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Sustained Silent Reading
It is important to establish a reading climate in any English classroom. Sustained Silent Reading, or SSR, is one helpful way students learn that reading can be as fun. Studies show that students who participate in free voluntary reading score higher on tests have larger vocabularies, and exhibit better reading and writing competency than those who don’t.
I try to give students a little bit of SSR time every day. It is important to slowly build up the amount of time students are silently reading on their own. As the year progresses, slowly add to the amount of time students are given for SSR. Even on days when I don’t have time to give students SSR time, SSR is always part of their lesson because they know if they finish their work early they need to pick up their book and read. In the beginning, I have to closely monitor students and frequently remind them to get their books out once they’ve finished their work. Before the end of the year, they are doing this on their own.
Students should see reading as an important and worthwhile activity and they are much more likely to develop habits of thinking this way if allowed to choose what they read. In the beginning, it is important to model the process for the students.
Modeling a Love of Reading
To foster a reading community, teachers need to demonstrate silent reading in the classroom. Teachers should read with their students. I’ve tried SSR in many different ways and there are some students who in the beginning take great measures to keep from reading. They will stare at the book but refuse to read it, they’ll stare off into space, some even stare at a dot on their desk; anything if they feel like they are being forced to read. But when I show them that I too enjoy reading and I model for them silent reading, most students settle down and actually begin reading themselves.
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Silent Reading Assessments
The Importance of Choice
I have a small classroom library that I allow students to choose from when they are searching for a book. I have read most of the books in my room and I recommend them to students based on individual personalities. Conversations about reading are important in the SSR process. It is especially helpful when I’ve read the book the student is reading but even when I haven’t, after SSR time or anytime I have one on one time with a student I ask them about the book they are reading. Or when a student seems really immersed in her book, I’ll ask her about it. I believe that anyone can enjoy reading if they find the right book. That is why choice is so important.
Choosing Their Assessment
I also allow students to choose how they will tell me about their book once they have finished it. I have a list of several different assessments students can choose from to receive their grade. One choice involves artwork and I have posters, paintings, poems, and collages plastered all over my classroom. My classroom walls are basically covered with advertisements for juvenile fiction. This is one way to encourage students to talk amongst themselves about the books they are reading. When one student finishes a book, he or she presents it to the class and encourages others to read the book. It is very rewarding to stumble upon a conversation between students about their mutual interest in a book or series.
Some educators advocate daily or weekly assessments to ascertain whether or not students are actually reading. Other teachers argue that pure SSR time should never be graded. I use reading journals in my classroom. Students keep an SSR Log in their journals, and every other day they complete one. An SSR Log should contain a small passage from the novel, a paragraph summarizing what the student read about that day, and another paragraph where the student relates his or her life to the book. I also model this process with students, especially in the beginning, so they can see that there are many ways to write a personal reflection about literature. Sustained Silent Reading encourages reading as a habit.
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I require my students to read three novels a semester, on their own. As they finish each book, students must choose from a list of projects to complete so they may illustrate to me they have finished their book.
I allow my students to choose the book they would like to write a project on. Almost any book will work, as long as the student has never read the book before and the book is at or above her grade level. I know a bit about adolescent novels; I recommend books to my students. Ultimately, however, the book is their choice.
This is especially important when one is teaching remedial students or students who may be academically challenged. When they choose each book, they must bring it in and show it to me so I can approve it. I also send a worksheet home that explains the project and have parents sign off on each book so they are aware of what their child is reading. This protects me later if one of the parents notice that the book their child is reading has material they find questionable, because it has profanity or violence, for example; I have a letter they signed with that book’s name on it stating they knew their child was reading that book and gave him or her permission to do so.
Choosing Their Own Project
I recommend giving students several choices when it gets to be project time. I do this with the hope that each and every student will find a project that correlates with her personality. The key word in all of this is choice. If a student chooses his or her book and also gets to choose the method in which she completes the assignment, hopefully the assignment will be fun. Students have scattered due dates throughout the year for when their projects are due; however, fast readers can complete their projects any date up until the final project due date.
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Book Project Ideas
The below ideas are a new take on the standard book report/summary.
1. Writing an Essay: In the beginning of the year I go over essay requirements and give students several prompts to choose from when it comes to writing their essay. All students have to do this project at least once.
2. Something Artistic: I leave this project open-ended and tell them to think outside of the box and use their creative skills to give me something different. I like to think this project leaves room for students to be truly inspired by their books and create something to that end. They also have to present their creation to the class. Their presentation should also include a brief summary of the book, their opinion, and an explanation of their project. Most students read this and think: poster time. However, I have had some really excellent artistic projects turned in. Students have written poems, written songs, created sculptures, and even made 3-D scenes from their books.
3. Reading Response Journal: My students already keep a reading response journal where they complete SSR logs regarding the book they’ve read during SSR time in class. This project allows them to expand a little on this and pick their five best logs, type them up, and turn them in to me.
4. Blog About their Book: There is a website, www.bookcrossing.com, where students may go and register the book they have read. They then write a blurb about their book and receive an identification number. To complete this project, students write the ID number in the book and then leave their book somewhere with a note to whomever finds it. Using this website, students participate in a modern, technologically advanced “message in a bottle" activity. Students have to turn in a copy of their blog (at least 250 words) and a paragraph of the same length stating where they left the book and why.