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16 Reading Today • August/September 2006

Letters to the Editor

Sustained silent reading: Another view SSR IS A VERY GOOD IDEA:

feel the need to respond to IRA Presi- 3. Teachers use independent reading
dent Tim Shanahan’s inaugural Pres- time to reinforce print and compre-

ident’s Message in the June/July hension skills and strategies that
im Shanahan (“Does he really think Contrary to Shanahan’s statement,
2006 issue of Reading Today (volume 23, have been systematically and ex-
kids shouldn’t read?” Reading Today, several SSR studies have “bothered to
number 6, page 12). First, I have no won- plicitly taught through demonstra-
June/July 2006, volume 23, num- find out how much the kids were read-
der whatsoever about Tim’s ability to tions and think-alouds.
ber 6, page 12) still thinks that “sustained ing,” and they have reported that children
represent IRA. Our membership elected
silent reading (SSR) is probably not a are more involved in free voluntary read-
him because we believe in his capac-
good idea.” There is, however, strong sup- ing after the program ends that those in
ity to lead our organization.
port in the research for SSR. In my review, traditional programs (e.g., Donald Pfau,
But I also believe that his Independent reading will I found that SSR was as effective or more The Reading Teacher, 1967; Janice L. Pil-
message mischaracterized
the research on motivation increase motivation to read and effective than comparison groups in 50 green and Stephen Krashen, School Li-
out of 53 published comparisons, and in brary Media Quarterly, 1993).
and sustained silent reading achievement when it includes long-term studies, SSR was a consistent Vincent Greaney and M. Clarke, writ-
(SSR), which has changed
five essential components. winner (Phi Delta Kappan, 2001). These ing in Reading: What of the Future?, ed-
over time to become a block
results have been shown to hold for first ited by Donald Moyle and published by
of time for independent reading
and second/foreign language develop- the United Kingdom Reading Associa-
that reinforces skills and strategies
ment, and results continue to appear sup- tion in 1975, present a spectacular ex-
that the teacher has systematically and
porting the value of SSR. ample: Sixth-grade boys who partici-
explicitly taught. With respect to the re-
4. Teachers have students respond to Shanahan makes a number of incor- pated in an in-school free reading
search on motivation, separate studies by
reading in a variety of ways, includ- rect statements in his article. He dis- program for eight and a half months not
John Guthrie, IRA President-elect Linda
ing journals, discussion, graphic or- misses the value of studies showing no only did more leisure reading while they
Gambrell, and Brian Cambourne have
ganizers, sticky notes, art, and difference between SSR and compar- were in the program but also were still
identified essential factors that motivate
drama so they can encourage active isons, claiming that comparison groups reading more than comparison students
students to read. Collectively, the re-
reading, monitor progress, and plan were “often” classes filled with “random six years later.
search shows that students engage with
needs-based instruction. worksheets.” Shanahan fails to support Shanahan also claims that “we don’t
reading when it is meaningful for them,
this claim with citations. know how to get kids to read more.” We
they expect to be successful, and they are 5. Teachers have students reflect on
He claims that “Only one study...even certainly do. The published research con-
taught essential skills and strategies for the reading strategies they use in
bothered to find out how much the kids tains strong evidence that, among other
achieving success. order to build inner control of
were reading—and it found that SSR led things, increasing access helps (e.g.,
This research on motivation leads to a reading.
to less reading.” The study he cites, by Ed- J. Kim, 2004, in the Journal of Education
very different approach to SSR than the
ward Summers and J.V. McClelland, pub- for Students Placed at Risk), seeing other
way Tim implemented it as a young In conclusion, the research shows lished in the Alberta Journal of Education people read helps (e.g., Kevin Wheldall
teacher. The research on effective in- that the issue for increasing motivation in 1982, found nothing of the sort. and J. Entwhistle, 1988, in Educational
struction has showed that independent to read and raising student achievement One of the measures used contained Psychology), reading aloud to children
reading will increase motivation to read is not sustained silent reading versus a question in which children were asked helps (e.g., Susan Neuman in the Elemen-
and achievement when it includes five reading instruction. What is most effec- to indicate how much they read. There tary School Journal, 1986; Lesley Mandel
essential components: tive is creating instruction that purpose- was no difference between the SSR and Morrow and C. Weinstein in the Elemen-
fully uses independent reading to rein- non-SSR groups on this measure, and no tary School Journal, 1982), and, of course,
1. Teachers learn about student in- force the skills and strategies that have separate analysis of this one question was providing time for reading, as in SSR,
terests and provide print and tech- been explicitly taught by providing texts done. Summers and McClelland reported helps. I have reviewed this research in
nological texts that match those that connect to students’ lives and are that “almost all” of the teachers, librari- chapter 2 of my book The Power of Reading
interests. written at a level that enables reading ans, and principals of the SSR school re- (Heinemann/Libraries Unlimited, second
2. Teachers use ongoing assessment success. ❖ ported “some increase in the range of edition, 2004). ❖
to know the reading levels of their topics read as a result of SSR in their class-
students and provide appropriate Michael L. Shaw rooms,” and “the respondents, almost Stephen Krashen
ranges of texts that enable each Professor of Literacy Education without exception, subjectively rated SSR Professor Emeritus
child to achieve reading success St. Thomas Aquinas College as influencing development of a positive University of Southern California
through managed choice. Sparkill, New York, USA attitude toward reading....” (p. 109). Los Angeles, California, USA

his isn’t the first public exchange 2002; What Works Clearinghouse, studies shouldn’t focus on reading com-
Stephen Krashen and I have en- 2006). I will continue to call prehension outcomes, because other im-
gaged in over the issue of sus- Reading Today is not the place for for new rigorous research on portant changes might result more read-
tained silent reading (Education Week, extended and detailed argument ily from reading on one’s own (such as
Kappan, multiple dates for each). He about these issues, but given the this topic so that we can oral reading fluency or vocabulary im-
says his research reviews reveal strong problems with this research I’ll con- provement). Those are intriguing possi-
evidence supporting SSR, but those re- tinue to warn teachers that providing
understand how it works. bilities, too, but, again, we’ll have to wait
views have usually included studies of books and time to read alone has not for data to draw any conclusions.
non-SSR approaches (such as teaching consistently proven successful, and un- Until then, as IRA President, I will con-
reading with children’s literature), and like Krashen I will continue to call for tinue to encourage reading—but not the
his reviews have not followed the kinds new rigorous research on this topic so ing—it would likely work better. I think beleaguered and ineffective SSR ap-
of consistent selection or review proce- that we can understand how it works. he is probably right, but I would want to proach that Krashen embraces and that
dures required by the scientific com- (It is far from a closed question, in my see the research before I recommend Shaw wants to reform. ❖
munity (e.g., Campbell Collaboration, opinion.) such procedures widely.
2001; Cochrane Collaboration, 2006; Michael Shaw picks up with that last The idea that SSR procedures could be Timothy Shanahan
Cooper, 1998; National Institute of point and suggests that if SSR were han- improved to obtain better results is a IRA President
Child Health and Human Develop- dled differently—in a way more respect- good one, and so is an idea some col- University of Illinois at Chicago
ment, 2000; National Research Council, ful of theories of motivation and learn- leagues recently proposed: maybe SSR Chicago, Illinois, USA