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Chapter 5 of Pilgreen’s, The SSR Handbook lays out “Recommendations for Realistic SSR Implementation. Find Reviews of other chapters below.
Pilgreen’s first recommendation is that we share the 8 components of success with students. She details her experience with students helping her solve problems that she didn’t anticipate. This seems an easy and powerful way to include students in the planning process which is an important teacher skill that shows up on teacher evaluation systems like Domain 3 of the Danielson framework.
Access is more than the availability of books, but that is the start. For success, classroom libraries should be closest to the students to be the most successful as found on page 43 of the SSR Handbook Pilgreen suggests seeking funding from multiple sources, including at the building level through the PTO/PTA, through department funds but also to write letters seeking support from community resources. For extremely tight money situations, Pilgreen suggests rotating and trading materials with other classrooms or schools. Some schools created a reading material contest which asked students to bring in reading material for a small incentive. This not only helped the program have more books but also created a community building positive experience centered around reading. Book fairs are another option to create an event centered around reading. And lastly, don’t forget to use both school and community librarians for the many resources they can offer.
Appeal always seems hard in my view. Therefore as Pilgreen hints at throughout her discussions of appeal in the SSR Handbook I think it is important to have as much of a variety of materials as possible. There are still a few students who enjoy reading the Ecce Romani stories so I keep a few copies of the old textbook out. Even though variety is important, it is helpful to have more materials about topics and from authors or series that students want to read. In the Latin world we are just starting to get to a point of multiple types of reading materials. And authors have kept the readers affordable. One way that I have paid attention to student interest is by purchasing 1 copy of every affordable reader. Then I pay attention to the titles that students seem to fight over and when there is money to purchase more classroom titles I prioritize those titles first.
Even so, interest surveys, students reviews of books, and student extension activity products around what they are reading offer insight into what students want to read about. Pilgreen also describes using popular books lists, attractive covers, but most importantly, taking time to interact with students to help them choose reading. Conferences and conversations with students during transition times serve well to help students pick something that they like. We have to remember that many students are not natural readers and they might not even know what a good book is to them.
A conducive environment should be comfortable, structured and a low risk atmosphere that demonstrates the time is quiet and sacred. Comfortable seating, nooks and crannies for reading and soft light surrounded by appealing student artwork and posters help create an environment rich with reading. But structure (frequent short sessions seem better than sporadic long sessions), a teacher modeling the sacred quiet time of reading and a low-risk atmosphere can easily be created in any classroom setup without adding the headache of extra seating and designed spaces.
Encouragement starts with adult modeling. Show them how important Self Directed Reading is by you reading during that time. There will be a few students who attempt to use that time for something else, but as the year progresses and you continue to read even students you think won’t get into reading will start to want to partake in the reading community that starts with you. Patience and consistent modeling is key. It is also key to model interaction with reading. Ask students about what they are reading. Offer suggestions to them about their level and their interests. This doesn’t have to take a long time. Make it a point to check in with 2-3 students during transition times each reading sessions. Lastly, reach out the the community of parents and the school to extend the encouragement. Reach out to as many people who can reinforce the enjoyment of reading for reading’s sake.
Staff training seems out of the classroom teacher’s control but this part is essential to create buy in for those who don’t believe in the time used for self directed reading to at least help create encouragement and a conducive environment for the program.
Non-accountability and follow-up activities are connected. Remember, the goal of self directed reading is to foster independent readers. We want to limit any kind of assessment that takes away from that process. Anytime we access students for what they comprehend when they read, we shift their focus from enjoying reading and becoming independent readers to task masters who answers questions. Independent reading and comprehension checks work against each other.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask students to be accountable for their progress in reading and how they are interacting with reading. But we need to continue to ask the question, “Does this activity ask students to extend their interaction with reading in some way or does it focus on comprehension?” We want to prioritize student interaction with what they read over checking comprehension. As students become use to this, they will start demonstrating their comprehension in discussions, book reviews (based on enjoyment of a book), and creative projects. But it takes a lot of time to get there. Students are not used to this type of follow up. They expect to be checked for comprehension. Be patience and continue to offer readers and opportunity to share and interact with what they have read.
Follow up activities are most effective when they offer students a chance to share, collaborate and encourage peers. When students see their peers enjoying reading, they find a community to join and there is a pull for them to figure out how to join that community. Pilgreen has much more to say so make sure you check out chapter 5 of the SSR Handbook.
I mentioned this earlier, but distributed time to read is essential for success. Frequent is better than longer. This is especially true at the beginning of the year. It is important to build up students’ sustained quiet reading ability. Remember, the goal is to encourage reading often. Time to read with peers and talk about it afterward is critical to starting that process.
The thoughts above simply touch on much of the advice that Pilgreen offers in chapter 5 of the SSR Handbook. There is much more to learn and refine so make sure and check her book out yourself.