Sustained Silent Reading with Young Learners: an experiment

I’m in the middle of the iTDi Advanced course: THE path to Academic English with Stephen Krashen (http://itdi.pro/stephenkrashen.php)

What does this have to do with doing self-selected reading in class with my class of 8-10 year olds? You need to have read some of Krashen’s papers or be familiar with his ideas to understand.

This is not the post to talk about what I have learned from Dr. Krashen’s papers or his theories but needless to say they have had an instant effect on my classroom practice. Hence this experiment.

I will add just a little theory to support my reasons.

Krashen states that those students who engage in sustained silent reading (SSR) and self selected pleasure reading tend to develop better abilities in reading, writing grammar, vocabulary. SSR is meant to be for students to gain a taste for reading so they will pursue it in their own time. To introduce and encourage the reading habit because those who read are more intelligent.

So SSR should be pleasurable because “If an activity is good for language and literacy development then the activity is pleasurable.” (Krashen 2007).

It struck me that if I could introduce a pleasurable reading experience that would act as a catalyst in encouraging the reading habit amongst my young learners then I should go for it.

So I took a load of graded readers into class this morning. I had used graded readers before with other classes, but always set up in a “lesson” format: a lead in, some background, I read aloud the first chapter, they continued alone and then answered some questions. I set the graded reader to read for homework with some more questions. Results were mixed, more students didn’t feel interested enough to follow it up. Perhaps the problem is I didn’t give them a choice. I made them accountable with questions and discussions. This things can put learners off reading and turn what the teacher wants to be pleasurable into just another form of testing.

What happened

So this time I simply took a selection of 4-6 different graded readers into class. Level 1 and 2 readers.

As soon as my students saw them they were poking around, engaged and buzzed.

We sat on the floor in a circle and I told them to take whatever they wanted. If they liked it they can read it, if not they can change it for another. I tried to make it as stress free and easy going as possible. I told them we would be reading for about 10-20 minutes and I wouldn’t be asking them any questions about their books or testing them. I said: Just enjoy these books, they are yours to explore.

In the beginning, I counted 5 out of 12 reading from page one of their chosen book.

The rest were just flicking and looking at pictures and their captions or reading from a random page or picking up and putting down books. There was an air of excitement and distraction to begin with but after 6 minutes EVERYONE was sat reading.

Some had moved off the floor to their chairs.

The only consistently distracted student was Anna. She couldn’t find a book she liked or didn’t appreciate having to start from the beginning. I’m not sure of her reasons.

Paul, who later was the only student to give the activity a resounding 0/10 and who I suspect has some form of dislexia as well as difficulty concentrating on tasks was sat reading quietly. In his own inimitible way, it amused him to give a zero score in the task evaluation stage.

I called time after 15 minutes, interrupting a room full of quietly reading students. This was met some complaints that they wanted to continue. Some had stuck with one book throughout, others had dipped in and out of multiple ones. Most had settled on one after a while. I didn’t read during the time, I sat on the floor then moved to chair and observed.

I promised them we would be doing the activity again in the next class or the one after.

I did a quick raise-your-hand survey about. It was unanimous. All liked the activity (except Paul, who giggled), all wanted repeat it. All liked the books on offer.

I got them to score the activity out of 10 on the board:

You can see Paul’s 0 looks like a 9 after another student tried to fudge the results!

What have I learned?

It was a pleasurable experience for quite possibly everyone. I would like to know if the students told their parents about it, if so, what they told them and if their parents will be taking them to a bookstore soon. I will be doing it again. Frequently I think.

Why it worked:

Choice of books.

Freedom.

No “lesson” involved.

Seeing others enjoying reading made reluctant readers want to try.

What I will change next time:

Maybe I will read a book with them.

I will have more copies of certain books, as there was a complaint from one boy who wanted a book but there weren’t enough copies.

Maybe I will ask them to react in some way to the things they read. Very simple oral TPR question and answer perhaps. Or an opinion sentence starter.

I am now wondering about graded readers in general and their role in the classroom. After a couple of luke warm experiences using them in a lesson format, compared to the frankly heartening experience today with free SSR using graded readers, I am considering which is more beneficial. Does the “study” experience provide more student language learning? Quite possibly, for the ones who are engaged. For the ones that aren’t, it’ just another boring lesson they had to study so probably didn’t take much away from. Today they read because they wanted to and consequently maybe absorbed more language.

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