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IST 668: Literacy Through School Libraries

Literacy Ecosystems

WHAT ARE FREE VOLUNTARY READING AND SUSTAINED SILENT READING? Jake Hare & Erin Bennett Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) and Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) are both aimed at having students read for a certain period of time, and they get to choose what they want to read. Free Voluntary Reading involves students reading something of their choosing for pleasure. Sustained Silent Reading is setting aside a certain amount of time (ex. 10-15 minutes each day) to read for pleasure. This is where the main difference

between the two can be found. Though the concepts are related, and often complement each other, they are not the same thing. FVR is, as the name implies, voluntary, and can be done at any time during the day for any length of time. SSR takes place during a prescribed time period and occurs for a predetermined length of time. Many classrooms employ these tactics already, allotting a little time each day for SSR, or allowing students to read from the classroom library if they finish a test or class assignment early.


The purpose behind FVR and SSR is to encourage students to read for the pleasure of reading and to foster a habit of reading a little each day. SSR provides the opportunity for students to read enjoyable material in the context of other school reading experiences which might not be voluntary or motivating (Parr and Maguiness, 2005). One of the roles of the school librarian is to create an environment, both in the library and throughout the whole school, of reading for pleasure. School librarians hope to instill in all students a love of reading. The librarian should inquire as to why reluctant readers dislike reading: Are they intimidated by the books their classmates are reading? Have they tried to read too many of the required classics and given up on reading altogether? Once the underlying cause for students’ dislike of reading is discovered, the librarian can then introduce books and other reading materials that might pique reluctant readers’ interest through the process of FVR and SSR. Issues that Libraries Face Regarding FVR and SSR One of the issues that libraries face in the Free Voluntary Reading ecosystem is that of free reading versus regular classroom instruction. There isn’t always obvious evidence as to whether those who engage in FVR or SSR make better educational advances than those who don’t. In fact, Stephen Krashen points out in his article Free Reading that those who participate in SSR and those perform relatively the same (2006). If FVR can’t be proven to be of more benefit than regular classroom instruction, support for these types of programs in school libraries is likely to suffer. The National Reading Panel (NRP) report declared that only 14 studies on FVR or SSR met the NRP’s strict criteria for research standards and only four of those

studies showed the benefit of SSR over regular instruction, whereas the other ten showed no difference (Krashen, 2006). At first glance, research seems to indicate that FVR no difference. The short-term results of FVR programs are in no way distinct from student development without FVR. Further research, however, calls the NRP conclusions into question. Krashen argues that the NRP’s report is flawed because it overlooked many studies of long-term SSR programs (2006). The long-term programs benefit students more than short-term programs. In eight out of the ten studies on long-term SSR programs, students who read recreationally outperformed those who hadn’t done recreational reading (2006). Krashen believes that the longer programs (12 months or more) allow students to develop a reading habit and take responsibility for their own learning (2006). Likewise, Garan and DeVoogd (2008) have also challenged the NRP’s report. They state that the NRP did not find SSR to be ineffective, just that there weren’t enough studies which met the NRP’s criteria in order to draw any conclusions (2008). Having children read 5-10 minutes every day in school is not going to adversely affect their content learning. In fact, when students read a little each day, they are going to reap the benefits of even a short amount of time. Garan and DeVoogd make it clear that the NRP report did not draw any conclusions for one side or the other about SSR (2008). These findings do not in fact negate the benefits that students can gain from SSR, nor does it negate the possibility that independent reading significantly influences vocabulary and reading comprehension (2008). Although the NRP report has not come to a solid conclusion about SSR, it is important to keep in mind that there is a good


possibility that students will benefit (whether in a “significant” way remains to be seen) from independent reading. Siah and Kwok (2010), also acknowledge the debate over whether FVR and SSR is effective in improving students’ reading achievement, and, therefore wanted to explore the ways in which teachers and librarians use SSR effectively. Some researchers and teachers in their study expressed the need to adapt SSR programs to fit the needs of their students (2010). For example, some teachers have been taking the “silent” out of the program and, in making this adaptation, have made the program work for their school community (2010). One of the findings of the study was that students whose parents hold reading in high esteem were more likely to enjoy reading and set aside time for it (2010). These students were more likely to have a high value for reading as well, compared to those whose parents did not engage in reading activities with them (2010). One way to make SSR programs more efficient is to include students’ parents in reading activities and encourage them to become more involved in their children’s’ learning experience (2010). SSR is the type of reading program that allows for flexibility and should be shaped and molded by the teachers and librarians in a school community to fit their students’ personalities and reading levels in order to be most effective. Ultimately, this indicates the FVR and SSR do indeed have the potential to be extraordinarily useful in augmenting education, but the results are dependent on a number of factors specific to each child. Another major issue that libraries are faced with in terms of FVR and SSR, is taking into consideration the library collection, and making sure that students have access to materials they

