Monday, September 14, 2009

How to Get Students Reading Silently and Independently

Our teaching contract requires us to teach five classes, and supervise one duty. Being an ELA teacher, my duty usually ends up being SSR, or Silent Sustained Reading in the half period opposite my students’ lunch. On paper, this is a 20 minute period of time where students choose a book to read while relaxing with their full bellies. The reality is that it is a holding tank for children hopped up on the social gossip spilled during lunch SSR is the time during the day where students are asked to do something that many of them do not particularly love to do, and where there is no consequence, punitive or grade-based, for their performance.

Some teachers concede quickly to SSR, turning it into a study hall. Others play dumb – ignoring students who habitually grab a different book from the shelf each day, or dangle carrots like “free Friday” for silent compliance during the week.

I’ve tried group read-alouds, small book clubs, high interest selections – all with some success. Some kids embrace it while others visit my desk daily with legs bent and knees touching proclaiming inevitable bladder infection unless I turn them loose to visit the bathroom and then roam the halls. At best I would estimate 80% of my group to be engaged in meaningful reading. Better than the SSR classes that abandoned reading altogether, but not great. I resigned myself to this being the best possible model for an unstructured activity with a group of middle schoolers. Until, that is, I found the one missing component to a successful reading group. Me.

I’ve been a big fan of practice what you preach (here’s an earlier post on that same topic), and I realized I hadn’t been doing that during SSR. Typically after handing out books, and clearing the line of children with near-exploding bladders, I would hunker down at my desk and use the time to catch up on some of my own work.

My example was the wrong one. No wonder some SSR groups transform into a study hall. I had done it myself without even noticing. With the start of a new school year, and two SSR groups, I promised myself that I would set myself as an example. We are only into the second week of school, but perched in front of a silent group of readers with my book open in my lap, I have already noticed significant changes.

Once we begin reading, I open my book and get comfy in the front of the room. Amazingly, only twice have I been interrupted by a student asking to leave the room. I’d like to think that seeing my with a book caused an epiphany with my students on the importance and value of reading, causing them to immerse themselves in their own books. In reality, they are probably intimidated by the idea of interrupting the teacher while he is doing something. Either way, they are reading more during SSR. Everyone. I have 100% participation.

And best of all, I get a few minutes during my hectic day to read.
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4 Responses:

Melissa Smith said...

That's great! I guess you wouldn't get to read blogs at this time since it would look like you were playing catch up. One could grow so much professionally by just reading other educator's blogs for 20 minutes each day.

John said...

@Melissa - Absolutely! Even clicking on links posted on Twitter by other teachers is a tremendously valuable time-waster, err... professional activity!

Kate said...

I, too, learned this same lesson years ago in my 7th grade ELA classroom. You have to model for kids the expectation of the behavior you want to see. It's amazing how something so simple can make such a big difference!

BTW, we used to have those study halls too. We called them "Read and Feeds!"

Hope you have a successful year, John!

Dianne said...

It is extremely important for teachers to model reading when students are expected to do it. The research backs up what you learned by accident. Well done and keep it up - you just may turn someone into a life long reader.