Showing posts with label Sustained Silent Reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sustained Silent Reading. Show all posts

Monday, October 10, 2016

An Argument about Independent Reading Time During the School Day

Last week I answered a teacher’s question about free reading time during the school day and its relationship to reading motivation (e.g., making kids like reading). I pointed out that such reading time has a rather weak relationship with learning (various kinds of instruction exert about an 800% greater influence on learning than on having kids reading on their own during the school day) and that the connection with motivation appears to be even more tenuous. I then compared the DEAR/SSR practice unfavorably with theories and research on what motivates human beings.
Not surprisingly that generated much comment. Although the following was not sent to me, it was so addressed and posted at the blog site of Gwen Flaskamp, a practicing teacher. She is evidently passionate about this practice, and I think her posting deserves a response. I have quoted liberally from her posting below in italics—and have interspersed my responses throughout. To read her complete statement in its entirety, please follow this link Blog Post on Independent Reading Time

Flaskamp blog:

“My Letter to Tim Shanahan: In Defense of Independent Reading

“Recently, I read the latest blog post by Tim Shanahan where he provides his strong opinions how giving students time to independently read in class is wasteful. Although I usually value his opinions and have referenced him several times on my blog, I had a strong, visceral response to his latest piece…. I felt compelled to stand up for the inclusion of independent reading time during the school day. Thus, I crafted this letter. I'm hoping he reads it.  

“But, more importantly, I'm hoping that teachers who wish to instill lifelong reading habits in their students do not stop with Mr. Shanahan's advice and consider my perspective and the perspective of others on this important topic.

“Dear Mr. Shanahan,

“I think you sound like an impolite blogger, and perhaps a misinformed one. You've neglected to consider the following important points in your discussion of the value of independent reading.

“You claim that time spent independent reading is wasted due to the fact that "even when they have been done well, the "learning payoffs" have been small. By "learning payoffs," I am assuming that you mean students' progress on standardized exams (typically the way reading growth is measured in research studies) does not increase with the inclusion of independent reading time in schools. 

“Some major problems exist with this claim.

“Increased reading does lead to increased achievement.

Research does support the idea that students who typically achieve higher on reading tests are also those who read more voraciously. Those who score at the lower end usually read less.”

Shanahan response:

Dear Ms. Flaskamp.,
Thanks for writing. There are several problems with your claims up to this point.
That good readers read more than poor readers is true, but has no bearing on my response to that teacher’s question. Correlation doesn’t prove causation. That good readers read more does not mean that it was reading more that made them good readers. Maybe good readers choose to read more because they can do it well. You are making a good argument for teaching everyone to read well, not for sending kids off to read on their own during the school day.
You are citing very selectively here. You refer to the correlational studies that can’t answer the question, while ignoring the experimental ones that have directly tested your theory. Studies in which DEAR time is provided to some kids but not to others have not found much payoff—even when the non-readers were doing no more than random worksheets!
You seem to be claiming that since reading on one’s own leads to improved achievement--then any and all approaches to encouraging reading must be effective. Following that logic, then telling kids to read on their own, buying books for them, rewarding them with pizzas, or employing electric cattle prods… all must work, too. Remember I wasn’t saying kids shouldn’t read, only that requiring “independent reading” during the school day has not been effective. Only one study bothered to check its impact on amount of reading, and it found that middle school kids read less as a result of the practice—since it reduced the amount of reading they did on their own.
As a parent and grandparent, I’d rather that teachers reacted intellectually rather than “viscerally” to questions about instructional practices. Similarly, I hope my physician will be visceral about my health and well-being, but not about his pills and scalpels.

Flaskamp blog:

“Since research also shows that the amount of time middle school students typically spend reading outside of class declines as they grow older, finding time for students to practice reading independently in schools is crucial.  If we do not attempt to foster a love of reading inside the classroom, how will we help students who have not yet discovered the joy of reading on their own increase their reading minutes?”   

Shanahan response:

Indeed, that is a great question. Given that we know this method hasn’t improved achievement or made kids like reading, then why cling so tightly to it? Or, given that DEAR time has been so ubiquitous in elementary classrooms for the past generation, how is it possible that middle school students are reading so little? If this practice so powerfully fosters “a love of reading” among kids that lasts a lifetime, then why aren’t years of it lasting even until kids are 12?

 Flaskamp blog:
“I'm sure you are aware that much research exists linking student engagement (i.e. motivation) to increases in learning. Thus, spending time on increasing student motivation should, in fact, lead to increases in achievement.”

Shanahan response: 

That makes sense to me, and yet studies show that this particular approach accomplishes neither. That might mean that what you are so certain must be motivational for all kids, maybe isn’t.      


Flaskamp blog:  

“You advise teachers that " If you don’t want kids to love reading, then sacrifice their instructional time to focus on motivation rather than learning." This argument, although cleverly disguised, is a type we would use with students when poking holes in an argument and is a type of logical fallacy. Your argument seems to suggest that teachers can focus either on motivation or on learning. Can we not focus on both?...” 

