Reading Insight

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11 thoughts on “Reading Insight”

  1. Nathaniel,
    How often would you have your kids do SSR? One day a week? Or smaller chunks of 10 minutes a day? I am looking to keep the students engaged and want to avoid “zone out”. At the same time, I don’t want them to forget what they were reading each time they take their graded readers from the shelf. Thanks for any advice,
    Julie in MN

    1. Please keep in mind, as you read the following that what I described above related to Sp 3-4s. I am not saying that it is not applicable. It is just that I was teaching 3s/4s at the time. They had already had various levels of success in the grammar/rules/output approach during Middle School/9th/10th grades. Their intro to CI stuff was in Sp 3 continuing into 4 (or simply at Sp4). (This year my clientele include 1) low performers w/ no previous experience, 2) Sp 2s with either grammar/rules but no CI or 1 year CI, and 3) Sp3s with either a Sp1/Sp2 grammar rule experience, or Sp1 CI + Sp2 grammar/rules experience. We have only done group reading so far.)
      There are five keys to SSR or FVR which are tied to needs of students who are not readers:
      1. A quiet, place to read (which they often do not have at home).
      2. Materials to read (which we provide for them in some way).
      3. Time to read (Nothing else happens during this class time…by anyone). (SSR = graded readers, FVR = book of student’s choice in L2)
      4. A potential reader (our students who may be currently resistant to reading).
      5. A model reader (that’s us). Reread #3, “Nothing else happens during this class time…by anyone.”
      #5 is key for resistant readers. If we correct quizzes, contact parents, or anything else we send the resistant reader the message that reading is not important. It is busywork, the purpose of which is to keep them busy doing something that they don’t like so we can do some chores that we don’t like.
      This is an opportunity for us as teachers to read in the target language. With our expectations we do not often have time for L2 reading. Now I can justify a desire that I have and should have.
      The message we must send is that we look forward to reading, we love reading, and we are disappointed that time is already up.
      With resistant readers we have to coax them into the water inch by inch. So for the time frame, we start with 7 – 10 minutes. I let that gradually increase in successive sessions to 11 minutes, 12, 15, etc. By the end of the year they may be reading for 20-30 minutes at a time. The key is teach to the eyes: I look up from my book every paragraph or so to monitor their reading. You can see who is reading and who is trying to fake it. When I see that they are wearing out I call for them to finish up their paragraph and write down any remaining words they are not sure of.
      If a student is off task, I can stand up and walk around, move to the back and keep reading. Calling the student’s is often enough to put her back on task. Many students are engrossed in their reading and do not even notice me saying anything.
      Dr. Krashen says: “We know enough to state the optimal conditions for a good reading program: They seem obvious but are rarely present: (1) A great deal of interesting, comprehensible reading material; (2) A time (and comfortable place) to read. (3) Minimum accountability (e.g. no required summaries or book reports). Also, to show effects, a program should also last for more than a few months.”
      For accountability, I keep a reading log for the class, noting the date, the amount of time we read, absentees (so they can come and make up missed time during their study period), and a summary of class involvement.
      They students keep track of 1) date 2) book title/author/ 3) pages read, 4) words they do not know, 5) Book summary. So it is basically holding them accountable that they read. The form makes it feel schoolish and important. It also helps them remember what they did in class, and that helps me remember, too.
      Krashen’s point is that the research does not support doing much more than this. In fact, if we have students who look forward to reading, they do not even need this. They are doing what is the end of the three steps of TPRS and are training to become life-long learners of the language.
      After reading, we have often taken the time to have students ask “What does X mean?” where X represents one of the unknown words they wrote down. In SSR with graded readers and students progressing at individual rates, they same word may come up several sessions in a row as it is being asked by different students, which increases review of those words. In FVR, with students reading different books, it increases interest in other books. Students realize that I often need more context to answer their questions, so they search back to find the word and see its context which increases their understanding of language and the complexity of vocabulary.
      One year, toward the end of the year, each student had to choose a favorite new word. The list generated from each of these sessions became our vocab list. Students knew not only the new words and their meanings but whose favorite word it was. We played with the words creating language with the new words.
      Important in the follow up vocabulary is the discussion in L2 which leads to PQs and questions about the books or passages the students are reading.
      How often? That is susceptible to the schedule. We have a rotating schedule which repeats every seven days and once started with SSR or FVR try to hit it once/7 days, but if the kids ask for more we try to fit it in, too.

