Home > Reading > Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work

Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work

Get more resources to help your students.

Free assessments, lesson plans, and worksheets for ELA and reading.

O.K. So my title is a good hook. I’m an ELA teacher, so you’d expect no less. However, I’m also an MA reading specialist, so you’d expect me to be passionate about getting students to read and read well. I do believe that independent reading is vital to reading improvement. So why am I writing an article titled Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work?

First, let’s get on the same page about what most of us mean when we talk about SSR. SSR does have a variety of pseudonyms: FVR (Free Voluntary Reading, DEAR (Drop Everything And Read); DIRT (Daily Individual Reading Time); SQUIRT (Sustained Quiet Un-Interrupted Reading Time), WEB (We Enjoy Books), and USSR (uninterrupted sustained silent reading). I’m sure there are more. Essentially, SSR is based upon these assumptions:

  • Reading is a skill which improves with practice.
  • Students should be allowed to select their own books to read.
  • SSR should not include instructional accountability.
  • SSR is best accomplished within the classroom with the teacher as a silent reading model.

Now, of course, not every teacher implements the program in the same way; however, even with teacher tweaks, SSR just is not an effective use of class time. Why so? Here are 8 reasons Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.

1. Reading Research Does Not Support SSR

According to the Report of the National Reading Panel (2000), the experimental design studies on SSR indicate no statistically or educationally significant differences between those students who do SSR and those students who do not. Now, to be fair, the reading research does not invalidate SSR. There are just too many variables to isolate and no teacher would ever agree to participate in a study in which a control group of students was not allowed to read.

Some educational researchers have criticized the findings of the National Reading Panel, arguing that long term correlational studies do suggest that students doing SSR gain more in reading than those who do not. However, correlation does not imply causation.

My take regarding reading research is that we should prioritize our instruction to focus on the instructional strategies that both experimental design and correlational studies support. In other words, let’s teach what works for sure. To devote significant class time to an instructional strategy with a questionable research base should give educators pause, especially when there is an alternative which achieves better results than SSR advocates purport to achieve.

2. There is Not Enough Class Time for SSR

There just are not enough minutes in the day to achieve the results desired by proponents of SSR. For example, to achieve year to year vocabulary growth, elementary students need to read a minimum of one million pages; secondary students need to read a minimum of two million pages. Do the math. Many secondary teachers only have four hours of class time per week. No conscientious secondary teacher would allot half of instructional time to SSR. True that many students read in other content classes and some outside of school, but also true that with normal instructional interruptions there are many weeks with less than four hours of class time. In other words, an hour of SSR per week is just not going to make much of a dent in the amount of independent reading that students need to achieve significant reading growth. The “some is better than none” response is just not acceptable.

Additionally, all instruction is reductive: teachers cannot add on without taking away. Should elementary teachers give up teaching science or social studies to add on SSR? Of course not. Furthermore, with the increasing rigor of the language and writing strands of the ELA/Reading Common Core State Standards, both elementary and secondary teachers will be hard-pressed to teach the grade level standards and differentiate instruction as mandated.

3. Free Choice Reading in SSR Does Not Maximize Reading Development

Free choice reading is an essential tenet of SSR proponents. However motivating self-selected reading may be, there are significant downsides. Students often choose books with reading levels far below or far above own their reading levels and so do not experience optimal reading growth. Most reading experts suggest a 95-98% word recognition level as being necessary for comprehensible input and vocabulary acquisition. To be crass, allowing students to choose their own reading material, without any guidance, lets the lunatics be in charge of the asylum.

4. SSR is Not Teaching

Yes, incidental learning does take place when students are in engaged in SSR. Some SSR advocates go so far as to claim that “Free reading appears to be the source of much of our reading ability, our writing style, much of our vocabulary knowledge, our spelling ability, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions (Krashen, 1993; Elley, 1991, 1998).

However, having a credentialed teacher model silent reading while 36 students choose to read or not read independently does not avail students of that teacher’s expertise. It’s not a question of which is better: a teacher-centered or student centered classroom. It’s an issue of educational priorities, efficiency, and effectiveness. SSR devolves the responsibilities and applications of reading strategies, comprehension or vocabulary development, and literary analysis to children. I’m not saying a teacher should exclusively assume the role of “sage on the stage,” but a “guide on the side,” should guide, not merely model.

Additionally, SSR is not appropriate for all students. SSR does not magically differentiate instruction. For example, some students (even secondary learners) need oral fluency practice, not independent silent reading. Other students already read extensively at home and do not need more independent reading time.

5. SSR Does Not Hold Students Accountable for Reading

Reading researchers Von Sprecken and Krashen concluded that children were more likely to read during SSR when certain conditions were in place: When there was access to interesting reading in the classroom and students are not required to bring their own reading material, when teachers read while students are reading, and when teachers made efforts to promote and discuss certain books the researchers found that 90% of students were reading. Even in a class in which none of these conditions were met, however, Debra Von Sprecken and Stephen Krashen found that 80% of the students were reading when observed. (California Reader, 1998, 32(1): 11-13) Not many teachers I know would be satisfied with a classroom instructional strategy in which from 4 to 9 of their 36 students (10-20%) did not participate.

It is true that many teachers “band-aid” this component of SSR and both the International Reading Association and important reading researchers part ways with SSR purists with regard to accountability. For example, Fountas and Pinnell suggest keeping records on student reading (2001). Nancy Atwell’s Reading Workshop includes the following: “monitoring the type and the number of books students read; they may also administer assessments, keep reading checklists, and ask questions or encourage student discussion about books.” (Atwell, 2007; Gambrell, 2007; Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, & Smith, 2008). Manning and Manning (1984) found that coupling SSR with peer discussions or teacher conferences led to improvements in reading achievement compared to a control group.” But these “band aids” avoid the fact that SSR necessitates such tweaking to even approach meaningful reading instruction.