 Shanahan response: 

Your analysis of my argument is flawed. We are in agreement that we can focus on motivation and learning simultaneously. Where we disagree is whether you can do that with a procedure that has failed to successfully foster either motivation or learning.


Flaskamp blog: 

“Have we forgotten that we are teaching students and not robots?”

Shanahan response:  

Yikes. There are many statements here evidently aimed at conveying the idea that I’m rude, that I don’t care about kids, and that I pay attention to numbers rather than stories. If that is a model of what is now being taught students about productive argument, then it might be better that kids go read during such lessons. (Sometimes disagreements arise from different analyses or  different evidence—not necessarily because the one you are arguing with is bad.)

Richardson TX Powerpoint on Writing October 17, 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Does Independent Reading Time During the School Day Create Lifelong Readers

Teacher question:
You have attacked DEAR time [Drop Everything and Read] because you say it does little to raise reading achievement. But what about having kids read on their own as a way to motivate them to be readers? As a teacher I want my kids to be lifelong readers so I provide 20 minutes of daily independent reading time. What do you think?

Shanahan response: 
     I think you sound like a nice teacher, but perhaps an ineffective one.

     As you remind me, the effects of DEAR, SSR, SQUIRT or any of the other “independent reading time” schemes are tiny when it comes to reading achievement. Many of those studies have not been particularly well done, but even when they have been the learning payoffs have been rather small.

     Surprising to me is that it has even been true with that kind of summer reading program—when the reading clearly isn’t replacing other academic procedures. James Kim has studied that kind of thing a lot and while he concludes that some very small learning benefits can be derived from such programs, he has had a lot of difficulty obtaining even that result from study to study.

     Unfortunately, the motivational impact of such procedures has been studied less—and with even less payoff. In my experience, the better readers enjoy the free reading time—so they continue to like reading even within the DEAR time framework—but the other kids don't enjoy it much since they don’t read very well. Yikes!

     I definitely understand the logic that you are working with—I shared it when I was a classroom teacher. The idea that kids practicing independent reading would make them want to be independent readers in the future is compelling. But when you think deeply about the practice, its problems become more evident.
     How do kids interpret our approach? What determines whether reading is independent—as opposed to just being another classroom assignment?

1. Whether the reading is going to be done or not.
     If the teacher makes me read for the next half hour, that doesn’t seem very “independent.” She might let me choose the text I read, but what if I’d rather not read at all or would prefer reading during math? Now that would be independent. Required reading time—even when it does not include teaching or other teacher involvement—is not inherently motivational. Making somebody do something may accomplish compliance, but it won’t make him/her like it. (As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him take a bath.)

2. Whether the reader picks the text.
     This one is a bit easier. In fact, many experts talk about “self selected” reading rather than independent reading, since that is usually the only real choice students are allowed in these routines. Lots of times the unmotivated kids still can’t find anything they want to read, and, of course, there are complications. Many teachers/schools constrain these “free choices,” like only allowing students to read books at particular levels (a la Accelerated Reader). If I can choose only books with blue dots, then I’m not really choosing; and if I’m not particularly interested in reading about any topic, then choice is not a motivator. (Someone I know is fascinated with tennis. I once bought him a book about tennis sure he’d love it. Instead he was a real pill: “I love playing tennis, not reading about it.” There is an important motivational lesson there.)   

3. How accountable is the reading? Do I have to answer the teachers’ questions? Or write a summary to be evaluated? Or read a segment aloud so the teacher can check on my fluency? Or discuss this with the book club group and not look like an idiot?

     As it became obvious and research accumulated showing the lack of learning from unaccountable reading (e.g., DEAR, SSR), teachers started adopting procedures for conferencing with kids about their books. In other words, we try to make independent reading more like reading lessons—we’ll set the level of the text and you have to prove you read the material and understood it; not exactly how free choice activity works. My point isn’t that this kind of accountability is bad—I suspect it makes “independent reading” more like instructional reading in its payoff, but let’s face it, it is no longer the independent motivational choice that we started with.

     Given all of that, the initial logic doesn’t seem as smart as it did on first blush. What motivates someone? I’ve read a lot of that literature and being required to do something is rarely a powerful stimulator of lifelong desire. But neither is being sent off on one’s own to do something on their own. Nor is doing something that doesn’t give us any sense of accomplishment or fulfillment. If you are a low reader or a beginning reader, how would you get success out of such activity?

     If you want kids to love reading, set up opportunities for kids to work together and with you around books. If you want them to be lifelong readers, work with them to encourage them to build reading into their daily life when away from school. If you want them to care about books, give them a chance to take on books that might be too hard for them. Give them ways to gain social rewards for using the knowledge that they gain from such reading.

     If you don’t want kids to love reading, then sacrifice their instructional time to focus on motivation rather than learning. Or, use reading to isolate kids. Or, treat instructional methodology (asking kids questions in individual conferences instead of in group or class) as a motivator.

     Sadly, research doesn’t provide us with methods proven to increase the likelihood kids will become lifelong readers. But it does give us insights into what does motivate people. SSR and DEAR do not match well with those insights.

