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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Revisiting silent reading

August 2, 2011

Those of us familiar with the 2000 National Reading Panel report remember that the report did not support teachers' use of silent reading in the classroom. The research evidence that it had any effect on reading achievement just wasn't there. Some school districts and teachers greatly reduced or stopped providing time during the instructional day for silent reading. Other teachers continued to provide daily DEAR or SSR time, citing the benefits of such a practice.

A new book from the International Reading Association, edited by Elfrieda Hiebert and Ray Reutzel, Revisiting Silent Reading, encourages us to rethink silent reading, to consider some advice about it, and to think about how to make it work in your classroom. Chapter 8 provides teachers with good information about four factors related to silent reading. A summary of the information is here:

Student self-selection of reading materials: Teachers should guide students to choose good texts to read during silent reading time. The books should be of interest, should draw from a variety of genre and topics, and should be at an appropriate level — not too easy, not too hard.

Student engagement and time on task during silent reading time: Teachers should keep a pulse on students during DEAR time. Emphasize that DEAR time is reading practice time. It's not indoor recess, but rather it has an important purpose: to provide time to practice reading skills. Read the full chapter for a good description of gossips, wanderers, and squirrels. See if you have any of those in your classroom!

Accountability: Related to the above, accountability is an important piece to silent reading. Several methods of accountability have been suggested, including logs, reader response, and anecdotal records. This seems like a highly personal decision, and it would have to be something easy and quick.

Interactions among teachers and students: It's important to foster teacher-student and student-student conversations about books. Rather than using your DEAR time to read yourself, engage your students in conversations about what they're reading.

There's much more in Chapter 8, and the entire book Revisiting Silent Reading. I encourage you to take a look!

Comments

Confession time: When I was in school, I *never* read during SSR/DEAR time. Reading just wasn't my thing, and I would just sit quietly and flip through the pages. My teachers always seemed to use it as a quiet time after gym or recess -- usually after they had recess duty! -- to gather themselves for the next lesson. None of my teachers ever joined in and paged through their own book, and I noticed. Once the 15 minutes were up, we closed our books and moved on. This certainly influenced me as a teacher, and I didn't have much silent reading time in my classroom. When the class begged for a little time to read their new library books, we always had small group discussions after, and I'd walk around while reading my own book to make sure everyone was on task. I'm sure some of the kids blankly paged through like I did, but at least they all participated in the discussions afterward and were aware of their classmates' excitement about reading. That's got to be good for something, right?

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I always made sure that students saw me reading in the classroom during SSR times, though not during the entire time since I usually had to deal with student behavior. I always made sure to have my own "independent reading" book on the desk, even if the instructions didn't include any in-class reading.

As I remember it, the National Reading Panel said there was not research to support silent reading and the time was best spent teaching reading. There is never enough time to teach reading so maybe those students who need extra instructional time need to read with the teacher while the rest of the student read silently. I was (and am) a passionate reader. I read silently all through college... hiding my books behind the textbook in boring classes. I read lots of British lit that way BUT a student who is not a passionate reader like me is likely to misuse the time. I do like the accountability piece. Still, I prefer to expect elementary students to always have a book ready to read when they finish their work. The good readers often finish first so they get rewarded.Of course, we know that the more kids read the better readers they are likely to be. But the students who really don't want to read really won't do it during SSR or DEAR. It's a waste of instructional time in my estimation. There are not enough hours in the school day to waste a minute.

Reading silently is definately a WASTE of valuable time.It should be used to teach-not a free pass for children to do whatever-and for the children who has a disability and dont really understand silent-they just end up getting in trouble or causing trouble.This is just another way for teachers NOT to teach-just sit and collect a pay check.

Silent Reading is important;but teachers must provide instruction for struggling readers.

Thanks for posting this one-it's still a contentious subject. I found out earlier this summer when I wrote an "assign independent reading for homework-don't spend time on it in class" article.Dr. Stephen Krashen was kind enough to provide an extensive dialogue. Of course, Dr. Krashen has a new book out titled Free Voluntary Reading. It does make for an interesting exchange. Should your readers wish to take a look, it's at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/straight-talk-with-stephen-...

Thanks for posting this one-it's still a contentious subject. I found out earlier this summer when I wrote an "assign independent reading for homework-don't spend time on it in class" article.Dr. Stephen Krashen was kind enough to provide an extensive dialogue. Of course, Dr. Krashen has a new book out titled Free Voluntary Reading. It does make for an interesting exchange. Should your readers wish to take a look, it's at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/straight-talk-with-stephen-...

I think there is clear evidence that sustained silent reading has clear benefits to student achievement. That being said I also feel teachers have to be actively involved in teaching students how to choose the right book for them and finding a way to get students excited about reading during this time.It can't just be used for a few minutes of peace and quiet.

I'm somewhat confused because I thought there was clear evidence which stated that SSR or DEAR helped students with academics. It also provided them with the energy to sit still for 30 minutes at a time which is very beneficial for testing time. I think the key points you highlighted are very good and useful for inside the classroom. Lastly, I agree with Christy in that teachers need to be actively involved with what the students are reading; therefore, they will be involved with what books are being read in their classroom.

I am baffled that there are educators who believe that silent reading is a "waste of time". Richard Allington, author of "What Really Matters For Struggling Readers" found that students who scored in the 90th percentile in standardized reading tests read independently 40 minutes per day. We know that some children will not get this at home, so if we do not provide this time at school, when will they get it. Further, Donalyn Miller, author of "The Book Whisperer" incorporates silent ready daily and said that not only is her class regularly 100% proficient on the state reading test, but 85% of them score a 90 or better. I can understand that many times teachers see independent silent reading time as a "waste" and if we see it that way, so will our students.

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