An email conversation from blog reader Lynn this weekend (used with permission) might help all of us as we set our classroom reading routines:
What do you think about this? My department has an SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) initiative where the students read for 10 minutes per class period. It has to be something they’re reading for pleasure, and no assignments can be given. It’s a way to promote independent reading for fun. They do get a daily participation grade for it worth 20 points, adding up to 100 by Friday. Do you think it would be a good idea for me to have that be my opener? Set the rule that students are to be in their seats, quietly reading their SSR novel by the time the bell rings? At that point, should I just jump right into my lesson for the day or maybe give one of your bell ringer assignments?
Let me know what you think about the SSR at the beginning of class idea. Most of the teachers do it at the beginning, but a few wait until the last 10 min. so that the kids can be all packed up and ready to walk out when the bell rings.
Thanks for checking in with me. I know launching each period with SSR works fine because lots of English classes start this way, but, I gotta tell ya, I hate reading like that. Just personally as a reader, I’m barely settled in and getting traction at the 10-minute mark and then you’re telling me to put away my book and shift gears to focus on something totally different? Ugh.
When I started at my campus in the late 90s (yes, yes, I know), most of the English dept. did the 10-minutes-of-SSR-at-the-beginning-of-each-period thing to not only help us hit our state standards (by grade 12, students were expected to independently read two million words a year), but also give us time to take attendance/catch our breath before starting the next class. I’m a rebel, though, so without asking permission I slid those five 10-minute sessions into once-a-week 45-to-50 minute SSR sessions on Fridays and many of my colleagues, especially at the freshman level, followed that shift.
I prefer the weekly approach for a variety of reasons:
• That’s how I want to read books. If I wouldn’t want to do something, I try to avoid making my students do that thing. (Only exception? Pep rallies, they gotta attend the pep rallies. Rules are rules, people.)
• I want my kids to build reading stamina, but 10-minute chunks don’t get that job done. (Is reading for 45 minutes really tough for some kids? Definitely. More on that below.)
• It feels wrong to go from 10 minutes of silent reading to a lecture-based lesson for the next 10-, 20-, or even 30-minute chunk of class. That’s a lot of quiet seat time for basically the majority of most class periods. B…o…r…i…n…g.
• I need time to conference with individual students for a variety reasons, tame the ever-growing stack of papers, lesson plan for the upcoming week, and sometimes even read a book for fun alongside my students. I would uselessly fritter away ten minutes, but 45 minutes means I can give everyone the needed attention, even some individualized writing support, without holding anyone after class or hoping a kid remembers to show up at lunch for a conference. (Sidenote: I HATE lunch meetings. I mean, I need that 25-minute lunch period to, you know, actually eat and take care of some personal needs. Lunch conference = No bathroom break = Miserable afternoon classes. Who’s with me?)
Now, you might be thinking, Yeah, but some of my kids can barely hang on for 10 minutes of reading. How in the world are they going to stick with it for 45 minutes? You’re right to be concerned. Reading silently for 45 minutes will definitely be a challenge for some of your students. I’d say most of my regular ed kids can hang, but about 15 percent (usually students with IEPs for attention deficit issues) will struggle. For those kids, I allow a covert midpoint break to get a drink of water/walk a lap around the building or I’ll send a kid who looks like he/she needs a break to run an errand for me. A strategy that’s been incredibly successful is to allow those struggling kids to listen to their SSR books on earbuds as a digital download (our librarian has several mp3 devices loaded with high-interest books that kids can borrow) while also holding and reading the book. Just listening isn’t enough; the kid also has to have the physical book with him in order to get the weekly reading points. (I don’t allow any other devices/phones, as the temptation to zone out on music is just too great for most of my kids, with or without IEPs.)
Even with the accommodations and selling this as a decadent treat rather than an assignment to be endured, do all of my kids love to read? Nope. Some will absolutely adore SSR because it’s a solid, quiet block of time to fall into a book (something their busy lives don’t usually allow), but others just tolerate it. It’s important, though, for them to lengthen their attention spans with text and I try to make it enjoyable. I let them bring a healthy snack. They can stretch out on the floor or sit at an empty seat, and I even have a drawer full of blankets for chilly Friday mornings.
If parents or teacher colleagues balk at the assignment (no one ever has), I would remind them that our “regular” classes are noted as college-prep. It’s reasonable to expect that a student be able to sit and read for 45 minutes. And I’m not even requiring academic texts – we’re talking fun stuff here.
In the absence of a diagnosed learning disability, I’d say that the kids who still struggle are doing so because they just haven’t found the right book. Some kids are convinced they don’t like to read, but that’s simply not true. I tell those kids, if the hottie from third period slipped you a lengthy note, I’ll bet you would happily read and re-read that note. It’s all about the content and a student’s motivation. I try to help those kids find books that are compelling. My edgy kids appreciate the books in our library that tilt toward adult content, such as Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks and anything by Chuck Palahniuk, the guy who wrote Fight Club. Now, those books are gnarly and not something I’d pick up for fun, but many of my kids who don’t like school just love those books – and I figure if they’re in our school library then they’re fair game even if some of the stuff is…well…let’s use the word “intense.” Again, it’s about finding the right book for the right kid. Your librarian can help with this, too.
Finally, just a few more practical tips. If a student doesn’t have a book on SSR Friday or is talking/making noise/falls asleep, he loses some or all of the 10 weekly SSR points. My class is pretty tough, so kids appreciate the buffer to the grade that the weekly 10 points provide and they want to hang onto all 10 of those points. For a kid who shows up without an SSR book (kids forget sometimes – it happens), she can use the class as a study hall to work on materials for other subjects, she can take a pass to the library to choose a new book, or she becomes my employee, usually helping me with filing or changing out bulletin board displays. In any of those cases, she still doesn’t get the weekly reading points.
Each nine-week quarter, students need to book talk with me as a 100-point assignment, above and beyond those weekly reading assignments of 10 points. Click here for a free copy of the materials I use with my kids to explain the ins & outs of the program and keep track of their book-talked pages.
I know there’s a lot to think through as you get ready to launch the year, but I hope you’ll consider this once-a-week approach. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to the daily routine, no?
Hope you’re all set for a great school year! Holler when you need me.