6. SSR Provides No Opportunity for Reader Response

SSR is designed as a solitary activity. It is true that we want to equip our students to learn the discipline and enjoyment of the author-reader interaction. However, the simplistic notion that reading makes better readers ignores the fact that better reading makes even better readers. Reader response is critically important to making students better readers.

Students can be trained to become better monitors of their silent reading. Teacher think-alouds, reading journals, and comprehension starters such as the SCRIP comprehension strategies can encourage self-monitoring of reading text. SSR ignores the reading-writing connection. Plot diagrams, character webs, and comprehension questions aren’t just for teaching class novels. Narrative and essay response the same. The social context of reading development to build vocabulary and comprehension has been well-established both in research and practice. Social engagement increases reading motivation and accountability. Classroom reading discussions, literature circles, readers theater, book clubs, book reviews, and online discussion forums can be powerful motivators to encourage wide and thoughtful reading. Now for teachers thinking, “But we can have our cake and eat it, too” with SSR and Reader Response, I kindly suggest leaving the hypothetical and engaging the practical. See #2 above.

7. SSR Turns Recreational Reading into a School Thing

SSR advocates are keen on stressing how SSR is essential at their school because students do not have optimal environmental reading conditions at home or a lack of engaging books to choose from, or the distractions of video games-cell phones-family, et al. However, the fact that SSR in the classroom removes these distractions (highly debatable) sends a message and provides reading habits that require a structured school environment for independent reading. No teacher that I know takes the Free Voluntary Reading to mean “you can read if you want or not if you don’t want to,” whether the teacher enforces accountability procedures or not. Let’s face it. SSR is coercive and required in a contrived setting—hardly the conditions that will transfer to recreational reading out of the classroom. If our end goal is to get students to become lifelong independent readers outside of the school experience, shouldn’t we teachers work toward that end?

8. SSR Gives Up on Students, Peers, and Parents

To work toward the complementary goals of using class time to provide research-based reading instruction (#1, #4, #6) and assigning significant independent reading practice (#2, #3, #5, #7), I advocate abandoning classroom SSR and assigning independent reading as homework. “But they won’t do it. Students will not read for homework.” I have a different view and experience. Students will do independent reading as homework if a motivated teacher provides the leadership, appropriate carrots and sticks, gets parents to buy-in, and has the perseverance to ensure success.

Independent Reading Text Selection

Students choose any reading text that meets these criteria:

The motivational component of self-selection remains, but with appropriate oversight to ensure optimal reader-novel matches.

Independent Reading Accountability

But, how can teachers get students to read at home? How can teachers ensure that students really are reading? I require thirty minutes of reading and three minutes of discussion, four times per week. Student reading is monitored by reading partners, who also grade the quality of the student-led reading discussion. Parents typically serve as these partners. Of course, guardians, child care workers, grandparents, and older siblings can serve just as well. For older students, peer partners can certainly fulfill that role. Discussion partners grade the quality of each daily reading discussion, then total the points and sign the Reading-Discussion Log. I collect and record these logs bi-weekly and count this homework as 15% of the student’s overall grade. Do kids or discussion partners cheat on this? Rarely… and not as much as teachers might think.

Advantages of This Model

This reading-discussion model builds relationships, reinforces internal monitoring of comprehension, promotes reading as a dynamic process of conversation among reader, peers, and author, and motivates readers to read more. Reinforcement and feedback is immediate, not delayed as in the case other reader response assignments such as dialectical journals turned in at the end of each week or book reports completed after a novel has been finished. Students are required to apply the reading strategies we learn and practice in the classroom. For example, I pass out reading strategy bookmarks that that help students frame, but not limit, their book discussions.

What Kind of Results Can Teachers Get?

I get similar participation rates 80-90% (compared to the Von Sprecken, Krashen research) at my lower-middle, 70% free and reduced lunch, middle school, but remember that’s for homework, not for classwork. I would guess that the few students who do not do the independent reading at home would be the same ones that would not do the SSR in the Von Sprecken, Krashen study. Both parents and students love my “only homework is reading” policy. Some of my students prefer to participate in online book clubs in lieu of the parental discussion. I require a daily posting and response to other book discussion colleagues. Hunger Games was big with my students this year. Of course, I get to eavesdrop on their discussions.

My results are a bit less than Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller, achieves in terms of books read per year, but I’ve got a lot more time in class to teach other things I value because I don’t use SSR in my classroom.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Be Sociable, Share!

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. June 26th, 2011 at 06:06 | #1

    After four years of being a literacy consultant I went back to being a classroom teacher of a grade six/seven class. That summer I reread The Reading Zone by Nancy Atwell and this made me think about silent reading. I realized that I wssn’t always giving my students enough time to get in the zone. I also was aware that I had no guarantees my students were actually reading at home but I could make sure they were reading at school. I also added a response component to this daily reading block. I taught how to select “just right” books. In my second year of teaching again, my class reads half an hour a day and have a few minutes to work on their responses or they may finish at home. The result has been a class of kids who love to read and have become hooked so that they really do read at home as well. I have had some rather amazing results as far as reading improvement as well. The other day my “initially worse reader” wanted to know when we were having lit circles because he had read three books he wanted to discuss in the last week!

