The SSR Handbook: Chapter 2 – Eight Factors for SSR success. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

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Find reviews more chapters of the SSR Handbook below:

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Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

This review focuses on chapter 2 of Janice Pilgreen’s The SSR Handbook.  This title is a must have to guide the work of any reading program, whether your focus is Self Directed Reading (SDR), Free Volunteer Reading (FVR), Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) or some other version of a reading program.

Chapter 2 of The SSR Handbook lays out the the 8 factors of success for SSR programs.  Pilgreen reviewed studies of extensive reading and developed these 8 factors based on the programs that demonstrated an increase in reading comprehension or students’ attitudes toward reading in general.  Details are found on page 8.  Each factor will interact slightly differently dependent on your version of the reading program.

The first factor, which is extremely important no matter what version you employ, is access to reading material.  “Access means that trade books, magazines, comics, newspaper, and other reading materials were provided directly to the students in a variety of ways instead of requiring students to bring something from home to read.”  -page 8.  To take it a step further, any barriers that might come between students and reading materials must be taken down.  This includes physical barriers and expectations of time for students to read.  Once access of materials happens, physical spaces must be set up for students to intuitively choose materials.  Time must be devoted for everyone to read.

Also from page 8 of the SSR Handbook, “The key to providing access in all of these programs was that the researchers made sure that students were directly provided with a large number of readily available reading materials.  The burden did not fall upon the readers to locate their own reading materials outside of school.”  As we develop reading programs, we need to make decisions that make choosing reading materials and actually reading as easy as possible for students.  Many students have not had this experience at home.  It is essential to set them up for success as we help them develop a reading habit.

Factor two is appeal of reading materials.  In my experience, this factor can be difficult as appeal can be different for each student.  On page 9, Pilgreen states “Broadly defined, appeal means that reading materials are sufficiently interesting and provocative enough for students to want to read them.”  My first instinct was to jump onto the books that I thought might appeal to students in an attempt to sell the books to students.  What I discovered is that students don’t necessarily want to read things in which I seem interested.  Therefore, the first facet to offering appeal for students is to have as large of a variety of reading materials as possible.  Pilgreen adds on page 9, “Self selection is important because it is difficult for readers to develop a sense of ownership and purpose if someone else is telling them what to read.”  Students have all kinds of different interests.  If a book connects with one student it is worthy of being in your library.

Appeal goes beyond types of resources, content and style.  As I transitioned my program to a Self Directed Reading Program (SDR), the older students perceived some of the materials as kids’ books.  These students’ attitudes toward reading were sour at times.  A challenge of a Latin teacher is that there are only some many level appropriate materials available.  As our library grows, I wonder if those students above would have more enthusiasm toward reading today?  In any case, this quote from Pilgreen on page 10 of the SSR Handbook hits home for me based on my experience.  “Building on students’ enthusiasm for reading was also a critical part of making books inviting in these studies.”  We have to do more than simply put a wide variety of books in front of students.  Once we have access and a variety of materials, we need to continue to foster student’ ownership in reading and enthusiasm for reading.

Factor three, a conducive environment, overlaps with factor two, appeal.  Part of the appeal to reading is a appealing place to read.  When I consider what makes a conducive environment for me when reading at home, my first thoughts are that I cannot replicate that in my classroom space.  There simply is not enough room.  But as Pilgreen points out on page 11, “In reviewing the studies, I found that a large percentage of successful programs utilized traditional classroom settings and simply built the element of uninterrupted and silent reading time.”  A teacher does not have to rearrange a classroom to create a conducive environment.  Expectation of quiet time and reading during that time must be set.  This takes a few sessions to train students to the routine, but I’ve found that almost all students will respect the quiet time once it has been set as a routine.  There is a period of setting the reading example and ignoring certain disruptions.

Factor four is encouragement.  I’m constantly reminding myself that many students do not have reading role models in their lives.  There experience with reading has become a task to be completed for a score.  They do not know how to engage with an interesting book.  Pilgreen reminds us on page 12 of the SSR Handbook, “There is no assurance that putting students in a conducive environment with a wide range of interesting books will actually stimulate them to read…. but those who have yet to be hooked on books won’t recognize what a satisfying experience they’re being offered.” It is important to keep the reminder that a major goal of a reading program is to show students that “reading can open doors for them in ways that no other activity can…” as Pilgreen states on page 12.  The power of reading begins with students becoming hooked.  Our reading programs are offering as many opportunities for that to happen as possible.

