SSR the following year and we learned that she has done so for three years since. At the conclusion of the project, she asked to keep all the materials for her to use the next school year, including the books used, the quizzes and all the materials for the game. To help you integrate these ideas see Box 1.
We now know that students who struggle with reading and have a variety of disabilities, may be motivated to read when they are supported in finding the appropriate books. In the future, we hope to expand the findings into bigger classrooms that contain a mixture of students enrolled in both general and special education. Although this particular project was conducted in a high school, the process can be applied to any setting in which students are struggling to read silently. The most exciting aspect of implementing these procedures into SSR is the potential for creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom and the potential for inspiring students to want to read. Keep in mind that once you have generated your book list and their associated reading level, although it is time intensive up front, you will have a comprehensive list you can refer to later. This will decrease the time required for future classes. It is truly gratifying to observe students growing as readers, and it is a pleasure to be in a classroom where students are learning and achieving. Any effort required to make this happen is well worth it in our view.
Authors: Natalie A. Williams and Kristin L. Nelson, Weber State University
Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Natalie A. Williams, Ph.D., Weber State University, 1304 University Circle, Ogden, UT 84408-1304; 801-626-8654
Table 1: SSR Reading Interest Survey
|1. Do you like to read? Why or Why not?2. What is the best book you have ever read?3. What kind of books do you like to read? (e.g. biography, mystery, animal stories, war stories, sports stories, fantasy, informational books, science fiction, other)4. Do you like to tell other people about the books you read?
5. Do you have any books of your own? If yes, what kind?
6. How often do you read in your own?
7. Do you read because you have to or because you like to?
8. Do you have trouble finding books that you like to read?
9. Do you prefer to read alone or in a group?
10. Do you get the newspaper at your house? Do you read the newspaper? If so, what section do you like best?
11. Who is your favorite author?
12. Do you have a library card? If so, how often do you check out books? How many books do you check out at a time?
13. Name one of your favorite book characters and why?
14. If someone were going to select something for you to read, what should that person know so that he or she could pick out the perfect book for you?
Table 2: Books Read
|Book Title||Author||Genre||Students Who Read This Book||Pages Read Over 12 Weeks|
|Wanted!||Caroline B. Clooney||Mystery||SaraStanNedRaydeanPatty||22344195225207|
|Things They Carried||Tim O’Brian||Historical Fiction||AmosStanSeanSamNed||246246243246246|
|Forged By Fire||Sharon M. Draper||Realistic Fiction||JabarStanSue||20815958|
|MEG #1||Steve Alten||Fantasy||SamSean||160160|
|The Rescue||Nicholas Sparks||Romance||PattyAmos||9456|
|Running Loose||Chris Crutcher||Sports||PattyJabar||66208|
|Slam!||Walter Dean Myers||Sports||JabarEboni||250198|
|The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson||Carol Lynch Williams||Young Adult Fiction||Sue||168|
|Flight #116 Is Down||Caroline Cooney||Mystery||Raydean||110|
|Hole in My Life||Jack Gantos||Memoir||Cy||56|
|Pretend You Don’t See Her||Mary Higgins Clark||Mystery||Robin||118|
|Rats saw God||Rob Thomas||Young Adult Crime Mystery||Ned||192|
|Until we Meet Again||Anne Schraff||Young Adult Fiction||Ned||138|
|Summer of Secrets||Paul Langan||Young Adult Fiction||Kay||32
Box 1: Six easy steps for matching books to students’ interests and levels
1. Determine reading interests (mystery, science fiction, biography, sports, romance)
2. Determine student reading level using CBM or IEP information
3. Meet with school librarian to match books with student interests and levels
4. Determine grade-level of books chosen using the readability tool in Word (see box 2)
5. Have students rank order their reading choices
6. Assign books based on their individual surveys
Box 2: Determining Flesch-Kinkaid Grade level
1. Randomly select a 100-word passage from the beginning, middle and end of the book
2. Enter that text into a Microsoft® Word document
3. From the toolbar choose Tools, Spelling & Grammar, Options, Check the box “show readability statistics’
4. Conduct the grammar check, this will provide the Flesch-Kinkaid Grade level
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