Article #43
SSR: Andrea's Story
Cheryl M. Sigmon

There's a treat at the end of this article. If you don't read anything else, I hope you'll read Andrea's email at the end!

We talk a great deal about the purpose of Self-Selected Reading Block and how critical it is for our students. Regrettably, as I have visited schools and have talked to teachers and administrators, I often hear comments such as, "Well, we're so short of time today that we won't be able to do the SSR Block," (translation: SSR Block is less important than the other blocks.) or "Since we only have 90 minutes for language arts, we do 3 blocks every day and SSR Block twice a week instead of Social Studies." (translation: SSR Block is less important than the other blocks.) or "We have SSR Block during the last 20 minutes of the day to settle the kids before boarding buses." (translation: This school doesn't value SSR Block because they have relegated it to this less than quality time--kids leaving early, coats to put on, announcements on the intercom, etc.--nor do they understand the 4-Blocks kind of SSR Block since all components--teacher read-aloud, kids reading, teacher-student conferences, and sharing--can't possibly occur during this limited time).

Yes! SSR Block is the most misunderstood and least valued--by many schools and teachers--who are attempting implementation. There are several reasons to value it highly and to ensure that it remains a vital part of every school day in a 4-Blocks classroom. Let's review some of those reasons:

  1. I often think of this block as a "companion block" to the Guided Reading Block. Without this block, not all children will have the opportunity to read material at their own independent levels since we rotate between grade-level and easier material during Guided Reading Block. Kids must have this opportunity--kids who are high achieving and kids on the other end of the spectrum. They need to read at their own levels to develop fluency and to enjoy text.
  2. Choice is critical for the growth of many students during SSR and at other times during the school day. Some kids want freedom to make choices, but other kids need it. For far too long, our profession has been in the mode of assigning and doling--writing topics, spelling words, vocabulary words, homework questions, schedules, among endless other assignments. It's most interesting that many of us pause to quip, "Why are these kids so irresponsible? Why don't they take any initiative?" Could it be that they are partially conditioned by "the system" to be that way? They barely have a need to think in some classrooms. Our school day and our instruction should emanate from the needs and interests of our students. We should encourage them to be creative, to think, to be inquisitive, to challenge, and to make decisions and choices. Those are all lifelong skills, valuable for every child, valuable for every human being. Let's stop assigning and doling so much. The SSR Block is a time to give students choice. Let's remember that it's called Self-Selected for a reason!
  3. For students to get hooked on reading and to establish themselves in a habit of reading, they must read with some regularity. We cannot be assured that our students will do that outside of the classroom. If we establish the habit in our classrooms, however, there is a great possibility that it will transfer beyond our doorways.
  4. There are numerous opportunities during SSR Block for speaking and listening, language arts areas that are often under-stimulated and under-supported. Kids will learn to listen carefully to the read-aloud, to share books with each other, and to discuss reading with the teacher. We must get used to some "healthy noise" during this time as we encourage kids to interact
  5. Kids will begin to transfer their knowledge about books, authors and illustrators to their own writing.
  6. This block will provide much necessary background knowledge in a range of subjects. This knowledge will aid kids in the Guided Reading Block, especially those kids who have limited experiences.

These are only a few of the many benefits of SSR Block. As you can see--well worth the time spent daily!

Now, here's a real treat. Hope you'll enjoy reading this beautiful, powerful email from Andrea Smith at Indian Springs Elementary School, Columbus, Ohio.

Andrea writes,

"I can't believe it is already November! Time has been flying because this has been the very BEST year of my 14 years of teaching. After much time pouring over 4 Blocks information, working with peers, and finally getting our kids and then working through the model to make it the best for our kids, I must say I am the happiest I have ever been as a teacher. Rather than rave on and on about improved student behavior and amazing academic gains and positive parent responses, I will share this.

Last week one of my shy little girls who came to me with very little literacy experiences (who has made amazing gains too!) said to me, 'Mrs. Smith, I start thinking about you and our books the minute I wake up in the morning.' Now if that doesn't sum it all up for this model, then I don't know what could!

After reading last week's article about SSR and keeping kids reading, I thought I would share this idea with you. I had a little guy enroll in my room who struggled to understand the purpose of SSR. Books had not been a part of his home life and he'd had a terrible kindergarten experience (attended only 47 days). What I ended up doing was putting together special little bags of books just for him. I put them in backpacks, decorated bags, anything I could get my hands on. Then I would take a double conference time on Mondays with him, go through the pack with him, and "bless" all of the books. After a while, he really started wanting to read the wonderful Rigby, Sunshine, and Storybox books and made amazing progress. On Fridays, he would come in for 5 minutes of his recess and help me put his bag of books back into our classroom library's tubs and shelves.

Well, two weeks ago, he told me he'd rather give the special pack to someone else, and he would like to pick out books on his own. Last week he came in with a raggedy lunch bag hidden in his sweatshirt. At the end of SSR he came to me and said, 'I have a special bag for you. Here.' Inside was a collection of books he had made for me.

So...Thank you again for helping so many teachers make this model so workable, fun, and effective. Thanks for letting me share my story."

Thanks for sharing this touching story, Andrea. Now everyone, answer the question for yourself, "Is Self-Selected Reading Block important?"...

4 Blocks Goodies