Encouragement requires readers a chance to interact with other readers to engage in thoughts about the text.  Think book club style discussions over assignments to be completed.  This can happen in smaller groups or in large class groups but should include participation by the instructor to model how to engage with text.  We shouldn’t assume that students simply know how to interact with texts in these ways.  Some of the programs that Pilgreen researched (pg. 13) simply offered students a social chance to discuss books after reading time.  Encouraging students to make reading a social interaction adds an element that most students will connect with in some way, simply because it is enjoyable to join peers in such activities.

We probably have the least amount of control of factor five:  Staff Training.  Many of us are implementing a classroom and not a school wide reading program which naturally leads us to a position of wanting to lead students to become readers.  It is important to remember that we are successful readers overall.  We forget how we became successful readers because we have been reading for so long.  As Pilgreen states on pages 14-15 of the SSR Handbook, we can’t simply make quiet reading time.  We need to discover successful strategies and activities to support students’ interest in reading.

Factor six is one of the hardest to implement at first.  Non-Accountability.  Pilgreen states on page 15 that 87 percent of successful programs in her research did not assess comprehension or reading growth in their programs.  Pilgreen states on page 15, “The key to non-accountability, as indicated by these successful groups, is to omit any activity that gives students the message that they are responsible for completing a task, comprehending a particular portion of their reading, or showing they have made improvement in some way.”  I found this component extremely difficult as I transitioned from legacy practices to comprehended based instruction.  It is easy for me to fall into the “but students won’t complete it unless it is for a grade” mentality.  Each school situation will be different, but I found these types of pressures, especially with the upper level students.

I continually remind myself that the goal of this reading program is for students to become readers.  Also, I see what students are acquiring from reading as vocabulary and syntax shows up in their writings from the books.  But I can also see what students have not found the interesting book or connected to their reading.  Adding accountability measures will not change that.  They will make the reading become a task that has to be completed.  This doesn’t mean we don’t engage with what students are reading, but we must take careful thought to those engagement activities and remove as many barriers that stand between students and the reader inside them as possible.

Which is why factor 7:  Follow Up Activities is so important.  The goal of our reading programs is not to force students to read.  They work through all sorts of courses that require them to read things that they do not want to read.  Pilgreen states on page 16 of the SSR Handbook, “Follow-up activities encourage students to sustain their excitement about the books they have read.”  We want to hook students to reading as a social activity.  We want students to read and talk to people about what they read.  This is one of the most powerful things we can leave with students.

But follow-up activities are difficult to implement well.  “They are typically interactive in nature and offer opportunities for readers to channel their enthusiasm in creative and thoughtful ways.  Of course, they may not include any components that readers may view as accountability measures; otherwise, their power is severely diminished.”  -page 16.  Creative yet without accountability measures.  This is a fine needle to thread.  In my experience, creative can be overdone and actually take away from the experience.  Also, accountability measures and monitoring can be different things.  It is important that as teachers we are engaged in the process with readers, but once we use those interactions to assess performance we take away enjoyment for students quickly.  One of the most powerful ways to allow students to interact with reading is allowing them time to discuss books with the teacher and one another.  These can happen in small groups, a large group or one on one conferences.  Pilgreen describes more ideas starting on page 16.

Factor eight, in my view, is the simplest to implement:  Distributed Reading Time.  Part of access for students is giving them time to read in the classroom.  As an instructor we want to model what reading and interacting with text looks like.  Students need to have reading time regularly during class.  As the instructor it is vital to read as well and demonstrate to students how sacred and important that time is.  Pilgreen confirms that shorter individual reading sessions that occur more frequently are more effective than long individual reading sessions that happen less often.  I’ve discovered that when starting a program it is best to find the right amount of time for students to read and to start with sessions 2-3 minutes shorter.  It is better to have students who want to read more than to have students who are starting to fidget.  I’ve found starting with 5 minutes at the beginning of the year and adding a minute to sessions every 3-5 weeks depending on how students are handling the reading is effective.  By the end of the school year students are reading for 12-15 minutes and the fastest readers will be reading an appropriate level book per 2-3 sessions.

Extensive reading is powerful.  When you begin a program consider the top goals often.  Don’t let the pressure of assessment lead you to look away from the top goal.  We want students to become self sustaining readers.  Add Pilgreen’s the SSR Handbook to your resource library and start experimenting with the best ways to implement your program.

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