    2. Julie there is no one way to do SSR, since each of us is different. One TPRS strategy done in one way doesn’t work that way for someone else. It’s a good thing to remember.
      Today I did something different with SSR. I trusted it to work out and it did. It always works out when our basic plan is comprehensible input. We don’t try to convey “information” in this work, but communicate, and there is a massive difference. One is “teaching”, which sucks, and one is “joyfully sharing information/communicating”, which is fun.
      So today after the ten minutes of SSR we went paragraph by paragraph through the chapter we are reading:
      1. We translated the paragraph chorally.
      2. They put the books down at the end of each paragraph.
      3. I asked circled questions limited to the paragraph we just translated.
      4. If they were weak we did it again. We never left a paragraph until they could talk about it with me in the TL. (no agenda to “finish the book”)
      I had no plan to do SSR that way today, I just started. The only thing in my mind when starting the discussion after the SSR was “Make the input comprehensible and don’t speak English. Enforce the rules religiously. Don’t give in to English.”
      If we do that, it’s not about having a clever strategy. Our INTENT TO COMMUNICATE in the TL with them so that they understand (while some kids offer what spoken TL they can if they want) is what should drive our instruction. When Eric served up the word “communication” a few months ago here and made us focus on it, he served up the biggest meal we’ve ever shared here. I’m still burping.

      1. To follow up on the SSR class today. It led straight into a 75 minute discussion about lots of things. I didn’t stop myself from leaving the the third step described above. I just followed the energy. Got into a 30 min. session on “lie down” vs. “go to sleep”. Challenged the kids on how late they stay up. Fun! As soon as you get it going on an emotional level (“I can’t believe you go to sleep at 2:00 a.m. and get up at 6:00 a.m. and still function!) they get involved.
        Could I have predicted that discussion? No. This work is about flying on the seat of one’s pants and going with what has energy and expanding on that. I know, I know… no lesson plan. My lesson plan is to see what happens in class with the steady starting foundation of SSR as described above. I guess that makes me a hippy. But in my defense I will state that that is how languages work.

      2. “there is no one way to do SSR”
        I believe that we do have to limit our use of SSR to meaning of the adjectives in the acronym. They are “sustained” and “silent.”
        In the silence the student learns to cut off the outside world and enter into the world of the story which, in the transfer of written symbols to mental images, is the version which we create in our minds.
        We help them sustain that encounter with the text as long as possible. It is in sustaining that students experience the benefits of pleasure reading. It is in sustaining that we set them up to experience a bit of the “din.”
        We read in silence to ourselves and they see that we can carve out time and become observers in a story and that nothing else matters. And as time goes on we are able to help them sustain for longer sessions. Krashen also says that the program needs to be sustained for more than a few months. Taking a stab might draw a little blood, but it is a sustained effort over the year which lays to rest the Hate-To-Read demon.
        I would like to restate what you said, Ben: There is more than one way to turn kids on to reading. And SSR is one way to support our desire for our students to become more independent through movie-in-the-mind reading that we aim for.

  2. Yes, I would love to know the nitty-gritty details of your SSR program. (I have so many students who hate to read, or just have it in their heads that they hate to read, so they never read unless forced to – even during reading comprehension quizzes!).
    Thank you!