want to read. As teachers have started using SSR in their classrooms, librarians have to be in full support of this by providing materials that students are asking for (Gardiner, 2007). The librarians at Billings Senior High School in Billings, Montana had previously focused on their non-fiction section based on classroom curriculums (2007). However, students began asking for a variety of different reading materials, and the librarians had to keep up with the demand as well as become familiar with books outside of their own areas of interest (2007). We must consider, however, that FVR and SSR can provide something of a challenge to a teaching librarian. What are the merits of allowing students to read whatever they choose? Is this process actively teaching them to read, or simply opening their minds to the idea? Are picture books and published fan-fiction going to improve literacy? And perhaps most important of all, how can we turn this concept into a quantifiable improvement in our students’ reading habits? In his research, Stephen Krashen has found that students who have access to books are more likely to read, and to become better readers (2006), evidently revealing the merit of FVR and the potential for this process to truly teach students to become readers. Krashen believes that part of the school library’s role is to undo some of the effects of poverty by providing all students, regardless of economic status, access to books (2006). He even goes so far as to say that libraries are the only chance for children living in poverty: “instead of making pious pronouncements about the importance of literacy and investing more in measuring the problem, we need to make the most obvious and reasonable investment – and that means improving libraries for children who need them the most …” (Krashen, 2006). Based on this


evidence, we can see that the old adage “at least they’re reading” holds some water. James S. Kim has also found in his research that providing access to books for minority children could help ease the ethnic disparity in reading achievement (2006). It has been discovered that white families tend to own more books than Black, Latino, and Asian families (2006). The number of books in home accounted for the gap in reading scores between Black students and White students as well as between Latino and White students (2006). By providing all students a wide range of reading materials, the school library plays an important part in helping to close the reading gap and encourage students to read for pleasure. The third issue that libraries face in terms of FVR is creating a school-wide love of reading. Carol Gordon demonstrates in her article Meeting Readers Where They Are, the importance of the social aspects of reading on reading motivation (2010). The librarian can encourage the discussion of reading materials through things like blogs, reading clubs, literature circles, and other social media and networking tools (2010). In making reading a social activity, students have the chance to become more engaged with each other as well as with what they are reading. Parr and Maguiness discuss the idea of taking the “silent” out of Sustained Silent Reading. One high school allowed students to discuss what they were reading during SSR time (Parr and Maguiness, 2005). Teachers guided students in conversations surrounding what they were reading, but did not monopolize the discussion (2005). In this way, students were able to find their reading identities as they participated in SSR as a social activity (2005). At the end of the study, those who participated showed more interest in voluntary reading as well as voiced their

appreciation for being able to discuss what they were reading (2005). This article demonstrates that SSR doesn’t have to be a solitary activity, and can in fact be enhanced by social interactions. How Librarians can use FVR and SSR in the Library There are different ways in which school librarians can promote FVR in their schools. Susan La Marca in her article Free Voluntary Reading and the Role of the Teacher Librarian provides examples of promoting a love of reading to students. La Marca posits that in order for teacher librarians to foster a love of reading, they have to become enabling adults (2004). The most important factor in being an enabling adult is attitude (2004). The teacher librarian has to portray reading as a pleasure activity; she has to make students feel confident in their reading and that they are part of the reading community, and she has to recognize her own role as a reading promoter (2004). Students look to the adults in their lives, teachers, librarians, parents, etc., as role models for their own behavior. This is why it is important for adults to model reading for pleasure. The students will get a sense for the importance of reading as a lifelong habit through the modeling of librarians and teachers. Additionally, it is incumbent upon librarians to support FVR and SSR in a more logistical capacity as well, including working to establish a diverse and engaging book collection. In The Power of Reading and Libraries, Krashen makes specific recommendations that librarians “increase highinterest, low-level and ELL (English Language Learner) collections” (2004). A Story to Illustrate FVR and SSR in the Library Grove Mountain Elementary principle Marcy Orville has been trying for two years now to raise the reading scores of her school. She has done


