Vol. 4. No. 4 R-14 December 2000
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The SSR Handbook: How to Organize and Manage a Sustained Silent Reading Program
Janice L. Pilgreen (with forward by Stephen Krashen) (2000)
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Boynton/Cook Publishers
Pp. xviii + 142
ISBN 0-86709-462-1
US $15.00

"If students are to become fully proficient readers, . . . they eventually need to break away from the scaffolding activities that support them in their roles as emergent readers and begin to read some materials independently" (p. 20). As an ESL/EFL reading teacher and researcher, this statement from Pilgreen struck a chord with me. I have read with interest the work in first language reading about creating sustained silent reading (SSR) programs. I've made attempts at developing a program with students I have taught. I have encouraged reading teachers to think about how they can get students in their classes reading larger amounts of material independently. Because my efforts have not been systematic, I have not been able to establish an effective SSR program. In her recent publication, Janice Pilgreen provides helpful guidelines for developing and managing an SSR program for second language readers.

The book consists of 6 chapters and 14 appendixes. Chapter 1 provides a rationale for an SSR program. SSR programs began 40 years ago and have been labeled with different names over the years: Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading (USSR), and Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading (POWER), to name a few. Pilgreen points out that one feature from the literature that distinguishes SSR programs from other similar programs over the years is that it does not require accountability from the readers. Learners read without the concern of having to write a book report or make a presentation. Pilgreen recounts how she surveyed 32 free reading studies to identify characteristics that lead to successful results. Appendix A includes the citations for these studies.

Chapter 2 outlines eight factors for SSR success that Pilgreen gleaned from her review of the literature. These factors are a) access, b) appeal, c) conducive environment, d) encouragement, e) staff training, f) non-accountability, g) follow-up activities, and h) distributed time to read. Pilgreen identifies how each of these factors needs to be present for the ultimate success of an SSR program with second language readers. Two of these factors which interested me included staff training (factor e) and distributed time to read (factor h). A successful SSR program requires more than just a teacher who sits and quietly models the reading process. A strong staff training component includes "motivating teachers to learn strategies for linking students with books, highlighting the importance of having all of the participating adults 'buy into' the concept of free reading" (p. 14). In order for an SSR program to be of value to the students the silent reading periods should be between 15 and 30 minutes at least two times a week. This allows reading to become a habit and not just an academic exercise.

Pilgreen integrated the eight factors into an actual study in order to determine whether a carefully designed SSR program would increase reading abilities of second language readers. Chapters 3 and 4 report the results of the pilot and full study. The experimental group consisted of 131 intermediate level students in grades 10-12, who received an SSR program consisting of all eight factors. The control group participated in an SSR program that combined four of the factors adequately, three factors somewhat, and one factor not at all. This group consisted of 117 students. Results showed that both groups of students increased in their reading abilities but the "stacked for success" SSR program participants scored higher on the test. The difference between the scores of the two groups was statistically significant, but only modestly so. Pilgreen reports that the "greatest gains were made in the area of increased positive attitude toward reading" (p. 41). [-1-]

"Recommendations for Realistic SSR Implementation" is the title of chapter 5. This is perhaps the most valuable chapter of the book. Pilgreen reviews the results of her study for each of the eight factors and makes clear, reasonable recommendations that teachers can follow to implement a successful SSR program. For the first factor, access, Pilgreen makes 10 recommendations for teachers to consider. Teachers can make books more accessible to students in their programs by considering these recommendations: a) classroom libraries, b) PTA support, c) community resources, d) book clubs, e) rotation of materials, f) neighborhood searches, g) book fairs, h) school libraries, i) community libraries, and j) other sources, including the Internet.

The book concludes with a listing of the most frequently asked questions related to each of the eight factors for successful SSR programs. Pilgreen has worked with the SSR program so closely and worked through so many issues that she can provide answers to many questions that ESL/EFL reading teachers will have regarding the implementation of the program. Because she speaks from experience, the answers to the questions are not just theoretical but responses that have been carefully tested. The chapter ends with a section that Pilgreen has entitled "Places to Go: Resources for SSR Programs." She gives names and addresses, including web information, of organizations and publishing companies. This is a valuable listing for any teacher working with an SSR program.

The appendixes provide sample questionnaires and interest surveys as well as detailed results of Pilgreen's research.

I highly recommend this text because of its strong theoretical grounding with clear, valuable pedagogical implications. Teachers in a variety of instructional contexts, Pre-K-12, adult education, or intensive English programs, would benefit from a careful examination of the eight factors identified by Pilgreen. The recommendations can be implemented and thus lead to students learning to do more independent reading.

Neil J. Anderson
Brigham Young University
<neil_anderson@byu.edu >

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