     I appreciate how much you evidently care for your students. I hope you care so much that you’ll be willing to alter your methods to actually meet your very appropriate goals for them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Sustained Silent Reading

          Here is one of my most controversial columns as President of the International Reading Association. It upset a lot of people, but it is important that everyone understands that encouraging kids to read effectively isn't as easy as first thought.

Does he really think kids shouldn’t read?
          I’m a new president. And some might wonder about my ability to represent IRA. So, let me begin this first column of my presidency with an appraisal of the IRA mission.

          IRA has three purposes: (1) to improve the quality of reading instruction, (2) to encourage reading and an interest in reading, and (3) to promote reading proficiency. My career has focused on purposes 1 and 3, so no should be concerned in those areas.

          But many IRA members emphasize encouraging a love of reading. They care about literacy levels, but they care even more about creating a culture of literacy.

          What’s the problem? To many, I’m the guy who says it doesn’t matter if kids read! (Who would make an idiot like that president of IRA?)

          I’ve never said it doesn’t matter if kids read. While being “misquoted” is an easy out, I don’t want to get off the hook that easily, as I’ve said enough things like that. For instance, I’ve said research doesn’t show that encouraging reading improves reading, and that sustained silent reading (SSR) is probably not such a good idea.

          If love of reading is why you joined IRA, what might you expect from my presidency?
                · Bans against “Children’s Choices?”
                · Increased IRA emphasis on watching television?
                · Lots of frowning?

          No one need fear these possibilities. I love reading, and I, too, want to live in a society in which readers and print are free to associate and in which they associate frequently.
I first learned of SSR when I was a new teacher. It sounded great. Stock your room with books and magazines, and provide time when kids can read without being bothered by teaching. I tracked down carpet for the library corner, and lots of books. I don’t think my kids ever missed a day of SSR.

          So what went wrong? I read the research. What got me wondering was that the studies often didn’t find a benefit, but claimed one any way. Researchers would divide kids between SSR and “normal instruction,” find that the groups learned equally well, and would then conclude that since reading is as effective as teaching, SSR must be a good idea.

          But what is “normal instruction”? Often, it turned out that the kids were assigned random worksheets. What a terrible definition of teaching! Assigning random worksheets is dopey and that it did as well as reading made me wonder.

         The issue isn’t whether it is good to practice. It is whether we can get kids to read more—and to read enough to improve their reading ability.

          I was on the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) and we looked into this. There were few published studies on encouraging reading, and even fewer rigorously implemented ones, or that had positive results. Only one study even bothered to find out how much the kids were reading—and it found SSR led to less reading (Summers & McClelland, 1982). Yikes! The panel concluded judiciously that we needed more evidence. We simply don’t know how to get kids to read more (Kamil, 2006; Yoon & Won, 2001).

          There is research on motivation, but those studies don’t tell how to motivate kids. Motivating kids to read is more complicated than teaching them to read. Lots of instructional approaches improve achievement, but what about motivation? What stimulates one person may not work for another. Providing an on-your-own reading time may be a boon for one kid and a bust for another (“Boring!”). It is even more complicated than that, as what excites us at one moment might not work later. I love reading about baseball, but I think I’ll skip the new expose on Barry Bonds.

          That we hope to expand the literacy franchise means we are dedicated to educational opportunity for all. Such efforts are a service to our society—in the same way the work of nurses, businessmen, plumbers, and accountants are a service. That we are committed to literacy as a source of pleasure serves society in less obvious ways, as it is more about the kind of society we hope to create.

          One goal is a public responsibility, while the other is a personal aspiration. That is a critical distinction. It means the larger community expects, or even requires, us to teach well, but the stimulating desire part is our game, not theirs.

          No teacher should be deflected from meeting the responsibility to teach. To teach reading well, we must jealously safeguard instructional time (since it belongs to the kids and the community) and follow the research carefully. To encourage reading, we have to invest ourselves as individuals, and follow our hearts.

          Ultimately, the difference comes down to freedom of choice. No one has the right to refuse to become literate: “Other people can read for me, thank you very much. I just don’t want that kind of responsibility.” The implications would be too grave to allow a youngster to opt out. But choices about what to love must belong to the individual.

          Teachers are institutional beings…they work for schools, governments, and societies. Teachers must carry out their responsibilities to the best of their abilities. But what about personal goals like encouraging reading? There are dangers—to an individual and to a democracy—when public institutions and public instruments try to dictate personal taste and individual choice. Institutionalizing efforts to encourage reading may even be self defeating—as students may resist to protect their individual autonomy.

          As president, I will continue to work on public initiatives to improve reading instruction and achievement. As for encouraging reading, my role will be to cheer on all who have made it their personal quest to invite kids to a life of reading—a personal invitation I hope they can extend successfully to their students.

Kamil, M. (2006, April). A quasi-experimental test of recreation reading: Data from a two-year study.  Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA. 
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 
Summers, E.G., and McClelland, J.V. (1982). A field-based evaluation of sustained silent reading (SSR) in intermediate grades. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 28, 100–112.

Yoon, J., and Won, J. (2001, December). Three decades of sustained silent reading: A meta-analysis of its’ effects on reading attitude and reading comprehension. Paper presented at the National Reading Conference, San Antonio, TX.