some research on ways to get students reading and has recently come across articles by Stephen Krashen about Free Voluntary Reading and Sustained Silent Reading. After reading about how FVR and SSR can help students improve their reading skills, vocabulary, grammar skills, and more, Marcy has decided to discuss ideas surrounding how FVR and SSR can be used in the school community to encourage reading. She has asked Lindsay Sayre, the school librarian, to attend, along with delegation of teachers. In preparation for the meeting, Marcy asks that attendees read the Krashen’s articles and come with some ideas to discuss. On Monday afternoon, Lindsay arrived at the meeting with one really good idea that she has fleshed out some more and intends to share with enthusiasm with her colleagues. Marcy started out the meeting by reviewing the past two years’ reading scores of the K-6 school, as well as other methods which have been tried to bring the reading scores up. After this, Marcy holds a brainstorming session, where all the teachers are able to share their ideas and Marcy jots down keywords on the smartboard. They group a few of the ideas they would like to hear more about. Those who came up with the ideas are then asked to share more information. Lindsay then explains that her idea came to her from the summer reading programs that exist at public libraries, which are very popular during the summer and seek to get kids involved in reading for pleasure. Her idea is to have a fall reading program, in which the whole school gets involved: students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other members of the school community. The program would kick off in September when the students start school and continue through

Christmas break. If the program is successful, it could be extended. Everyone would be expected to keep track of the books they read as well as how much time they spend reading each day in their own reading logs. When students have their library time each week, they can show the librarian their reading logs. Lindsay knew that providing unrelated prizes, like pizza parties, would not have long-term motivational effects. She compromised by saying that if Marcy wanted to provide rewards, she could offer prizes related to reading, such as bookmarks, free books, or journals. Lindsay also suggests having a space in the library where all participants can write down what they are reading. Lindsay believes that it will spur discussion about books when people find out they are reading the same one, and will help encourage reluctant readers to see that everyone else is reading as well. As part of the program, the school could even incorporate the stop, drop, and read campaign, and have times during the day where students have to stop what they are doing (when appropriate) and read for 5 minutes. The idea went over really well with the other teachers, and they decided that it would be expanded upon in the future. This is a situation in which a school librarian might find herself in one day. This example demonstrates how both FVR and SSR can be used by the librarian to create a whole school culture of pleasure reading. References Allington, Richard, Billen, Monica, and Gabriel, Rachael. (2010). Leveling magazines: considerations for selecting and using magazines in middle school classrooms and libraries. Paper presented at NRC/LRA 2010,


Fort Worth, TX. Retrieved from http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/schol ar? q=cache:qRU6dHgtBNgJ:scholar.google.com / +free+voluntary+reading&hl=en&as_sdt=0,4 7&as_vis=1 Garan, E.M. & DeVoogd, G. (2008). The benefits of sustained silent reading: Scientific research and common sense converge. The Reading Teacher, 62(4), 336-344. Gardiner, S. (2007). Librarians provide strongest support for sustained silent reading. Library Media Connection, 25(5), 16-18. Gordon C. (2010). Meeting readers where they are. School Library Journal, 56(11),32-37. Available from: Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), Ipswich, MA. Accessed August 28, 2012. Kim. J.S. (2006). Effects of a voluntary summer reading intervention on reading achievement: Results from a randomized field trial. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 28(4), 335-355.

Krashen, S. (2006, Sept. 01). Free reading. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA63 67048.html Krashen, Stephen. (2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. Retrieved from http://teachers.saschina.org/jnordmeyer/fil es/2011/06/The-Power-of-Reading.pdf Marca, S. L. (2004). Free voluntary reading and the role of the teacher librarian. International Association of School Librarianship.Selected Papers from the ...Annual Conference, , 171-183. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/23604 7293?accountid=14214 Parr, J. M., & Maguiness, C. (2005). Removing the silent from SSR: Voluntary reading as social practice. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(2), 98-107. Siah, P. & Kwok, W. (2010). The value of reading and the effectiveness of sustained silent reading. The Clearing House, 83(5), 168-174.

Free Voluntary Reading  

Erin Bennett and Jake Hare

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