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Stephen Krashen writes in The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research that an important tool for curing “this literacy crisis” is
reading. Specifically, I am recommending a certain kind of reading — free voluntary reading. Free voluntary reading means reading because you want to. For school-age children, FVR means no book report, no questions at the end of this chapter, and no looking up every vocabulary word. FVR means putting down a book you don’t like and choosing another one instead. It is the kind of reading highly literate people do obsessively all the time.
Over the past few years, this method has been added at many school systems in an attempt to foster vocabulary building, fluency, literacy, spelling, writing skills and overall love of reading. Farmington High School in Minnesota has stolen three minutes from six school periods every day for the last three years to provide 18 minutes every morning for quiet reading with no strings attached. The teacher reads quietly as well – no grading papers or doing paper work.
Research supports this effort. Krashen’s book outlines a broad spectrum of studies and enumerates the benefits: comprehension improves, vocabulary increases, spelling and writing skills improve. Two studies reported higher scores on standardized tests when FVR was used.
Over the years the names for this practice have multiplied: in addition to FVR we have called it Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), Uninterruped Sustained Silent Reading (USSR), and Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading (POWER), to mention a few. But the method is consistent: an extended period of time to read, no interruptions, conducive environment, free choice of books, non-accountability, teacher modeling.
Janice Pilgreen, author of The SSR Handbook: How to Organize and Manage a Sustained Silent Reading Program, writes that all adult staff must buy into the concept of free reading for the program to work. At a minimum, the silent reading periods should occur at least twice a week, for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, in order for reading to become a habit and not just an academic exercise.
Sustained silent reading periods practiced regularly at home would be invaluable, although tricky to implement given extracurricular activities, homework, and other necessary distractions. But if you can weave this activity into the fabric of your days, research indicates that the payoff would be good — possibly even excellent. And it can give your child a love of reading that will nourish her or him for the rest of their lives.
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