  2. June 26th, 2011 at 06:20 | #2

    Mark,
    I’m really not sure where to begin. Do I comment on the philosophies of SSR? Do I specifically list out the advantages of a Reader’s Workshop? Do I talk about how independent reading looks different? Do I discuss the instructional approaches to best shape young readers? Do I address phrases like “teachers cannot add on without taking away,” “band-aide,” “let the lunatics be in charge of the asylum”, “SSR is coercive,” “carrots and sticks”, or “parent buy in”?

    This sentence caught my attention, “I advocate abandoning SSR and assigning independent reading as homework.” I could tell you had spent a great deal of time in your argument for abandoning SSR, but was surprised to see you suggest replacing it with independent reading as homework. Never mind the current educational debate over the effectiveness of homework, but consider what may be lost.

    In my classroom, first graders begin the year with about 120 minutes of independent reading time per week (that does not include misc. opportunities across the day). By the end of the year that time has grown to nearly 225 minutes per week (during this time I am conferring with readers and learning with small groups). In the course of the year we have discussions about reading strategies, books/authors, balancing reading choices, and a variety of topics important for young readers. These collaborative conversations carry into student reading and growth is reflected in the changes in the way they use their reading time, their growth as readers, and their ability to respond to literature.

    There are opportunities to read, to respond, and to grow thinking. Most of all, there are opportunities to collaborate with peers and learn from readers their own age. I cannot imagine parents igniting the interest in reading that young readers instill in one another through these conversations.

    While I wonder about many things as I read your article, I wonder most about the loss of community in this plan. When I went to school we participated in SSR, but no conversation ever came out of it. No one ever talked about books. No one ever shared what they were reading. I’m wondering how we would be different as readers if we would have had opportunities to read, talk, and learn to the live the life of a reader together.

    Thanks for leaving me with lots to think about.
    Cathy

  3. June 26th, 2011 at 12:00 | #3

    First of several comments:

    1. Reading Research Does Not Support SSR
    “According to the Report of the National Reading Panel (2000), the experimental design studies on SSR indicate no statistically or educationally significant differences between those students who do SSR and those students who do not. Some educational researchers have criticized the findings of the National Reading Panel, arguing that long term correlational studies do suggest that students doing SSR gain more in reading than those who do not. However, correlation does not imply causation.”
    SK: My criticisms of the NRP conclusions on SSR are not based on correlational studies. Please see not only Power of Reading (second edition, 2004), but also two articles on this topic, free download, at http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=2. Both published in the Phi Delta Kappan. There are also numerous short articles and exchanges published in Education Week and other places on the NRP report.

  4. June 26th, 2011 at 12:01 | #4

    2. There is Not Enough Class Time for SSR
    SK: According to my interpretation of the research, see citations in previous post, SSR does very well when compared with traditional instruction in direct comparisons, which suggests that it is efficient. Also, students who do SSR do more reading outside of school. It increases interest in reading.

  5. June 26th, 2011 at 12:02 | #5

    3. Free Choice Reading in SSR Does Not Maximize Reading Development
    “Students often choose books with reading levels far below or far above own their reading levels and so do not experience optimal reading growth. Most reading experts suggest a 95-98% word recognition level as being necessary for comprehensible input and vocabulary acquisition. To be crass, allowing students to choose their own reading material, without any guidance, lets the lunatics be in charge of the asylum.”
    SK: I comment on this in my responses to the NRP. See especially http://sdkrashen.com/articles/in-school%20FVR/all.html, which was published in the Phi Delta Kappan (it is listed as submitted).

  6. June 26th, 2011 at 12:02 | #6

    4. SSR is Not Teaching
    “SSR devolves the responsibilities and applications of reading strategies, comprehension or vocabulary development, and literary analysis to children. I’m not saying a teacher should exclusively assume the role of “sage on the stage,” but a “guide on the side,” should guide, not merely model.
    Additionally, SSR is not appropriate for all students. SSR does not magically differentiate instruction. For example, some students (even secondary learners) need oral fluency practice, not independent silent reading. Other students already read extensively at home and do not need more independent reading time.”
    SK: SSR is part of a reading program, not all of it. And MANY of these “needs” are developed as a result of reading.

  7. June 26th, 2011 at 12:03 | #7

    5. “Reading researchers Von Sprecken and Krashen concluded that children were more likely to read during SSR when certain conditions were in place: When there was access to interesting reading in the classroom and students are not required to bring their own reading material, when teachers read while students are reading, and when teachers made efforts to promote and discuss certain books the researchers found that 90% of students were reading. Even in a class in which none of these conditions were met, however, Debra Von Sprecken and Stephen Krashen found that 80% of the students were reading when observed. (California Reader, 1998, 32(1): 11-13) Not many teachers I know would be satisfied with a classroom instructional strategy in which from 4 to 9 of their 36 students (10-20%) did not participate.”
    SK: The 80% is the result under the weakest conditions.

  8. June 26th, 2011 at 12:04 | #8

    5. continued and 6: SSR requires band aids, eg monitoring, assessing, checklists, questions, discussions, reader response, plot diagrams, etc.
    SK: SSR works quite well all by itself. Again, see my citations. Do these supplements help? You have to list sources and show us the relevant research that demonstrates that these activities are superior to self-selected reading for pleasure.
    I suspect that most of them are not and when added to SSR do not increase SSR’s efficiency (Manning et al study is an interesting exception).
    The ones that are worth-while are part of literature study (readers theater, circles, discussions). SSR is not literature study, it is a supplementary activity. Many criticisms of SSR complain that it is not literature study. This is true. We need both
    PS: I love Atwell’s book, the Reading Zone. A great way to integrate self-selection with literature study.

