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Reading Today • August/September 2006
Letters to the Editor
Sustained silent reading: Another view
feel the need to respond to IRA Presi3. Teachers use independent reading dent Tim Shanahan’s inaugural Prestime to reinforce print and compreident’s Message in the June/July hension skills and strategies that 2006 issue of Reading Today (volume 23, have been systematically and exnumber 6, page 12). First, I have no wonplicitly taught through demonstrader whatsoever about Tim’s ability to tions and think-alouds. represent IRA. Our membership elected him because we believe in his capacity to lead our organization. But I also believe that his Independent reading will message mischaracterized increase motivation to read and the research on motivation and sustained silent reading achievement when it includes (SSR), which has changed five essential components. over time to become a block of time for independent reading that reinforces skills and strategies that the teacher has systematically and explicitly taught. With respect to the re4. Teachers have students respond to search on motivation, separate studies by reading in a variety of ways, includJohn Guthrie, IRA President-elect Linda ing journals, discussion, graphic orGambrell, and Brian Cambourne have ganizers, sticky notes, art, and identified essential factors that motivate drama so they can encourage active students to read. Collectively, the rereading, monitor progress, and plan search shows that students engage with needs-based instruction. reading when it is meaningful for them, they expect to be successful, and they are 5. Teachers have students reflect on taught essential skills and strategies for the reading strategies they use in achieving success. order to build inner control of This research on motivation leads to a reading. very different approach to SSR than the way Tim implemented it as a young In conclusion, the research shows teacher. The research on effective inthat the issue for increasing motivation struction has showed that independent to read and raising student achievement reading will increase motivation to read is not sustained silent reading versus and achievement when it includes five reading instruction. What is most effecessential components: tive is creating instruction that purposefully uses independent reading to rein1. Teachers learn about student inforce the skills and strategies that have terests and provide print and techbeen explicitly taught by providing texts nological texts that match those that connect to students’ lives and are interests. written at a level that enables reading success. O 2. Teachers use ongoing assessment to know the reading levels of their students and provide appropriate ranges of texts that enable each child to achieve reading success through managed choice. Michael L. Shaw Professor of Literacy Education St. Thomas Aquinas College Sparkill, New York, USA
SSR IS A VERY GOOD IDEA: A RESPONSE TO SHANAHAN
im Shanahan (“Does he really think kids shouldn’t read?” Reading Today, June/July 2006, volume 23, number 6, page 12) still thinks that “sustained silent reading (SSR) is probably not a good idea.” There is, however, strong support in the research for SSR. In my review, I found that SSR was as effective or more effective than comparison groups in 50 out of 53 published comparisons, and in long-term studies, SSR was a consistent winner (Phi Delta Kappan, 2001). These results have been shown to hold for first and second/foreign language development, and results continue to appear supporting the value of SSR. Shanahan makes a number of incorrect statements in his article. He dismisses the value of studies showing no difference between SSR and comparisons, claiming that comparison groups were “often” classes filled with “random worksheets.” Shanahan fails to support this claim with citations. He claims that “Only one study...even bothered to find out how much the kids were reading—and it found that SSR led to less reading.” The study he cites, by Edward Summers and J.V. McClelland, published in the Alberta Journal of Education in 1982, found nothing of the sort. One of the measures used contained a question in which children were asked to indicate how much they read. There was no difference between the SSR and non-SSR groups on this measure, and no separate analysis of this one question was done. Summers and McClelland reported that “almost all” of the teachers, librarians, and principals of the SSR school reported “some increase in the range of topics read as a result of SSR in their classrooms,” and “the respondents, almost without exception, subjectively rated SSR as influencing development of a positive attitude toward reading....” (p. 109). Contrary to Shanahan’s statement, several SSR studies have “bothered to find out how much the kids were reading,” and they have reported that children are more involved in free voluntary reading after the program ends that those in traditional programs (e.g., Donald Pfau, The Reading Teacher, 1967; Janice L. Pilgreen and Stephen Krashen, School Library Media Quarterly, 1993). Vincent Greaney and M. Clarke, writing in Reading: What of the Future?, edited by Donald Moyle and published by the United Kingdom Reading Association in 1975, present a spectacular example: Sixth-grade boys who participated in an in-school free reading program for eight and a half months not only did more leisure reading while they were in the program but also were still reading more than comparison students six years later. Shanahan also claims that “we don’t know how to get kids to read more.” We certainly do. The published research contains strong evidence that, among other things, increasing access helps (e.g., J. Kim, 2004, in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk), seeing other people read helps (e.g., Kevin Wheldall and J. Entwhistle, 1988, in Educational Psychology), reading aloud to children helps (e.g., Susan Neuman in the Elementary School Journal, 1986; Lesley Mandel Morrow and C. Weinstein in the Elementary School Journal, 1982), and, of course, providing time for reading, as in SSR, helps. I have reviewed this research in chapter 2 of my book The Power of Reading (Heinemann/Libraries Unlimited, second edition, 2004). O Stephen Krashen Professor Emeritus University of Southern California Los Angeles, California, USA
his isn’t the first public exchange Stephen Krashen and I have engaged in over the issue of sustained silent reading (Education Week, Kappan, multiple dates for each). He says his research reviews reveal strong evidence supporting SSR, but those reviews have usually included studies of non-SSR approaches (such as teaching reading with children’s literature), and his reviews have not followed the kinds of consistent selection or review procedures required by the scientific community (e.g., Campbell Collaboration, 2001; Cochrane Collaboration, 2006; Cooper, 1998; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; National Research Council,
2002; What Works Clearinghouse, 2006). Reading Today is not the place for extended and detailed argument about these issues, but given the problems with this research I’ll continue to warn teachers that providing books and time to read alone has not consistently proven successful, and unlike Krashen I will continue to call for new rigorous research on this topic so that we can understand how it works. (It is far from a closed question, in my opinion.) Michael Shaw picks up with that last point and suggests that if SSR were handled differently—in a way more respectful of theories of motivation and learn-
I will continue to call for new rigorous research on this topic so that we can understand how it works.
ing—it would likely work better. I think he is probably right, but I would want to see the research before I recommend such procedures widely. The idea that SSR procedures could be improved to obtain better results is a good one, and so is an idea some colleagues recently proposed: maybe SSR
studies shouldn’t focus on reading comprehension outcomes, because other important changes might result more readily from reading on one’s own (such as oral reading fluency or vocabulary improvement). Those are intriguing possibilities, too, but, again, we’ll have to wait for data to draw any conclusions. Until then, as IRA President, I will continue to encourage reading—but not the beleaguered and ineffective SSR approach that Krashen embraces and that Shaw wants to reform. O Timothy Shanahan IRA President University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago, Illinois, USA
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