This SSR adaptation can increase students' wide reading, metacognitive awareness, and comprehension.
At first glance, it looks as if all is well during a Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) block. The class is still and quiet. Students sit calmly with open books, appearing to read intently. But take a closer look and you'll recognize a handful of disengaged readers doing anything but reading. These students move from bookshelf to desk, from desk to restroom, and then back to the bookshelf to switch books. Others sit staring at and flipping the pages of a book, maybe even reading words, but neglecting to make meaning of what they have read. These disengaged readers like to share their progress with the teacher frequently, stating, "I'm on chapter 2 now," then later, "I'm almost to chapter 3." Add to these students those who are reading books well below their ability level, or those stuck reading the same genre, book after book, and you begin to get a clearer picture of what is actually occurring during this silent reading time.
A cause for concern
Even a few disengaged readers in a classroom is a cause for concern, especially given the research that suggests a powerful link between time spent reading and reading achievement (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Guthrie, Wigfield, Metsala, & Cox, 1999). Furthermore, those who read by choice report reading more than other students (Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997), perform better on standardized reading tests (Gottfried, 1990), and make higher grades in school (Sweet, Guthrie, & Ng, 1998).
Our students as a whole seemed very far removed from the engaged, enthusiastic, and self-motivated students described by these researchers. We were certainly aware of McQuillan's (1998) observation that students needed access to appealing, interesting text and time to silently read books of their choice to attain high levels of literacy. And although research suggests middle class families such as those in our school have more access to books (Feitelson & Goldstein, 1986), we found that many of our students had outside interests competing with time to read, and a handful of them, when given the opportunity, didn't actively engage in reading at all.
Who we are
Our collaboration began in December of 2003. The two of us, Michelle, a university instructor, and Nicki, a third-grade teacher, wanted to examine the metacognitive awareness or ability of third graders to monitor and guide their thinking during the reading process and to determine whether direct instruction in metacognitive strategies would benefit all learners.
Furthermore, Nicki was worried about the growth of students in two groups she had identified from guided reading: her advanced readers, those who were performing well above grade level, and her "fake" readers, those who read the words in a text without attaching meaning, or literally pretended to read. We hoped that in our quest to find out more about third graders' metacognitive awareness, we would also discover how to engage our disengaged readers and purposefully accelerate our highest readers.
How we gathered data
We chose to...