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.
From time to time I post about service projects to benefit of members of the children’s and young adult writing community, the writing community at-large, and readers. I’ve gotten good news from a couple of those projects recently and thought I’d follow up.
In May, I had heard from the Maine Writers & Publisher’s Alliance about a tragic fire at the Darthia Farm (a frequent location of writing retreats for the organization.) The barn had been destroyed and many of the animals killed. This week, I received a thank you email from the farm for my donation. Thank you, from me, to any Creative Chaos readers who also may have donated. They have rebuilt and have had donations of new animals as well.
There are more pictures of the new barn, happy animals, and children visitors at the Darthia Farm blog here!
In June, I posted about a volunteer literacy initiative at my own Shepherd Elementary School in Washington, DC. After I posted here, I also contacted Ellen Braaf who is the Regional Advisor of the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic region. I told her about the lack of books and asked if she might put my notice in her occasional newsletter. She went one better and posted the call for books in their annual conference materials. At that recent conference, the support for the literacy program was wonderful. SCBWI Mid-Atlantic members, and industry professionals donated boxes of books to the help the program. My mother, who volunteers for the program, is so pleased and we both extend our thanks to Ellen and the generous members of SCBWI, Mid-Atlantic. She can’t wait to bring the books to the school in the upcoming weeks.
Book worship is inherent in all of the posts here at Creative Chaos. The art and craft of the book as object is certainly part of this but more– it is about the unlimited possibilities and pleasure of reading. As many of my blog readers know, I’ve posted before about the many children and adults around the world who struggle with illiteracy. However, we need not travel far from home to find people who are learning to read.
Very close to my heart and home, at my own Shepherd Elementary school in Northwest Washington, DC, my Mom and a group of volunteers are working with ESL and other early reading students three times a week to bring them one on one and small group read aloud experiences.
Because of ubiquitous budget cuts the Shepherd School library is no longer staffed and the books are outdated. Today I’m calling on all authors and readers out there for book donations. Students in the program are African-American, Asian, Latino, and African and the organizers are especially interested in books that mirror this diversity.
If you have written a picture book or early reader and you are wondering what to do with your author copies, consider donating them to the Early Readers Program. If you are an MFA student at VCFA, Hamlin, Lesley, Simmons, or any other Children’s and Young Adult Writing/Literature programs, I know you have a shelves of books. Yes, some of them you will love and cherish forever, but some you could pass along to others. If you are just a reader. Just a reader? A wonderful, amazing reader… Please consider donating a book to:
Early Readers Program
1220 East West Highway, Apt 504
Silver Spring, MD 20910
It may only be February 13th, but March and two wonderful literacy events, are right around the corner.
March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’s Birthday and the annual National Education Association’s celebration of Read Across America Day.
March 7th is World Read Aloud Day sponsored by LitWorld. SCBWI is an official partner of World Read Aloud Day and Headquarters is encouraging members to get involved. (See the other partners here. ) Both pre-published and published authors can play an important role in advancing literacy. It’s a great opportunity for members to connect with your local independent bookstore and help promote the SCBWI’s role in literacy.
From the LitWorld website: “Literacy is the foundation for emotional and physical well-being, intellectual growth, and economic security. The right to read and write is a fundamental human right and belongs to all people.
Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate. Two-thirds of them are women. All over the world, children are hungry for learning and for the power it brings. Research shows that children learn to read and write best by writing and telling the stories of their own experiences. Yet it is rare to find safe spaces where children feel fully comfortable to do so.”
It doesn’t matter if your event takes place on the 2nd or the 7th. What’s important is that we take a moment to think of how we can bring literacy to our communities.
What can you do?
Organize a read-a-thon with other authors/illustrators in your area. Perhaps a local independent bookstore would open for 24 hours to let people read all night long. Take donations and send them to a literacy organization.
Ask your local librarian if you can schedule free readings during library hours during the first week of March. Contact your SCBWI Regional Advisor to help you contact other authors/illustrators in your area.
Are you a well-known author with a well-read blog? Auction off a school visit for the first week of March with the procedes going to to a literacy organization.
There are more ideas, statistics, and classroom reproducables from LitWorld here.
Whatever you choose to do, don’t keep it to yourself. Both NEA and LitWorld have a place on their websites where you can register your activity. SCBWI members can send their photos and information directly to chelseamosser at scbwi dot org.