SSR. A philosophical discussion.

For the uninitiated – those of you who do not teach, or do not have kids in school– SSR stands for Silent Sustained Reading. During a period of 20-30 minutes, everyone in the whole school is supposed to stop everything to read.

My children have always loved to read. They have been known to hole up in their rooms when a favorite book is newly launched and only take water and crackers for sustenance. You can imagine my surprise then when Son #1 told me they “HAD” to do SSR and that he thought it stood for “Sit down, Shut up, and Read.” Oh my heart! In my own independent school classroom, SSR meant kids on bean bags, and under tables devouring books. Quiet conversations about the newest from a certain author, a plot twist they didn’t expect. It was a bibliophile’s bliss.

That’s not what it was for Son #1. In the time of accountability and “no test child left behind,” there are reading logs, and page goals, and write ups, and book talks that he has to conduct with me (which are wonderful) but then he has to write out the book talk. He hated the paperwork. He didn’t turn it in. He didn’t meet expectations. He didn’t get on the honor roll even though he had all A’s in other classes. That’s fine. It’s a natural consequence and I respect that.

However, I still have issues with SSR. Here was my note to the teacher and principal today.

Just a quick philosophical detour. I think it is wonderful that [the junior high] makes student choice reading and adult read alouds a priority in the day. I also believe that the need to assess, log, and write up book talks defeats the essential reason for SSR. To me, SSR is a chance for children to take joy in reading and to see reading modeled and loved by adults. What if the adult leading SSR did a weekly sweep of the class, moving from student to student with a clipboard, asking kids some of the questions on the “book talk” list and for 3 minutes listened to the student talk about the book they are reading? The teacher would know if they are reading narrowly in a genre, rereading (which is to be encouraged to a point), and if they are completing books or not. These mini-meetings challenge students to think deeply and make connections with the text. The adult would connect with the student and gain an intimate understanding of the student’s comprehension strengths/weaknesses. These mini-meetings would also allow the teacher to hear a student’s excitement/boredom and offer other book suggestions. What if the student gave one or two quick book talks during SSR, during the semester, so their classmates could learn about other great books that were out there? I think this would do more to encourage joyful reading than all the page counting, logs, lists, and write ups in the world. They have to do plenty of that stuff in their other classes.


8 thoughts on “SSR. A philosophical discussion.

  1. Just thinking about similar Q today – how to get my relatively non-reading child to read more w/out “forcing” or stigmatizing her… Glad you introduced your voice to the school – any chance kid could also advocate for a change?

    1. Sadly, I think when student’s ask for a change that would result in less paperwork, they are judged as lazy. I’m sure there is an appropriate way for students to voice opinions so that this judgement is tempered. If they got together, planned their persuasive arguments and went to see the department head or the principal in a professional way, I think their voices would be appreciated. RE: your daughter…my experience is that along the way, with the constant input of literacy in the home and school, there is often one book that a child really connects with that makes him or her a reader. The more exposure they have to self-choice literature, and books in all categories & genres, the more likely they are to have that epiphany.

  2. They probably shouldn’t call what they are doing SSR, because that was not the original intent of SSR…. as you said it was for each child to read what he/she wanted to read and find joy in that exercise. I admire you for sharing your ideas… and they are good ones. My biggest fear (I retired after 34 years of teaching) is that teachers will feel threatened and will get defensive about your suggestions. I know that is not how you meant it, but experiences I have had lead me to think this.
    If your son has an open minded teacher that feels comfortable with what they are doing, you may have made a good point. If not, well you tried and I admire you for that. 🙂

    1. Thanks for commenting! I have certainly seen that defensiveness both as a teacher and a parent. Luckily, that is not how my email was received. Teachers have to do more with less everyday. They are often charged with fixing the tires (of education) while driving the car and everyone outside of the school has a better way for them to do it. I certainly appreciate their challenges and respect their work. I think my children’s teachers and principal know this. Nevertheless, I don’t expect a big change. I would love to come in and do a workshop on SSR though. 🙂

  3. What was the feedback you got from the teacher and principal, if any? ( you may have told me last night but I was sleepy)

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. There shouldn’t be any interruptions during SSR, not even a teacher with a clip-board. What students choose to read during that time is their business. Some might want to go with required reading while others read whatever. The point is to have kids read. I called it DEAR time in my classroom–Drop Everything And Read.

    Are the page goals and reading logs and book talks tied directly to SSR at your school? Or is SSR a way to give students a bit of extra time to read during class when usually they are expected to complete the reading at home and during spare time?

    1. “What students choose to read during that time is their business.” Yes! I totally agree. It actually isn’t my school it is where my sons go. The written assignments are tied to SSR– not just extra reading time when other assignments are finished. It is another class period at the end of the day throughout the school (which I love). However, the most recent update to this saga is that in order to meet Common Core, teachers are starting to require nonfiction reading. I love good nonfiction BTW, but SSR needs to be student choice in my opinion.

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