Sustained Silent Reading…So Far

This year, one of my big goals was to implement SSR/FVR in my classroom. I have been slowly building my classroom library with trips to Ollie’s and padding out Amazon orders to get the free shipping with cheap books in Spanish (as I tell my students, I’d rather spend $8 on 2 extra books than $5 on shipping). I splurged my own money on a two-year subscription to National Geographic en español (worth it), and last summer I was lucky enough to receive a local grant for reading materials for my classroom. I was able to purchase something like 65 new books and a two year subscription to People en español (the first issue just arrived yesterday!) and class sets of a couple of novels with the funds. Before I placed any orders, I surveyed my students on what I should order, and then filled in the rest with ideas from Mike Peto, Allison Wienhold, lists of top YA reads, and, I admit, some of my own preferences.

We dove right in on week one with reading in Spanish 2 and 3. Spanish 2 reads for seven and a half minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Spanish 3 reads for twelve and a half (the plan is to bump up to ten and fifteen and start Spanish 1 at 5 minutes at a time after winter break). So far, I have been loving it. I’m an avid reader, so it’s no sweat at all for me to read along with the kids. Even when I have a zillion other things that need doing (which is always), I look forward to knowing that a few times a week, I can put it all aside for a few minutes and enjoy a good book. And since my library has expanded so much recently, I have plenty of fresh reading material to keep me engaged.

Beyond my personal enjoyment, I have other reasons to love it, too. Just this week while assessing conversations with my 2s, I was struck by how many of them throw common connector words around like it’s nothing. Let’s just say it was more than I expected. Spelling has improved – I admit, I’m thinking of a particular student here, whose writing I often couldn’t interpret last year because of atrocious spelling. Her spelling isn’t great now, but it’s much better, and I don’t think it’s because she spent all summer and fall studying. I can see other skills building, too. Things like figuring out what words mean from context, and even a little circumlocution. Before class today, I heard a student say to his buddies, “Mi ojos no tiene agua,” and I had to stop and give him props in front of everyone for getting his point across without knowing “how” to say it.

I don’t doubt that there are other factors that play into my students’ improvement, of course. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job at the actual teaching thing this year, and the new curriculum I worked out with a friend this summer is going over well for me and my students. But I definitely think reading is part of it. I’m really looking forward to seeing how things go with my 1s after they start reading.

But don’t just take my word for it. At the end of the first quarter, I surveyed my students to see what they thought. I admit, I stole the questions almost word for word from Andrea. Technically I sent this survey to all of my Spanish 2 and 3 students, but due to some confusion on a sick day I only ended up getting a few responses from my 3s (plus all my 2s), but I think the information is pretty valid anyway.

The first question asked students what they usually read during our SSR time.

I use red circle stickers to denote language-learner materials. We refer to them as red-dot books.

Children’s books are very popular, especially with my 2s, but the more time we spend reading, the more kids are starting to branch out. The number of children’s books is limited, and you can only read a picture book so many times. The comics are mainly old Looney Tunes comics that were left over from a previous teacher, but they are very popular. I suspect that magazines was not a popular answer because I don’t have that many magazines yet. There are never magazines left on the shelf while we read, so I suspect that number will change with time.


reading-2This was definitely an answer I was anxious to see. I do try to keep kids on track during reading, but I don’t want to cause a distraction to those who are reading, and since I read myself, there are probably things I don’t catch. Overall these responses really pleased me. Of the few “other” responses, several said that they read and look at pictures and one said that they read and write down new words that they want to remember.

I also asked students if they had any favorite materials from our classroom library. I was not surprised to learn that our copy of Guinness World Records 2016 was a hit – every Tuesday and Thursday I have a few kids in each period who race in as soon as the previous class ends to claim that book. Other favorites were Magic Tree House books (I have 5 or 6 different ones), La Guerra Sucia, National Geographic, and Spanish translations of English-language favorites (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Divergent, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hunger Games).

I asked whether the kids think that reading is a good use of class time. Answers here were very interesting. Many students said that they feel that it is because they can learn or figure out new words. A few said that they like the low-pressure situation and being able to read at their own pace and level. Some students said that they felt it was not a good use of time because they didn’t understand what they were reading or “some kids” just pretended to read or read the same thing over and over. I thought it was interesting that some students feel that others aren’t reading, while most kids answered that they generally do read. I followed up the next day with a little more specific feedback on how to choose books, and that if they don’t understand what they’re reading, then perhaps they’re pushing too hard. I also told them that I didn’t want them to push to read the hardest book they can, but that they should choose something that they pretty much understand.
My favorite answer from this question: “Yes, because I recognize most of the words so I usually know what is kinda happening so therefore I can figure out the other words.” I shared that one with my students because it so succinctly sums up the whole point of SSR!

Another question was whether or not students enjoy reading time. It was no surprise to me that more than a few said, “No, because I don’t like to read.” I was pleased, however, that most said they do enjoy it. Some said that they like it because it’s a relaxing time, because it’s a nice way to get started before moving on to “real stuff,” because they like to read, or because they choose interesting materials.

I also asked the kids what, if anything, they had learned. Most told me that they had learned words or vocab, but couldn’t pull out any specific examples (but that’s all right!). Some did have a few specific words. Some cited facts they had learned, such as information about Frida Kahlo and that people from Puerto Rican are US citizens. One student said that they feel that they have learned to “string sentences together” which I thought was a definite win.

I finished up asking for suggestions for future books, in the event that I get more funding.

My plan is to administer the same or a very similar survey again around the spring break mark and see how my students feel then. I’ll keep you updated!

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