Posts Tagged ‘SQUIRT’

Straight Talk with Stephen Krashen on SSR

A few weeks ago, I replied to a post on popular Facebook group. The subject? Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). After some challenging back and forth, I decided to write my own article titled “Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.” I listed and defended eight reasons why SSR is not the best use of class time and closed the article by justifying my proposal that independent reading be assigned as homework, along with the accountability of parent-graded daily reading discussion or online peer response/book clubs.

With such a provocative title, it’s no wonder that I received a number of responses. Among the responses, Dr. Stephen Krashen responded numerous times. Dr. Krashen has always served at the foremost advocate of free voluntary reading, essentially the more scholarly tag for SSR. Read more…

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5 Reasons SSR Doesn’t Work

5 Reasons SSR Doesn't Work

SSR Doesn’t Work

Following are 5 reasons that Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.

1. Reading Research Does Not Support SSR

2. There is Not Enough Class Time for SSR

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

4. SSR is Not Teaching, Nor is it Effective Practice

5. SSR Does Not Hold Students Accountable for Reading

I’m an ELA teacher and passionate about getting students to read. However, I’m also an MA reading specialist, so I’m also interested in what works and doesn’t not work to improve their reading skills. I do believe that reading practice, including independent reading, is vital to reading improvement. In fact, after you read the rest of the article, you might check out my plan that increases the amount of independent reading in this partner article: Independent Reading Homework. So why am I writing this article?

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 5 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.

According to noted reading researcher, Dr. 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.

In a February 12, 2022 article, Shanahan updates his comments:

When I look at the average effect size of various instructional routines for teaching decoding, fluency, and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000), I come up with .40 approximately. The same kind of exercise within classroom independent reading is .05-.10 (Yoon, 2003). That means that the payoff from teaching is 400-800% better than the payoff from having kids go it alone.

In a related article, “Straight Talk with Stephen Krashen,” Dr. Krashen comments on the NRP data regarding SSR:

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. 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.

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. 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. Additionally, students will often select only one author or genre. Fine for recreational reading, but certainly not appropriate for all reading instruction.

I asked Dr. Shanahan for his thoughts on the importance of free choice reading:


How would you respond to those who insist that freedom of choice in reading practice is essential to create a lifelong love of independent reading? I’m thinking of “Free Voluntary Reading” by Dr. Stephen Krashen, for example.

Timothy Shanahan

Feb 12, 2022 08:20 PM


How would one know if their practices were having a lifelong effect on students? Unprovable claims aren’t particularly useful.

However, longitudinal research, across elementary and high school, finds that the development of reading ability has a bigger impact on whether people like reading than the opposite.


4. SSR is Not Teaching, Nor is it Effective Practice

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. Students need targeted reading practice, not incidental practice.

Dr. Timothy Shanahan (2022) comments,

I don’t oppose encouraging students to practice their reading. However, as a but I do believe in making instructional time as productive as possible. Just sending kids off to read is not likely to pay off as the other alternatives There has been a lot of research into the kinds of practice that improves performance.

…Effective practice, for instance, is purposeful, intentional, or deliberate. It doesn’t include just aimless engagement in an activity. Effective practice focuses on what it is the student is trying to improve.

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 only 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.


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted, sounds to print instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every grades 4-adult reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards, speech articulation songs, sounds to print games, and morphology walls. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

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