Chapter 1 and 2 of The SSR handbook by Pilgreen lays out the research centered around reading programs. Chapter 3 switches gears and recounts a pilot program. As Pilgreen began her pilot study she confirms on page 19 that the factors of “access to books, book appeal and encouragement were weak in her classroom. She continues with thoughts about why a free reading program can benefit students. Her thoughts around children reading is interesting. Many times children start interacting with reading by telling stories as they are flipping pages through books. I see this with my own children often. This is an important reminder that patience and consistency is key when starting a program with high school students. Students are not naturally readers. The learn to read through time with books and story telling.
But how do we bridge the space for readers between emergent readers who need much guidance to proficient independent readers? Reading out loud to students is important, even at the secondary level. From page 20, “Trelease’s position is that reading aloud motivates students to become interested in books and to want to be able to read higher-level materials, justa as adults do. He maintains that it is a practice that builds readers’ listening vocabularies-the reservoirs from which reading vocabularies come.” But we also need to remind ourselves that much at school is leading students away from pleasure reading.
On page 21, “…they (students) may find a split between what they are asked to read in school and what they enjoy reading.” Some people in the secondary setting will look down on free reading because it isn’t productive in the sense that it is accomplishing coursework. Therefore it is vital that we continue to offer students “to set personal purposes for reading, which can guide their selections” as Pilgreen suggests on page 21. There are many ways to do this such as reading logs that track how a student interacts toward a text, self surveys or what may be the most powerful, opportunities for social reading and activities. Pilgreen points out research that “what students have to say to each other about the books they read has far more influence on future reading than any other person or any other device.”
A large portion of our work with reading programs will revolve around creating a space and opportunities for students to connect with purposeful reading. Why not use students’ natural desires toward social activities by centering reading around group extension activities and opportunities in sharing? These opportunities need to allow students chances to connect and share what they feel and think about what they read with others. This creates a space for them to connect with characters, or a certain author or a certain genre.
Pilgreen made it a point to include the 8 factors in her reading program. Here is how she implemented each with thoughts about how we might apply these ideas to our own programs.
- Access – Pilgreen received $850 from a principal and was able to purchase about 250 books to add to her classroom library. Notice, it doesn’t take a ton of money to start a program. Look for grants in your district or local businesses. Ask department chairs, principals and curriculum directors. $300-$500 will go a long way and if you can find that much money from a couple different sources there will be a nice variety in your library quickly. Once you have multiple copies of certain titles consider offer students the chance to check books out for home use.
- Appeal – Pilgreen’s students completed interest surveys to help her choose materials. Don’t let appeal stop you from purchasing. Purchase 1 copy of titles you are not sure about and watch which titles students gravitate toward. Purchase multiple copies of titles that you see many students wanting to read.
- Conducive Environment – This doesn’t have to be comfy chairs and bean bags, although that might work in your situation. Pilgreen added READ posters to her walls. A student made a do not disturb sign for her. Consider a couple things when thinking about your environment. How will encouragement be everywhere? Posters? Pictures? Quotes about reading? How will you demonstrate that it is sacred time? How will students know how to access books? How will the space be set up for ease for students to get materials and find a place to read?
- Encouragement – Talk about reading. Share your own reading experiences. Offer students a variety of ways to interact with what they read together. Pilgreen shares stories of herself as a young reader with her students.
- Distributed Time to Read – Pilgreen used 12 minutes per day. Consider how much time per week you hope to read. Don’t read just on 1 day. Shorter periods more often is better. So if Pilgreen’s goal was to read for 60 minutes per week, 12 minutes 5 times is better than 1 60 minute class period. Also, consider how much you think students can handle reading per session and start sessions 2-3 minutes shorter than that point. It is better toward reading morale to have students want to read a little more than for them to start getting restless before the reading period has ended. Every 6-12 sessions dependent upon how long you read per session, add 1 minute per session until you are at the point you hoped to be. This may take longer than you expect. Students fidgeting for the last 2-3 minutes of a session will affect the whole group over time.
- Non-Accountability – As Pilgreen notes, at first students might seem skeptical. It is vital to continue to remind students of the reasons why and the research behind the choices about the reading program. Non-Accountability does not mean students never complete an assignment or assessment around the process of reading but it should always be centered around how students are connecting to what they read and expressing what they are reading. The more students become accountable for the specific content in the text they are reading, the more they will try to read for “the answers.” They read for the answers enough in other classes and that will kill the pleasure of reading and it will just become another box to check off of their school work list.
- Follow-up Activities – Simple, variety, and a social aspect are key. One of our goals to create a successful program is to make reading and activity to share with others.
- Staff Training – Continue reading books like Pilgreen’s. Talk to colleagues. Talk to students.
Pilgreen lays out 5 goals on page 28 for her pilot study. Her first goal, improved reading comprehension, seemed to be met as students improved with about 15 months of growth in 16 weeks in reading comprehension. Her second goal, greater enjoyment of reading, also seemed to be met. 20% more students surveyed that they enjoyed the reading time a lot after the program was finished. The third goal, more frequent engagement in outside pleasure reading, as saw positive results. 20% of students surveyed that they often engaged in reading outside of school which increased to 40% after the program. Many students demonstrated improved reading ability in themselves after the program.
After her pilot study Pilgreen realized that the pilot study showed a correlation of success but it wasn’t causal. As you prepare to read chapter 4 she will set up a formal study with controls for the data. The pilot study shows improved perception of reading at the worst. The 8 factors of Pilgreen’s program work. Even so, they look a little bit different in every situation. How can you facilitate them in your situation?