Sustained Silent Reading
by Bryce Hedstrom
I have FVR program guidelines:
1) WHY? Students need to understand why we are devoting class time to reading. I have posters with quotes about reading above the classroom library to justify the time, attention and expense. And I point them out often (A wise mentor once told me, “If you don’t like to repeat yourself, you shouldn’t become a teacher.”) Here are the reading quotes posters.
2) COMPREHENSIBLE & INTERESTING. I let students read just about anything in the TL that is comprehensible and interesting. I say “comprehensible and interesting” over and over again in kid-speak until they can say it back to me unprompted.
Teacher: “What are you supposed to be choosing to read?”
Student: “Umm, something I enjoy and can mostly understand, right?”
Teacher: “Exactly; something that you can read without struggle and that holds your attention.
Student: Isn’t that what I said?
Teacher: It was indeed. Good job. Go get em, tiger.”
I have to point at this poster and explain it over and over because this kind of reading has disappeared in schools in the last few years. Educators all too often act like reading something because you want to never happens. That is not a way to get kids into the reading habit.
3) READ NOVELS (MOSTLY). I buy 5-10 copies or so of each novel so that there can be a wider selection for students. I do not buy class sets of 35 any more because most of our reading is FVR. I also have other materials and they can read those too, but novels are best.
There are many benefits to reading fiction over non-fiction. Several of those benefits are explained on page 2 of my Light Reading Book Reports.
Common Core demands that by grade 12, 70% of student reading be nonfiction. No problem. We can easily work with those percentages. In a typical 7 period class schedule the Language Arts and World Language classes account for 2/7 classes, or 28.5% of the total. I assume that students are reading nonfiction in other classes like science, math, history, and health, so language teachers are free to use accessible and appealing fiction (There’s that comprehensible and interesting thing again!) in in our classes to engage students and get them to acquire language.
4) IT’S NOT FVR. I don’t call it FVR because it is NOT voluntary–they HAVE to read. I found that calling it FVR gave my students permission to start up their whining siren. So now I call it SSR: Sustained Silent Reading, because they do it for an extended period of time and they ONLY read during that time and they are absolutely silent. Students can freely choose what they want, but they have to read.
(No, you cannot talk to you neighbor. No, you cannot go to the bathroom. No, you cannot throw away your trash. No, you cannot get up and get a different book right now, next time, but not right now.)
Here is a poster about SSR that I point at a lot at the beginning of the year:
5) CONSISTENCY. We have consistent rules during SSR. We read during SSR. All the time. the teacher too. I do not get to surf the web, grade papers or input data. I read when they read. No, you cannot go to the bathroom because it breaks my concentration. I mainly shine my laser pointer on the SSR Rules poster when kids ask to do anything besides read during SSR.
A. Nothing Electronic. Comprehension goes down on eBooks because of the potential for distraction. This “no electronics” guideline may change in the future as eBooks improve and we figure ways to cut down on distractions. Lights and buttons break our concentration. Focus and comprehension a greater with paper. Kindles and Nooks with clear graphics and no outside connectivity are possibilities, but iPads are a disaster as far as comprehension of a text.
B. Comprehensible and Interesting. Yes, that is a limit. Again. We can’t say this too much. Students have to understand most of what they are reading and it has to appeal to them. For SSR they are not reading something hard or “at their level” because they think they are supposed to. They pick something they like and can understand.
I give them these bookmarks to remind them how to read in the TL, otherwise some kids will break their concentration by looking up too many words:
7) OCCASIONAL ASSESSMENT. I assess student comprehension with Light Reading Book Reports every so often–maybe three times a school year:
I also have students do Dual Entry Journals.
In the book “Free Voluntary Reading” Stephen Krashen describes 5 descending assessments of reading comprehension, which go from making reading a pleasure to making reading a loathsome activity that students will never want to do again:
1. Nothing required (optional talking about what you have read).
2. Required writing about relevance (making connections to your life).
3. Summary writing.
4. High level comprehension questions (giving the gist of certain passages).
5. Low level comprehension questions (answering highly detailed questions)
I see the Light Reading Book Reports as a #2 assessment, and the Dual Entry Journals as a #3. Not too irksome. i can measure what they are getting and give them a grade.
When I consistently apply these guidelines during FVR time (mostly just by shrugging and pointing at posters with an inscrutable face on) my students adapt and begin to actually read. They acquire quite a bit of language and they begin to enjoy it.
Works for me. Let me know how it works for you and what other strategies you are using.
Bryce Hedstrom is a high school teacher and teacher trainer in northern Colorado. He has a B.A. in Spanish and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, but claims that the biggest help to him as a teacher has been attending workshops and sharing with colleagues, particularly those in the TPRS/TCI (Teaching for Proficiency with Reading and Storytelling & Teaching with Comprehensible Input) community. Bryce has taught since 1989 at the elementary, middle school, high school and college levels. He received the Best of Colorado award from the Colorado Congress of Foreign Language Teachers (CCFLT) in 2008, and was elected president of CCFLT in 2015. Visit Bryce online at www.brycehedstrom.com.