Reading is a fundamental part of a child's education. Many techniques have been utilized in an effort to make learning to read and reading comprehension easier for students (McCray 2001). One such technique is Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). The purpose of this discussion is to investigate Sustained Silent Reading as it relates to reluctant middle school aged children. Let us begin our investigation by discussing the theoretical framework of Sustained Silent Reading.
Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)
Jenson & Jenson (2002) report that The Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading program (USSR) was first implemented by Lyman Hunt at the University of Vermont during the 1960's (Jensen & Jensen 2002). By the 1970's the program was implemented into the American public school system (Jensen & Jensen 2002). Forty years after its initial inception this same program has an array of aliases including: Motivation in Middle Schools (MIMS), High Intensity Practice (HIP), Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading (POWER), Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), however the most frequently used name is Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) (Jensen & Jensen 2002). According to Yoon (2002) Sustained Silent Reading is defined as 'in-classroom reading activity wherein students are given a fixed period of time for the silent reading of self-selected material either for pleasure or for information, has gained popularity in many elementary and secondary classrooms in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and New Zealand ... scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of SSR on reading attitude is equivocal. For example, a few studies have indicated that SSR promotes positive attitudes toward reading (Aranha, 1985; Dully, 1989; Wilmot, 1975). In contrast, other research results question whether SSR has a positive influence on attitude toward reading (Yoon 2002)."
In addition, Yoon (2002) reports there are three characteristics of SSR that are beneficial to students and that aid in the reading process. These characteristics are self-selection, role modeling, and non-accountability.
The author asserts that self-selection involves that theory of self-determination and argues that children will be more enthusiastic about completing reading assignments if they are given a choice and have to power to select what they read (Yoon 2002). Within the context of the Self Sustained Reading technique self selection is incorporated and affects students' responses to reading. The author asserts that in his study Rehder (1980) found that "Secondary school students involved in a popular fiction course who were allowed to choose paperback books significantly outperformed control group students who participated in a composition class. Thus, by providing opportunities for self-selection in SSR, a teacher can foster children's involvement in reading materials and promote their literacy development (Yoon 2002)."
The idea of self selection also involves the concept of self-regulation endorsed by McCombs and Marzano (1990). The authors assert that "Students' will or desire to engage in self-regulation is not only necessary, but primary. To generate the will for self-regulation, students must realize that they are creative agents, responsible for and capable of achieving self-development and self-determination goals, and they must appreciate and understand their capabilities for reaching these goals (McCombs and Marzano 1990-page 51)."
Role Modeling is also a very important aspect of the SSR technique. The author asserts that that human behavior is fashioned by imitation and observation goals (McCombs and Marzano 1990-page 51).. As it pertains to children role models tend to be parents and teachers. Therefore if children are exposed to good reading behaviors it will assist them in developing good reading habits (McCombs and Marzano 1990-page 51).. For instance a great deal of research has indicated that role modeling is essential for reading attitude attainment and improvement. For instance, "Gambrell (1981) stated that "students need to see that we value reading and that reading is important in our lives. Share with your students. What better way to show them that reading is important? (Yoon 2002)."
Hopkins (2003) also explains the importance of the teacher serving as a role model. The author asserts that whether SSR is a private time activity or used as a discussion or writing motivator, it is essential that teachers contribute to the process as role models (Hopkins 2003). The author explains that during SSR teachers should also be reading and not developing lesson plans or correcting papers (Hopkins 2003). The author asserts that
"Teachers should be right there on the floor (or in another comfortable spot) -- modeling a lifelong love of reading. If students are expected to fill out a reading log after reading, teachers should do the same. If a weekly "share time" is part of the SSR routine, the teacher can serve as a model by talking about the book he or she is reading. Teachers can model the thought processes that accompany reading by talking about how the main character changes through the course of the book, about the author's use of language, and about surprises and disappointments they encounter as they read (Hopkins 2003)."
The author also points out that there are many facets of reading that can only be obtained if students have role models (Hopkins 2003). For instance, students must also learn how to respond to books and how to discuss their thoughts about books with others (Hopkins 2003). In this sense modeling readies students to have excellent book discussion (Hopkins 2003). Modeling empowers students have good independent book discussion when they are in pairs or small groups (Hopkins 2003). The author also asserts that SSR is also a chance for teachers to model better writing habits. The author asserts that when teachers request that students record their SSR activities in a dialogue journal, the journals can offer a chance to model good writing skills (Hopkins 2003). The author asserts that
"In dialogue journals, teachers can model by spelling words correctly in their responses to students that the students had misspelled in their entries. Teachers might even ask a question that requires a response that will include the misspelled word -- a tricky way to see if modeling really works! Modeling can also be used to point out students' errors of usage and capitalization and grammar (Hopkins 2003)."
Lastly, the characteristic of non-accountability plays an important role in SSR and student learning (Yoon 2002). The author explains that during SSR sessions the students are often not required to write book reports or keep journals (Yoon 2002). Such unaccountability is beneficial because techniques that focus on high accountability have the tendency to intimidate reluctant students (Yoon 2002). A teacher explains this phenomenon saying
"reading should be a spark to ignite a fire -- heavy accountability tends to throw water on the spark. If it is graded, it defeats the purpose of reading class ... To become life-long readers" (p. 6). Schiavone's (2000) study also showed that accountability for reading did not play a crucial role on the reading comprehension and attitude of seventh-grade children. Thus, instead of imposing heavy-accountability, rather teachers should always exert all possible efforts to share his or her reading experience with children and to entice comments from them about reading out of the activity (Yoon 2002)."
Crawford (2004) asserts that giving students diverse reading materials encourages their evolution into lifelong readers. The author asserts that "providing a rich supply of reading matter to children of all ages, as well as a place and time to read, is the first step to bridging the gap between poor and good readers (Crawford 2004)." The author asserts that Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) programs facilitate the creation of a school wide environment that is conducive to students engaging in free reading during the school day. The article also reports that in The SSR Handbook (2000), Janice Pilgreen asserts that SSR provides "the same or better benefits for students in the areas of comprehension and motivation as traditional skills do (Crawford 2004)."
Marzano (2004) agrees with the aforementioned assessments of SSR and how it should be implemented. In his book Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement the author asserts that there are five main factors that contribute to the successful implementation of SSR (Marzano 2004). These factors include involving students in selecting the reading material, distinguishing topics of interest, having uninterrupted time to read, journaling or representing the information in notebooks, and interacting with others about the subject matter presented in the books that have been read (Marzano 2004).
Furthermore schools that have employed a SSR strategy report an increase in academic achievement and students who developed a love for reading (Crawford 2004). The author concluded that when SSR programs are used in collaboration with a strong school library media program, students acquire the necessary materials, encouragement, and environment to help them develop lifelong reading routines (Crawford 2004).
Now that we have a better understanding of the theoretical framework of the Sustained Silent Reading technique, let us concentrate on the SSR technique as it relates to reluctant middle school aged children.
SSR in Reluctant Middle School Aged Children
Over the past two decades there has been a decline in reading at the middle school level. According to Humphrey et al. (1997)…
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