January Literacy Tip

Happy New Year!  Have you made a New Year’s resolution?  Now is the perfect time to set a literacy goal, “During 2014, I will help students develop the reading habit.”  Reading, after all, is a habit!  Perhaps you can’t go to bed without reading the paper; if you travel you find time to read it online or maybe you ask a friend to save the papers so you can read them upon your return.  Maybe you can’t go to bed at night without reading a few pages from your novel.  You have the reading habit; reading is an integral part of your life.
A teacher once shared with me, “I am so thankful we have invested time in Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) because I get a chance to catch up on some of my reading, and when students see me reading they are intrigued.  They want to know what I am reading and why I chose it.” 
If we want students to become readers we need to give them frequent opportunities to behave as readers.  SSR is time set aside for students to read what they choose; the purpose is to build habit, background knowledge, and vocabulary.  Research clearly shows that SSR increases student achievement, motivation, and engagement.  Specifically, independent reading is the largest contributor to vocabulary growth, especially for older and more able readers. 

Getting Started

Four essential components of successful implementation of SSR are:

  • The teacher is critical to the success of the program.  Teacher enthusiasm and modeling (teachers reading too) pays huge dividends in motivating students (especially reluctant students) to read.
  • Students must self-select material that they find interesting as well as at their reading level.  Choice is a reading motivator and if we want students to become independent, life-long readers they need to learn how to self-select reading materials that works for them.
  • Having a large amount and variety of reading materials in the classroom from which students can select is essential.  Books (fiction and nonfiction), magazines, graphic novels, comics, and newspapers are appropriate.  Materials can be checked out from the school and/or the public library, grant money can be used to purchase classroom sets of high-interest books and magazines, and educators or parents can donate reading materials.  We live in a high tech world, so encourage students owning an electronic reading device such as a Kindle to bring it to school for SSR.
  • non-accountability rule is vital to the success of the program; non-accountability means students are not required to complete book reports, take tests, or endure other forms of accountability.  After all, how many adults write a response to every book or newspaper article they read?

For best results introduce SSR early in the semester, beginning with a short amount of time (young children or struggling readers may begin with five minutes and secondary students ten minutes).  As the year progresses slowly extend the reading time.  When one student is off task, reading time ends, students can share what they read with a partner.  The goal is to increase minutes reading in a positive way. 
Horace Mann sums this Literacy Tip rather nicely, “Resolve to edge in a little reading every day, if it is but a single sentence.  If you gain fifteen minutes a day, it will make itself felt at the end of the year.”
For more information about Sustained Silent Reading check out Strategic Reading in the Content Areas – Practical Applications for Creating a Thinking Environment, Chapter 8. Books can be previewed at www.rachelbillmeyer.com
Please forward this email to other interested colleagues.  Interested readers can go to www.rachelbillmeyer.com to sign up for future Literacy Tips.