  9. June 26th, 2011 at 12:04 | #9

    7. SSR Turns Recreational Reading into a School Thing
    “Let’s face it. SSR is coercive and required in a contrived setting—hardly the conditions that will transfer to recreational reading out of the classroom. If our end goal is to get students to become lifelong independent readers outside of the school experience, shouldn’t we teachers work toward that end?”
    SK: Fair enough, an empirical question: Does SSR result in an independent reading habit. The studies so far say that it does.

  10. June 26th, 2011 at 12:05 | #10

    8. SSR Gives Up on Students, Peers, and Parents
    “I advocate abandoning classroom SSR and assigning independent reading as homework.”
    SK: If SSR is coercive in school, it is also coercive as homework, especially if we follow your guidelines (novels only, require reading different genres, strictly monitored). But again, this is an empirical question: Does SSR homework result in an independent reading habit?
    PS: I am looking forward to a detailed study of the effectiveness of a program following your guidelines.

  11. June 26th, 2011 at 12:05 | #11

    Unrepentant commercial announcement; I have a new book out: Free Voluntary Reading. Available on Amazon.

  12. Ramona Lowe
    June 26th, 2011 at 16:11 | #12

    It doesn’t work? Guess I should contact my students who benefitted from my structured SSR program that did include instructional accountability and utilized time in class and at home and let them know. I am new to your writing and trying to determine to what extent your purpose and publishing company control your arguments. Meanwhile, this reading specialist does not agree with your conclusions.

  13. June 26th, 2011 at 16:21 | #13

    Ramona,

    Your response is a bit like stone soup. You’ve added in so many ingredients to prop up SSR that it does have value. However, it is not classic SSR. See Dr. Krashen’s comments arguing for the purity of the Free Voluntary Reading approach.

    Mark

  14. June 26th, 2011 at 16:22 | #14

    Look forward to it.

  15. June 26th, 2011 at 16:26 | #15

    You are right. My independent reading homework is just as coercive as in-class SSR; however, it is real life reading, not a classroom program.

  16. Mary Lou Seewoester
    June 27th, 2011 at 07:10 | #16

    Just to clarify, the National Reading Panel(2000)did cite studies showing improvement for students whose SSR time was combined with reading conferences and/or discussion.

    The studies that did not show improvement were those that included SSR without any teacher/student or student/student interaction, basically drop-everything-and-read(DEAR). It surprised me that you included DEAR in your list of pseudonymns for SSR since DEAR does not include any of the components of an effective SSR program.

    I agree with Dr. Krashen. SSR is not a specific strategy, it is a support for those strategies that we already have explicitly taught.

    My experience with Middle School English Learners using SSR in a Language Arts class has taught me that the gift of SSR is the the connection students make with the literature, with each other and with their teacher as they read and talk about books that interest them. The Reading Conference is a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled teacher. It provides students a safe place to share their thoughts about what they are reading (sans a whole-class ‘audience’) while developing a positive realtionship with the teacher.

    In my opinion, a healthy SSR program is the epitome of a teacher who is the ‘guide on the side’ instead of the ‘sage on the stage.’

  17. June 27th, 2011 at 07:38 | #17

    Mary, I’m afraid these studies are not listed in the NRP report. The only reference regarding SSR and other reading instruction is the following: “The available data do
    suggest that independent silent reading is not an effective practice when used as the only type of
    reading instruction to develop fluency and other reading skills, particularly with students who have not
    yet developed critical alphabetic and word reading skills.” (NRP 12)
    And Dr. Krashen has commented on this finding by agreeing that SSR is not a comprehensive reading program.
    I agree with you that independent reading should serve as practice for the explicit strategies already taught. My point is that class time should be reserved for direct and differentiated reading instruction and independent reading assigned for homework.
    I will have to look into DEAR a bit more. You may be right.

  18. June 27th, 2011 at 07:54 | #18

    However, even the optimal 90% leaves out quite a few students and these are typically the ones with the greatest reading challenges. Why not, instead, use class time for reading instruction that engages all learners? Additionally, many teachers have used SSR under the certain conditions described in the study (such as Yours Truly) and abandoned the strategy because participation was nowhere near the 80-90 percent.

  19. June 27th, 2011 at 08:17 | #19

    Having read your defense of reading “books too easy,” yes I agree that there will be language left to learn via context clues, structural analysis, etc. However, I do believe you sidestep the issue here. Why not “limit” self-selected independent reading to optimal word recognition levels and/or other measurements to maximize vocabulary growth? It’s not as if there aren’t enough compelling books to choose at their independent levels-the motivational component remains. And, unless I am mistaken, you don’t address the issue of students who select frustration-level texts because their peers are reading such or they like the perceived theme, e.g. vampires. Furthermore, I haven’t seen you comment on free choice with respect to reading widely in a variety of genres and other print media. As a reading specialist, it just seems that we need to get more bank for our buck with independent reading than is the case with SSR (or FVR) taking up huge amounts of class time and the free choice component limiting optimal reading development. Does your new book, Free Voluntary Reading, address these concerns? BTW Go Trojans! Class of ’78.