    1. The text below is from the Big CI Book. Just to be clear, in no way do I claim that this is the right way to use SSR. It’s just how I use it after studying it for 15 years. Fitting all the tons of great teaching tools we now have into our available instructional time is truly a rubik’s cube experience. But yeah the value of SSR is off the chart, and gives us a break from the intensity of five classes a day with really high gains. We should all be doing some form of it. I am so happy for this reminder – it’s back into my program.
      Using Reading to Start Class on Time
      When my students enter my classroom, they pick up and start reading a common shared classroom text, usually a chapter book. In my view, the reading should not be free and voluntary (FVR) but required silent sustained reading (SSR) on a common text and a common chapter.
      Requiring the reading of a common text gets the class started on time in a peaceful and restful way, responding to the need expressed above, so that we can all keep our sanity in what are arguably some of the most insane places on the planet – school classrooms.
      Assessment of Daily SSR Sessions
      A final weekly quiz on what was read during SSR during the week, containing up to twenty questions, gives the students the incentive to take the daily ten minute SSR sessions seriously.
      It is possible to briefly assess the kids during each class as well. The quiz writers from time to time during SSR write very simple true/false five to ten question quick quizzes while reading. The class and the teacher decide that the quiz that day will cover certain pages in the chapter. The slower readers pour over those pages while the faster readers go ahead.
      An option to quizzes is to simply give the students a translation test on a random section of the text that was read during the reading each week. This is also a great way to hold students accountable.
      To review this way of doing SSR to start class on time:
      1. Everyone reads in the same chapter.
      2. The quiz writer prepares a quiz during the reading sessions.
      3. The teacher and students decide on what pages the quiz will be on.
      4. Slower students stay on those pages; faster readers move ahead.
      5. Reading silently in pairs doesn’t work.
      The point is that the class reads with intent to understand during the session. Slower students know that they will not be left behind. Only one chapter is done each week. Boring chapters are skipped over; the instructor merely tells them in English what happened in the skipped chapter and the next interesting chapter in the book is read the next week.
      Of course, what better time is there than doing a nice crisp discussion session just after the reading session? The kids know that they are minutes away from a quiz. I often ask for the quiz at the end of the session and hold it in my hand and ask the same questions in the discussion that are on the quiz. Total class buy-in is the result.
      Two things describe this way of doing SSR using a shared common text:
      a. The students know that the reading is required. (That is the reality in how most students approach learning in schools.)
      b. The students know that the text is a common one that will at one point be discussed in a full class period of Read and Discuss – in my own classroom that happens on Fridays – and will therefore be the subject of at least one grade, and up to five per week, four daily quiz grades and the big chapter quiz on Friday.
      Controlling Tardies Using SSR
      Besides the quick quizzes on SSR, it is possible to make the 10 minute SSR period into another kind of grade. In this approach, the students all receive 10 points if they are silently reading for 10 full minutes. I have found this useful in schools where tardies are part of the school culture, but where it isn’t needed I don’t use it.
      As soon as the bell rings, the student timer starts a 10 minute timer. If a student comes in one minute tardy, a point is removed from the 10 points. If the student is 2 minutes late, their reading score for that day is 8. If a student is 5 minutes late, the grade is a 5. If a student daydreams or talks to somebody, they lose points. Tying the start of class to a grade is a good way to send a message to certain kids who have a problem with arriving in class on time.
      In this approach, calling roll, counting and grading tardies and maybe pretending to read the book with the students are the only things that the teacher needs to be doing during this period of SSR. Teachers get to rest during this time and gather their thoughts.
      Another classroom management option with tardy students is to not even let them into the classroom during the silent reading period. If they are tardy, they are locked out and simply receive no points for the ten minutes of reading. When tardy students are made to wait behind a locked door in the hallway until the ten minutes of SSR is done, they avoid disturbing those who arrive in class on time and who are quietly reading.
      When you do this, your students tend to start coming to class on time, because even a few zeroes earned in this way can negatively affect a grade. Many teens don’t see the value of reading, or of even faking it, but when reading is worth ten points, they don’t argue or complain.
      So we can say that doing 10 minutes of SSR is a good way to start class. Instead of the teacher stressing out and having to start a class when it seems as if just a few moments before they were collecting quizzes, the students read.
      Using Calming Music to Start Class on Time
      We can combine calming music with reading when we start our classes with SSR. How does the calming music work?
      1. Many students these days get insufficient rest, have jobs, and endure untold pressures at home. Their balance, and a healthy heart rate of 60 to 72 beats per minute, is often not there.
      2. So we choose music that is written at 60 beats per minute. It is found fairly commonly in the second (slow) movements of certain Baroque concertos. Listening to this slower music has the effect of slowing down the pulse into the range of about 60 beats per minute.
      3. When the heart rate slows after a few minutes of quiet reading in the target language while listening to this calming music, this slows the students’ brain waves from around 22-24 (active waking state) to a bit less than that, around 18 cycles per second. The brain waves don’t go all the way down to the alpha state (14 cycles per second, the gateway to sleep), but it slows their brain waves down enough so that they are more open and more receptive to what is presented to them. They calm down.
      There is some music available in downloadable form on the “TPRS Resources” hard link at The playlist offered there provides a quick and efficient way to access music directly into your computer for the silent reading periods in your classroom.
      The students enjoy this period of restful reading accompanied by music. However, there are actually teachers who don’t want to lose time from their instruction. They think that teaching is all about them, and they mistakenly think that if they just use every available instructional minute for auditory comprehensible input, they will see greater gains.
      But the truth is that we can only provide a small percentage of the hours, even in a four year program, to get our students very far down the path to fluency anyway. And is not reading a form of comprehensible input?
      In first year, first semester classes, the ten minute SSR periods would not be introduced into the classroom process until the second semester, when students have had enough auditory input to be capable of reading simple texts. If the teacher really wants to use SSR in the first semester of beginning classes, however, it is easily done by presenting (TPRS Step 3) readings of stories done earlier that month during the SSR reading period.
      To repeat the most crucial point about the music you choose for the silent reading period – if you want the brain wave changes to occur with the deep calming of the students’ minds that results from it, the music you choose must be music written at 60 beats per minute. There is science to this, and just playing “relaxing” music will not be nearly as effective as choosing music written at 60 “calming” beats per minute.
      Combining SSR and Read and Discuss: the 10/5 Plan
      After the ten minutes of SSR some teachers devote five minutes to a discussion of the text just read using Read and Discuss. When you do that, you use slow and tight circling to review the main points of the reading.
      I recommend this 10/5 plan for your daily SSR. And if it extends beyond the fifteen minutes, so what? My only goal in my comprehension based classroom is to provide my students with as much meaningful comprehensible input as I can.

