Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Silent sustained reading

Harry Potter behind cat.

Nearly every classroom from 2-12 has something like SSR installed as a feature of the weekly classroom routine. It ranges anywhere from 15-50 minutes. Would it be a good idea to start low, time-wise, and then gradually increase the time as the year progresses? Students would be so surprised at the total amount of time they can read in a week.

Note: a good math lesson would be to make graphs of how much time students spent on certain activities each day, each week, each month, each year. That would be really cool.

Anyway, I know some teachers don't like SSR. They think it a waste of time. Which it can be. Students may not actually read. I've seen students do the following during SSR:

- Day dream. Oh yes, I know that glazed-eye look well. It happens to me in my own classes a lot. Mind-vacations are pretty relaxing in my opinion, and just because a student day dreams doesn't mean they are a bad student. Of course I would prefer that they read during SSR. But frankly, I'm not sure I would care enough to not have SSR just for the fear of some students wandering off into la-la land.

- Pass notes. This is ALWAYS a no-no in my book. I detest note passing. Remember this girl? Seriously. Passing notes deserves its own consequence, so I also wouldn't take away SSR because of this. I've also caught students passing other things - pencils, little trinkets, dvds, candy and gum.

- Flirt. Whether silently or not silently. Perhaps this is just a hazard of teaching pre-teens.

- Sleep. I'm not sure what to say about this, it's almost like the day dreaming thing. Because some books are just so incredibly boring. Also, some students may just be that tired - whether from homeless shelter hopping or from newborn siblings keeping them up.

- Whisper talk. My biggest pet peeve. I hate chatter where chatter is not called for. They may actually be talking about their books. Or they may be talking about what they ate for lunch.
Fruits Basket behind another set of cats.

Other things: nose-picking, scrambling to finish previous assignments, lanyarn, writing lines (another thing I disagreed with my CT on), using the hall pass to get out of SSR, "feet fighting," dancing, getting a tissue/going to the trash can/sharpening pencils/stretching for unnecessarily long periods of time/basically anything to get out of SSR. I'm sure there's a multitude of other things students do, that I haven't observed yet, to not actually read. But then, students may not actually do what they are supposed to do at any time of the school day.

My solutions? Grade them. Create something like a book club where students get together and discuss/create a project from their reading. In short, do something where students are accountable for the time spent in SSR. And really, the most dangerous thing to watch out for in any activity is to make sure there is a point. Why are we doing this? What do I want the students to accomplish, in a tangible, measurable way?

The love for reading is the end goal. But when all other things are in place, this part should come together naturally. Not all at once of course. I may not see them read their way through their university's library, or write their way to a Pulitzer, or even just achieve fluency in reading English (remember this boy?). And I'm ok with that. I've got to be.

And here is something I'm struggling with a lot: sometimes I worry so much about the intrinsic value I forget that the extrinsic value is just as important in the role of learning. When students exert all their effort into reading, comprehending, analyzing, and synthesizing a book, and then after I grade it they believe they have accomplished something good and challenging and fun then, well, I believe I've accomplished something good and challenging and fun as well.

Ok, let's get down from that idealistic pedestal, shall we? My way of doing SSR won't eliminate all of those issues. Each class is different, there is no one, perfect way of teaching. But I do want to keep SSR, so I guess I'll just have to refine the strategy as I go.

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