  20. July 3rd, 2011 at 22:47 | #20

    Mark Pennington: “Mary, I’m afraid these studies are not listed in the NRP report. The only reference regarding SSR and other reading instruction is the following: “The available data do
    suggest that independent silent reading is not an effective practice when used as the only type of reading instruction to develop fluency and other reading skills, particularly with students who have not yet developed critical alphabetic and word reading skills.” (NRP 12) And Dr. Krashen has commented on this finding by agreeing that SSR is not a comprehensive reading program.”
    MY RESPONSES:
    (1) The NRP comment addresses a position that nobody has ever held (or ever stated, to my knowledge). No, SSR is not a comprehensive reading program. Nobody ever said it was. It is used for a few minutes each period, e.g. 10-15 minutes. That is how SSR has always been done.
    (2) The NPR says SSR is not for those who haven’t developed “critical alphabetic and reading skills.” Again this is an attack on the position nobody has ever held. SSR is not designed to help beginning readers. It is for those who can already do some independent reading.

    MP: “I agree with you that independent reading should serve as practice for the explicit strategies already taught.”
    SK: I suspect that independent reading is the place these strategies are developed. So many good readers have the strategies but were never taught them. The field has assumed that all strategies are teachable and should be taught. This is an open question that needs to be investigated.

    Re 90% engaged in reading:
    MP: “However, even the optimal 90% leaves out quite a few students and these are typically the ones with the greatest reading challenges. Why not, instead, use class time for reading instruction that engages all learners? Additionally, many teachers have used SSR under the certain conditions described in the study (such as Yours Truly) and abandoned the strategy because participation was nowhere near the 80-90 percent.”

    SK: If you weren’t getting 90% involvement, I suggest that one or more of the following conditions were present: (1) reading selections not interesting or not comprehensible (2) too much comprehension checking; (3) insisting that students read a book, not a magazine or graphic novel; (4) insisting they finish every book they start. I prefer to push to 100% by supplying truly COMPELLING reading material, rather than doing lots of monitoring.
    The concept of compelling is crucial. Please see Lao, C. and Krashen, S. 2008. Heritage language development: Exhortation or good stories? International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 4 (2): 17-18. Available at ijflt.com (free).

    MP: “Why not “limit” self-selected independent reading to optimal word recognition levels and/or other measurements to maximize vocabulary growth? It’s not as if there aren’t enough compelling books to choose at their independent levels-the motivational component remains.”
    SK: If free reading is simply comprehensible and interesting/compelling, vocabulary growth will be excellent. I can’t imagine getting more bang for the buck. In Power of Reading and elsewhere I argue that self-selected free reading is why everyone with huge vocabularies did it.

    MP: “Furthermore, I haven’t seen you comment on free choice with respect to reading widely in a variety of genres and other print media.”
    SK : I have argued for narrow reading in several of my books and papers, allowing students to stay with one topic, author, genre. This ensures interest and comprehensibility. As time goes on, readers gradually expand their reading interests. For arguments and supporting evidence, please see: Krashen, S. 2004. The case for narrow reading. Language Magazine 3(5): 16-20.

    MP: ” …with SSR (or FVR) taking up huge amounts of class time …”
    SK: We talking about 10-15 minutes each period of an activity known to be pleasant and effective.

    MP:”And, unless I am mistaken, you don’t address the issue of students who select frustration-level texts because their peers are reading such or they like the perceived theme, e.g. vampires.”
    SK: The cure for reading books that are too hard in order to impress people: Make available reading material that so interesting/compelling that showing off is no longer a concern.

  21. July 4th, 2011 at 07:32 | #21

    Stephen,

    You are so gracious with your time and responses. Even when you disagree with me, you do so agreeably- certainly a much needed model in the educational blogosphere. I’ve placed my order for Free Voluntary Reading and look forward to it.

    With respect to the crux of my article… I think I have my cake and eat it, too.

    My students (80-90%) do get their independent, free-choice reading for two hours per week. Plus, they get immediate reader response and I get accountability with a brief discussion about their daily reading with their parents. Instead of the “What did you do at school today?” dinner table discussion, my students (and parents) get engaging conversations about their reading.

    Plus, I keep the 60-75 minutes of class time that SSR would consume each week. And with additional furlough days coming here in California, teachers need all of the time they can get.

    My last point will be one of advocacy. My colleagues who do SSR in the classroom just do not assign independent reading for homework. In fact, many do SSR precisely because they have given up on expecting students to read at home. As a reading specialist, I know students need more than just an hour per week of independent reading. In your review of the research literature, how much independent reading per week is optimal to both achieve reading/vocabulary growth and develop lifelong readers?

  22. July 4th, 2011 at 10:48 | #22

    What we do know is that students who participate in SSR do more unassigned reading on their own, outside of school. A very interesting study: Vincent Greaney, who reported more reading even years later. It isn’t just the time assigned for SSR, it’s the ability of SSR to promote more independent reading outside of school.
    Greaney, V., & Clarke, M. (1973). “A longitudinal study of the effects of two reading methods on leisure-time reading habits.” In D. Moyle, Reading: What of the Future? (pp. 107-114). London: United Kingdom Reading Association.
    Also: Pilgreen, J. and Krashen, S. 1993. Sustained silent reading with English as a second language high school students: Impact on reading comprehension, reading frequency, and reading enjoyment. School Library Media Quarterly 22: 21-23.
    And I still think that SSR and literature discussion are different things. Both crucial.

  23. July 5th, 2011 at 07:53 | #23

    The study may well indicate that SSR results in more unassigned reading at home, but it may well be that assigned reading at home produces even more unassigned reading at home. I know there are no studies on this; however, if compelling, free-choice reading begets more voluntary reading, wouldn’t it necessarily follow that reading assigned for homework would produce more voluntary reading? From my own experience, many of my students read much more than the required two hours per week.

    Also, agreed that literature discussion is separate from independent reading; however, having students discuss their reading on a daily basis with parents provides a social context for reading and helps students practice the reading comprehension/meaning-making strategies of internal monitoring of text, developing the reader-author dialogue, self-questioning strategies, summary/re-tell, inferences, drawing conclusions, etc. In other words, I don’t advocate having students and their parents engage in heavy-duty literary analysis (teachers do have a role here), but reading a lot surely should be coupled with reading well. Yes, some of these reading skills can be acquired naturally through reading in-it-of-itself, but why not intentionally design independent reading to maximize comprehension development, as well as appreciation and enjoyment of the reading? Also, let’s not forget that we are dealing with children… Whether reading independently in or out of class, the knowledge that the text will be discussed does motivate levels of concentration. And not just for children… for example, a grad student assigned The Power of Reading will read differently if the work will be discussed in a paper or on an exam. Reading for a purpose does provide motivation to read well.

    In addition to student-parent discussions, I also encourage my students to form literature circles and book clubs. This last year a group read Hunger Games and discussed the reading daily on a forum I set up and monitored: one post and one response required per day. Students love the interaction of the reading and say that they understand the novels more when they have the immediate opportunity to discuss.

  24. July 5th, 2011 at 12:07 | #24

    “The study may well indicate that SSR results in more unassigned reading at home, but it may well be that assigned reading at home produces even more unassigned reading at home. I know there are no studies on this; however, if compelling, free-choice reading begets more voluntary reading, wouldn’t it necessarily follow that reading assigned for homework would produce more voluntary reading? From my own experience, many of my students read much more than the required two hours per week.”
    SK: I agree that it would be an interesting study to do. Assigned reading at home might result in LESS voluntary reading than SSR. Most likely, it depends on how it is organized and implemented.

    “Also, agreed that literature discussion is separate from independent reading; however, having students discuss their reading on a daily basis with parents provides a social context for reading and helps students practice the reading comprehension/meaning-making strategies of internal monitoring of text, developing the reader-author dialogue, self-questioning strategies, summary/re-tell, inferences, drawing conclusions, etc. In other words, I don’t advocate having students and their parents engage in heavy-duty literary analysis (teachers do have a role here), but reading a lot surely should be coupled with reading well.”
    SK: I would categorize discussion of reading with parents as a literature activity.

    “Yes, some of these reading skills can be acquired naturally through reading in-it-of-itself, but why not intentionally design independent reading to maximize comprehension development, as well as appreciation and enjoyment of the reading?”
    SK: Yes, good point. Some strategies, even though acquired, might be helpful in making reading more comprehensible when taught early. My point: We have assumed that ALL strategies good readers use should be taught explicitly. But: Some are innate (eg prediction), some develop without teaching as a result of reading. Among the latter, we need to determine which are profitable to teach and which are not. I’m not opposed to direct teaching. I’m opposed to the assertion that everything can and should be taught directly.

    “Also, let’s not forget that we are dealing with children… Whether reading independently in or out of class, the knowledge that the text will be discussed does motivate levels of concentration. And not just for children… for example, a grad student assigned The Power of Reading will read differently if the work will be discussed in a paper or on an exam. Reading for a purpose does provide motivation to read well.”

    SK: We shouldn’t have to be prepared to discuss everything we read. At least some of our reading should be simply reading. That’s the point of SSR. Again, it is part of the program, not the entire program.

    “In addition to student-parent discussions, I also encourage my students to form literature circles and book clubs. This last year a group read Hunger Games and discussed the reading daily on a forum I set up and monitored: one post and one response required per day. Students love the interaction of the reading and say that they understand the novels more when they have the immediate opportunity to discuss.”

    SK: Agreed. Lit circles/book clubs can be terrific. I would consider these activities to be “literature” activities. SSR is not a competitor to these activities.

  25. Wilhelm II
    July 5th, 2011 at 14:04 | #25

    The National Reading Panel was a political group and they ignored tons of evidence on free voluntary reading. The evidence is overwhelming on the power and value of volume reading. This is not disputed. There is plenty of time to do it in class- time better spent than on strategies readers acquire by READING anyway. Readers Workshop is powerful. Teachers need to be aware of scores of YA books and authors. We spend 90% of most class time engaged in self-selected reading. There is time for students to respond and time to model. There is also time for reading conferences. I don’t do skill-drill-kill yet 90% of students with me for two years pass state reading assessments. Yes- 90%. More importantly- book loving citizens are created. We get 100% participation because students can read magazines, comics, instructions for their new iPhone or whatever they want. It is the role of the teacher to help students select books and tell them it is ok to abandon ones they do not want to finish. Creating reading habits in school carry over to home. My students put time in at home because they actually find books they like and are excited about books. Teachers with little YA fiction knowledge are poorly equipped to help readers develop good habits. Reading comes down to making sense of what is on the page- pure and simple. Only through volume reading can students get the interaction with text they need to self- develop into a proficient book loving child. There is no such thing as a “baby book.” If students find a homerun book and teachers foster the excitement students find from those books- you do not have to coerce students to read. My students get in trouble in other classes for trying to read their books and they continue to read at home. I have a classroom library of over 3,000 books. If we give students exposure to a wide variety of books and time to explore and read them- amazing things happen. Many teachers lack the knowledge of YA books to carry this off.

  26. July 5th, 2011 at 18:12 | #26

    Wow! 90% of class time on self-selected reading? What about… the omitted list makes me dizzy.

  27. July 6th, 2011 at 12:26 | #27

    Wilhelm II (henceforth Bill2) seems to be doing what Nanci Atwell talks about: doing real literature study using self-selected books. He is not doing SSR for 90% of class time.
    I think we should distinguish:
    (1) SSR: self-selected, zero accountability, read what you like (within reason)
    (2) literature. This may or may not involve self-selected reading.
    Bill2’s students are probably doing both.

  28. July 6th, 2011 at 15:03 | #28

    Maybe. My direct reading strategies instruction leads me to interpret at face value: “We spend 90% of most class time engaged in self-selected reading. There is time for students to respond and time to model. There is also time for reading conferences.” I fear an over-reliance on context clues or prior knowledge, here. Bill II, we invite you to clear things up for us.

    Also, if the 90% is reading workshop… then what about writer’s workshop? I won’t mention grammar, spelling, etc. I know… reading takes care of it all:)

  29. Bill Barnes
    October 3rd, 2011 at 12:26 | #29

    Very provocative site. However, you are overly relying on the NRP Report which was hurried and clearly guilty of acts of omission that are well documented elsewhere.

    To update your heading No. 1 “Reading Research Does Not Support SSR,” I think you should read and integrate the results of research by Elaine Garan and her co-author in their Reading Teacher, Dec. 2008 article. They provide overwhelming support for SSR using the NIMH’s confection of “scientifically based reading research.” If that were the basis for all research Margaret Mead’s efforts would have gone unpublished. There is plenty of empirical, ethnographic, and anecdotal for how children grow and change when SSR is a regular staple of class time. Teachers vary instruction and where you see SSR, you will frequently see conferencing between teacher and child using self-selected literature. Some teachers skillfully use Literature Circles helping children learn how writing questions boosts children’s insights into literature. Lastly, this area would be enhanced by acknowledging how Jeannette Veatch worked out a comprehensive reading program in the 1950s and 1960s using a conferencing approach and self-selection of literature. Large chunks of time in the classroom were spent reading books silently and discussing books. Children created interesting projects as an outgrowth of the book conferencing with the teacher. Her work is built into several editions of her book culminating in Veatch, Jeannette (1979). Reading in the Elementary School. New York: John Wiley & sons.

    Full Citation of Garna: Garan, E.M., & DeVoogd, G. (2008, December). The Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading: Scientific Research and Common Sense Converge. The Reading Teacher, 62(4), 336–344. doi: 10.1598/RT.62.4.6

  30. Jeri Rigby
    April 6th, 2012 at 09:11 | #30

    THANKS for sharing this info. I wish everyone would understand that SSR should NOT be included in the school setting.

  31. Jamilla Jones
    July 15th, 2012 at 17:41 | #31

    SSR does work when it is coupled with Structured Independent Reading Instruction. Structured Independent Reading supports the reader through conferences and focused mini lessons. I suggest everyone who believes in teaching the reader and not the whole class novel read, Middle School Readers, by Nancy Allison. We are losing so many students by focusing solely on the novel of the semester and not the strategies all readers need to access all types of text. The only way we can offer students the volume of text they need to become sophisticated readers is to implement independent reading in the classroom. Independent reading needs to be supported within the classroom to ensure that students are reading and receiving the differentiated instruction they need.

  32. July 15th, 2012 at 18:21 | #32

    Makes much more sense than free voluntary reading with no interaction or accountability.

  33. July 17th, 2012 at 18:30 | #33

    Wow–such faith in the lame NRP! I won’t go over the same ground Professor Krashen has covered, but I can say that I consider the in-class free voluntary reading my ninth graders do to be the most useful and effective part of my course. And if you consistently get more than 90% participation rate in anything with the population you describe, you are doing unusually well, in my experience.

  34. July 18th, 2012 at 13:25 | #34

    I agree that SSR/Free Voluntary Reading is a valuable activity. Again, I find it works very well as homework. You see, all instruction is reductive. The time your students spend in class (albeit quite beneficial) steals away time for other instructional activities.

    Having poured over the Common Core State Standards for ELA this summer, I can’t imagine addressing these Standards with any measure of fidelity if I reduced my instructional class time. Given unlimited class time, I would certainly pour on the in-class independent reading. However, since that probably won’t happen, I find my approach more efficient and productive. Plus, the kids and their parents love the fact that reading and discussion are their only homework assignments in ELA. Much better than students and their parents floundering over an essay with no immediate access to the teacher. Thanks for your comments.

  35. Didrik Andersen
    November 4th, 2012 at 19:27 | #35

    They had SSR in my high school, when I was a student. It was a terrible experience. We were all herded into the library and forced to read for about 20 mins. The whole thing was ridiculous. There wasn’t enough time to get into the book, and everyone just felt this silent tension in the room. The librarians would pretend to read, while they observed the class. The whole thing was disgusting. I enjoyed reading greatly (on my own time), but, after a few tries, I completely stopped trying to read in that hell hole.

  36. Claudia Hernandez
    May 18th, 2013 at 18:53 | #36

    In my opinion as a classroom teacher of language arts for 15 years, you are wrong. The middle school students I have taught over the years started off pretty much the same: hating reading, believing that it wasn’t “their thing”, with a reading level at least 3 years below grade level, and most (90% at least) admitting to never reading at home. So I was faced with two obstacles: the students who would rather text or play games than read and administration who only care about standardized testing results.

    So even though I also made them read at home, I had to make time to read in class to hook them. We would start the class with SSR for 10 minutes and then I would tell them about the Young Adult high interest book I was reading. Then I would randomly call on 2 or 3 students to discuss the book they were reading. This always started out as forced but after a while the kids would not only respond to rhe routine but they started asking questions about MY book and looking for it in the library. The fact that I read books intended for them, opened up their minds to books and I could hear their attitudes changing saying things like, “well that’s not boring,” or “they don’t have interesting books like that in the library” then looking shocked when I informed them it was indeed from our own library. Most middle school students think they hatw to read because they don’t know what they like so I would arm them with book summaries and reviews.

    As their attitudes changed, so did their reading habits at home. How did I know? Because I went against one part of FVR-holding them accountable. I made them AR test using the Renaissance Learning quizzes to make sure reading was occuring.

    The results: for the students a love or at least appreciation of reading and increased reading levels. For the administration: increased test scores.

    You can’t tell me SSR does not work. In fact it is lacking desperately! YOUR ARTICLE MAKES ME SICK!

  37. Jerry Edmonston
    November 13th, 2013 at 06:43 | #37

    Prior to implementing SSR in my classroom, my FCAT score were average at best. In the past five years, my scores have been among the best in the district. I credit SSR. Research, by the way, DOES support SSR as carrying value. Anyone in doubt owes it to themselves to read articles by Krashen, Pilgreen, etc.

  38. November 14th, 2013 at 20:46 | #38

    While I certainly agree that independent reading is essential, we certainly beg the question when we assume that only free choice, in-class independent reading, with zero accountability is the only way for students to practice and enjoy reading on their own.

    Additionally, SSR is reductive. What you add to the school day takes away other valuable instruction. My take is that independent reading at appropriate student word recognition levels is the perfect homework, with accountability provided via student-parent or student-student book discussions. It works for my students without taking 15-20 minutes out of each instructional period.

  39. NLang
    April 20th, 2015 at 09:52 | #39

    What about those school districts filled with students who cannot be expected to do homework due to the fact that once they get home they are faced with running a household because their guardians (be it a single parent, parents, grandparent, or even older sibling) had gone out, or is partying at home, or other variables. Your point of view is one sided. You suggest a model that works for privileged groups of students, who have resources, parents that help, and a place and reason to do homework. What about those who do not have any such privilege? What about the students who have never picked up a book? What about the other side of the story where the only place students can have a relaxed atmosphere to read is inside the classroom. If you are going to argue your point effectively, please consider the other side of the spectrum.

  40. April 20th, 2015 at 19:44 | #40

    I’ve been waiting for a comment like this. I teach in a lower SES 80% free and reduced lunch school outside of Sacramento. Mine are not privileged pupils.

    What you are promoting is the soft bigotry of low expectations (not my phrase). Don’t give up on parents so easily.

    I teach 115 seventh-graders. I have met with and trained every one of my students’ parents. Each parent is capable of having a three-minute discussion with their child about what the child has read, even if it’s in a non-English language spoken at home.

    Last week I trained a meth-head mom to get books into her house, have daily reading discussions with her child, and check up on her child’s homework. Will she screw up and let her child down? Probably, but I’ll be there to hold mom accountable with a note or text. I am surprised by unexpected success stories all the time.

    Families are precisely the investments we need to make in literacy. We teach the whole child, not just the portion of the child that shows up for an hour, five days per week. Most parents, despite their issues, do love their children and want more for them. I expect a lot and most parents and students rise to the level of my expectations. I’m not a miracle worker–just stubborn and relentless.

    Again, all instructional investments are reductive. You take up twenty minutes of an hour class doing what could be done (I think better) at home, and that’s twenty minutes of direct reading comprehension strategies practice, fluency, syllabication, literary discussion, writing, spelling you are taking away from a child’s education. Not to mention having less time for individualized instruction. And no, kids don’t magically pick up all of the above from sustained silent reading. Education is all about choices.

    By the way, peer book clubs work marvelously well outside of class time, even in disadvantaged communities.

  41. Darryl
    August 11th, 2016 at 12:13 | #41

    There is an overwhelming about of research that supports SSR, especially when it is used in a ELAR block. In my current district, we have the students for 90 minutes each day. Plenty of time for SSR. And teachers color code the books for specific students. When it is SSR time, students got to the shelf and must choose the appropriate color. Students also must complete index cards summarizing what they have read.

  42. August 12th, 2016 at 18:21 | #42

    It is certainly true that independent reading works. However, you go beyond the findings of reading research when you credit it to time spent in school doing SSR. The proper variables would be independent reading at home, other uses of the class time, etc. To use a null hypothesis to claim that there is no statistically significant difference between time spent doing independent reading and time not spent doing independent reading and to find that indeed there is a measurable effect is a bit of a stretch.

    Independent reading at home works! Why not save class time and get that accountability all teachers want to verify that students are actually reading? After all, can anyone argue that reading isn’t the best form of ELA homework?

  43. Allison Welch
    September 2nd, 2016 at 07:43 | #43

    I am a new instructional coach, and I have seen both sides of the debate on SSR as well as modifications that take a middle ground. I was looking for articles to find out more about the research, but this blog actually clears up everything so well. I’d love to see the two of you collaborate on an article about this practice so that I can more clearly see the thought processes by reading experts. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain both sides, I have learned so much from these comments!

  44. Justin
    December 8th, 2016 at 11:22 | #44

    @Ramona Lowe

    You’re talking about the difference between anecdotal and empirical evidence. Maybe your students *did* benefit, or maybe they grew naturally over the course of the year, as students will do. The fact of the matter is that the overwhelming balance of empirical studies suggest that SSR is not beneficial when compared to other uses of class time.

  45. Justin
    December 8th, 2016 at 11:25 | #45

    @Mark Pennington
    And science homework! My 5th/6th, 95% ELL student classes showed great gains in both fluency and attitudes toward science over the course of the year when I started assigning grade-level science reading as my only homework.

  1. No trackbacks yet.