  3. Ideas about silent reading time:
    – I do 5-15 min. of time per week depending on the stamina of the class. I’d rather that they feel they were stopped a little before they wanted to. I did reading time only once with level 1 so far, and 3 times with level 2 (I’m experimenting with these earlier levels). Levels 3 & 4 have time each week.
    – I have them use a reading log to write down a little about what they read, and if applicable, page numbers so they can pick up where they left off if desired next time. That has been very helpful. I also can glance at those sheets and see if they’re understanding or enjoying it at all.
    – I recently started Donalyn Miller’s (book: The Book Whisperer) ideas about ‘book commercials’ and a brief read-aloud of a book to introduce it to the class. I think 8 students chose the book I read from briefly & dramatically last week. I also invited volunteer students to share a bit about the book they read (and I’m tough, I asked for it in Chinese & helped if they got stuck).

    1. Thanks Diane! I loved “The Book Whisperer” and have been percolating some of those ideas about sharing books. I think I will also try the “book commercial”. I admit I got cold feet bc of the extreme negativity of my students toward reading. But I do think it is because they have no experience enjoying being read to, and reading for pleasure / relaxation, etc.

  4. Another idea about for silent reading time:
    Use other classes’ versions of stories to create an ever growing library. Since comprehensible books in Latin are scarce, I have been relying heavily on the class-created stories. The most frequently read stories during SSR are the ones from other classes of the same grade. My 7th graders really get a kick out of comparing their stories to other versions.

    1. Great, John.
      Class-created stories may be the most affordable way to build a library. More than a few of the books from Carol Ga’ab are the product of a TPRS teacher’s class. One of the three optimal conditions for a reading program is”A great deal of interesting, comprehensible reading material” (Krashen, Power of Reading). If it is class created in a CI ambiance, it would hard to fail the interesting/ comprehensible criteria. I admire your follow through in making it happen for your students.

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