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.