Monday, October 17, 2011

Out with SSR - In with Reading Workshop!

Remember when SSR was popular? Sustained Silent Reading was implemented in schools across the country, and it was based on the belief that the best way to improve reading skills was to provide uninterrupted time for reading. So for 30 minutes a day, all school activities were suspended as teachers, administrators, students, and even custodians stopped to read. Students were supposed to be inspired to love reading through book choice, time to read, and observing adult reading models. It made perfect sense .... but what appeared to be a wonderful idea in theory didn't always lead to strong reading gains in practice.

Even though I love reading, I wasn't completely surprised when researchers began to question the effectiveness of traditional SSR practices. I strongly believe in giving kids more choice as well as plenty of independent reading time in class, but I believe the old SSR model was weak because of the following assumptions:
  1. If we give students time to read and choice in what they are reading, they will spend the given time reading their chosen book. 
  2. It's more important for teachers to model a love of reading than to work directly with students during independent reading time.
Let's take a closer look at what was REALLY going on during that uninterrupted block of reading time. If you used SSR in your classroom, you may remember looking up from your own book only to notice your students’ eyes wandering and sleepy heads drooped over half-closed books. Big surprise! Many kids weren't reading at all!  Sure, good readers loved SSR and enjoyed having more time to read in class and SSR may have been effective for them. But struggling readers were not improving because they weren't actually reading. Clearly, having time to read and seeing a teacher model reading were not enough to inspire struggling readers to become passionate readers.

So where did we go wrong? I believe the olde SSR model was doomed from the start due to the teacher’s assigned role. Requiring teachers to read silently during SSR was a mistake. Because we were supposed to be reading ourselves, we couldn't confer with students to find out why they weren't reading or to help them find appropriate reading material. We couldn't hold them accountable for their reading or work with them on reading skills. All we could do was read, and that's what we did.

Thankfully, the old sustained silent reading model has all but disappeared. Many educators who recognize the importance of student choice and time to read now embrace a method called reading workshop and use the acronym SSR to mean Self-Selected Reading. On the surface it may look like old SSR model, but the critical difference is the teacher's role. Reading workshop sessions start with a short mini lesson that often includes a favorite read aloud. Then students choose their own books and read silently for at least 30 minutes a day. However, during reading workshop, the teacher uses the self-selected independent reading time to quietly confer with individual students or to conduct small guided reading groups. Literacy centers and basal reading texts are noticeably absent; the power of this program can be attributed to students actively engaged in reading appropriate books for long periods of time. A quick glance around the room reveals that kids ARE actually reading and not just flipping pages or daydreaming. A caring teacher has taken time to help them find appropriate reading material and confers with them on a regular basis, and that makes all the difference. Teachers still model a love of reading, but they are active ambassadors for reading rather than passive consumers of print. They read aloud with enthusiasm, and they take an interest in what their students are reading. In short, they infuse their classrooms with a love of reading, and they create an environment where time to read is treasured.

Why am I so passionate about reading workshop? Perhaps I'm fired up because I saw the power of reading workshop when I was teaching, and I hope to inspire others to embrace this method as well. Not only did my students become better readers, but they learned to find joy in the simple pleasures of reading.  Teaching my students to love reading was a gift that I gave them, a gift that would continue to impact their futures long after they left my classroom. What could be more rewarding?

If you would like more information on reading workshop, you can begin your journey by visiting the Reading Workshop page on my Teaching Resources website. You'll find a list of recommended books, a free webinar recording, helpful printables, and links to online resources. If you love reading and are frustrated with your current reading program, jump in and give reading workshop a try! I can promise that you'll never regret it!