May 23, 2008

Sustained Silent Reading

I'm a little behind in my reading. I just read the April edition of the Language Educator, which is the magazine published by ACTFL. In it there was an article on using sustained silent reading in the classroom. The teacher, Elba Rivas de White, began using a sustained silent reading as an option in her classroom three years ago. It was funded by a GT (gifted and talented) grant, but she was surprised to see that many of her high-performing and GT students did not opt into the program. They chose to continue with the morning warm-ups. She used the Escalofríos series (Goosebumps) because the material was fairly predictable, high interest, and most of the students were familiar with the material in English.

At the end of the year she was thinking the program was a failure, but students' comments made her rethink that. She modified the program in the second year to make it mandatory for all students. She increased the book collection going from ABCs to El Hobbit (just like my collection!) This time she made Fridays reading day and students read for the entire class period. She had required questions students had to answer including which book they read, why they picked it, what part they liked best, and predicting what would happen in the next week. She found that many students lacked confidence in the beginning and would opt for easier books, while some of her weaker students diligently worked their way through her most difficult books. She had a D level student who went from an ABC book to Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal. At the end of the year she found that the students had increased their use of complex grammatical structures and were using more vocabulary. 90% of her students also reported that tests and exams were now easier for them. The student who started off with a D, rose to nearly a B in the course of one semester.

The article referenced her third year with the program as well, although they were more of the same. The students began with low level books, and some of the students who jumped quickly to books she thought were too difficult for them showed the most gains. In the third year she added some current magazine subscriptions. Students were able to read according to their own interests and some students who had never paid attention or worked for their grades before showed a remarkable turn-around.

In the third year she allowed students to quietly discuss their books while they were reading, checking for meaning, oredicting, etc. She discovered that these discussions were often beneficial. She mentions that the reading program addresses all 3 of the Communication standards of the Standards for Foreign Language Learning. She mentions also that other standards can also be covered especially the Communities standard.

I enjoyed reading the article because it is confirmation again that this works. It's one thing to hear about something at a conference. It's another thing to try it in your own classroom and see it working. It's still something else to see articles about the same approach in professional literature. We have a parent at my school who is complaining in the elementary level that because time is so limited, students shouldn't waste time with watching cartoons or reading, they should solely focus on grammar. (How boring would that be?) Anyway, articles like this give us more ammunition behind us for when parents do question what we are doing.

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