Silent sustained reading or SSR, otherwise known as DEAR (Drop Everything And Read), etc., has received a bit of bad press recently both from the International Reading Association and the National Reading Panel. According to the experts, after years of research, there has been not one study that supports the supposed positive effects of SSR.
I believe this is true. Over the course of my career, I have seen students fake their way through SSR. I have seen students talk more than read. I have seen students read with incredible speed and spend the remainder of SSR doing homework. The only way Independent Reading, or SSR, or DEAR can actually work is if you make sure students are reading at their independent reading levels and include interactive activities that encourage students to use the text to complete the activities.
The students I see at my business often do not read much at school. In fact, there are several research studies showing that students actually read about only 12 minutes a day.
Twelve minutes a day! Elementary students should be reading during an “Independent Reading” or SSR/DEAR time worked into the regular language arts schedule. They should not, however, be reading without guidance or direction. Many times I’ve seen students reading independently while teachers were conducting guided reading groups. Students often socialize or fake read during this time. It’s extremely important that a teacher models good reading behavior by actually reading with his or her students.
When I was teaching middle school language arts, I built independent reading into the schedule, but during that time, I was “interviewing” my students individually about their books and asking them questions about theme, cause and effect, sequence, or any other topic I had taught to students previously. This was a very effective way to make sure students were not only choosing the right books–that is books written at their independent reading level, but also making sure they were reading, and comprehending what they were reading. It gave me time to correct their misinterpretations and show them good reading strategies on an individualized basis. I had my students use a post it note system to indicate places where they were confused. This way I could intervene when problems arose immediately instead of them floundering with their independent reading book.
I feel strongly about sustained reading because I know it works when done correctly. After all, how else does a student build reading stamina and fluency? More studies show that when students read 15 or more minutes a day, they are exposed to more than one million words a year. And during the course of that time, they are learning new vocabulary words as well.
When I know that my students who I see during tutoring are not reading for dedicated times of the day, I start using a 5 day a week reading program with them. They read with their parents using paired reading and discussion. I coach parents on how to have a good discussion. They discuss the basics of the book and anything else they want to talk about. I try not to make it too structured because I want them to enjoy the fun of just reading. With some students I have them summarize the text using either post it notes or a journal format. It just depends on the level of intervention needed.
It’s important to encourage this kind of reading. It works better when family members are involved and there are no distractions in the house (like the TV).
If you are a parent and are concerned with your child’s fluency or lack of reading interest, try incorporating some reading time with your kids. Make it a family event. And I’m not talking about just elementary age children. If you’re not sure about what level your child is reading, ask his or her teacher. You can use Scholastic’s free Book Wizard which can help you find books at a child’s independent reading level. This will help you either purchase book or find books a the library.
If you are a teacher and want to use a better system of Independent Reading, SSR or DEAR, I suggest that you read the following article: