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SSR Reading Research

As a secondary ELA teacher and reading specialist, I get some interesting reactions when asked why I don’t allot time for SSR sustained silent reading in my classes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as passionate about getting my students to read and read well as any of my colleagues. However, I just can’t spend precious instructional time on an activity, i.e. SSR, that produces negligible benefits according to reading research when I could be teaching something that is evidence-based. After all, instructional time is reductive. If you add this, you are taking away that.

I’m using the most common term, SSR (sustained silent reading), but we have plenty of similar acronym-based programs: 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). The latter was probably popularized after the fall of the Soviet Union (USSR). I’m sure there are more.

SSR is based upon these assumptions:

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

If a reading researcher designed a research study to test the efficacy of SSR based upon one or more of these assumptions, any number of controlled studies using experimental designs might produce statistically significant results if SSR positively correlated with reading gains. But this is simply not the case.

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.

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

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. And my chief concern is teachers replacing what they know is beneficial with an unproven activity.

My take regarding reading research is that we should prioritize our instruction to focus on the instructional strategies that research does 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 claim to achieve.

One such alternative is independent reading homework. Teachers who insist upon providing independent reading time in the classroom, because “my kids just won’t read at home” might benefit from some of the suggestions in this related article: Independent Reading Homework.

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