Friday, April 10, 2009

Reading for Pleasure

There are two basic activities that work together to help literacy skills grow in leaps and bounds. Those two activities are: being read aloud to (by parent and/or teacher), and SSR (Sustained Silent Reading: reading to yourself for pleasure). For more on reading aloud, click here. So what about independent reading, or SSR? The National Reading Panel's 2000 report snubbed the merits of SSR based on very few short-term studies, but long-term studies overwhelmingly show that students who read the most, read the best.(1:85) 
 "Where do these negative SSR feelings come from? Perhaps from the wonderful folks who make all those workbooks, textbooks, and score sheets that wouldn't be bought and used in class during the time students were lounging around reading books, magazines, and newspapers and getting so good at reading they might even need fewer of those sheets next year. SSR is based on a single, simple principle: Reading is a skill- and the more you use it, the better you get at it. Conversely, the less you use it, the more difficult it is."(1:83) Dishing out more and more money on phonics programs and worksheets isn't the answer for poor readers. Reading is. They need to be read to, and they need to read to themselves.

An IEA study "compared the reading skills of 210,000 students from thirty-two different countries; it found the highest scores (regardless of income level) among children who were read to by their teachers daily and who read the most pages for pleasure daily."(8:84) The keys to successful SSR are to provide a set amount of time for independent reading, where both the children AND the parent or teacher reads for pleasure... everyone selects their own book or periodical beforehand with no switching during the SSR time period, and no reports are required, no records kept. (1:85) 
Here's an example of an entire nation that practiced SSR successfully for four decades and then ran into a snag. As a reading model, Japan has been unrivaled in the world. Its citizens consume enormous amounts of print, and lead the world in newspaper readership (64% of Japanese adults read a daily newspaper, compared to 23% in the US). Few outsiders, however, understand the reason behind the Japanese numbers: time. No, they get the same 24 hours everyone else gets, but they get them in different doses.
    Japan's highway tolls have long been among the highest in the world. A US toll of $14 would be $47 in Japan, unless there's a bridge to cross, and then it jumps to $97. The result is that almost everyone in Japan takes public transportation to work, commutes that often average an hour each way. This allows for 120 uninterrupted daily minutes of either reading or napping. All that time and all that reading put Japan at the top of the book, magazine, and newspaper consumption- that is until the mid 1990's.
    That's when Japanese readership began to drop, and it continues to drop. The cause was the arrival of what they call the "thumb tribe"- commuters with computer games, e-mail, cell phones, and laptops. In short, distractions.
    The more distractions confronting a nation, a family, or a class, the less reading is accomplished. If you really want to get more reading done, then take control of your distractions: needless trips to the mall, land phones and cell phones, multiple televisions, DVD players, e-mail, computer games- each calling for immediate attention or multitasking. The "thumb tribe" is flourishing in America as well.

    The three B's are invaluable to the success of family SSR: 
  1. Books (have lots of print available in your home!)
  2. Book Baskets (place the print in a few locations throughout the house so it's handy to read in the living room, bedroom, play room, even the dining room table!)
  3. Bed Lamps (have a set "lights-on" reading time before bed each night).

*** Go back to my Reading Resources page! ***

Work Cited:
1 Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition

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