The SSR Handbook (book review)

ssrAfter a summer of reading about reading, my favorite book that I reach for to help me analyze my own SSR program is Janice L. Pilgreen´s The SSR Handbook. It is a quick read that describes eight characteristics of highly successful SSR programs. Much of it feels obvious when reading, but in practice I have found it invaluable to help me assess what is really happening in my own classroom. Part of the reason I think this is so valuable is that SSR is designed to be a long-term project. I cannot give an assessment two weeks in a row to see if my teaching of SSR is having the desired impact; instead I have to follow the research and place a certain amount of trust in the conclusions of experts who have studied SSR.

One of the characteristics of a successful program is student access to a wide variety of appealing books. This tortures me. There are students who have developed such a negative reaction to any reading that it feels financially impossible for me to connect them with the homerun book that will change their life. Proponents of the compelling is enough approach (Krashen) argue that you do not need many books, just the right ones. Easier said than done!

One thing I have noticed, however, is that a bigger library is not a better library. There is something awesome about the first time a kid walks into my classroom, surveys all of the books on the walls, and says with a tinge of excitement: Are those for us? Nonetheless once they get hip deep into the class library they only have so much patience. It is important to be able to identify which books are never being read so that I can exclude them from the library.

Frequent book talks are also essential to make browsing the library more manageable to readers who have not yet developed the habit of glancing through books, reading an odd paragraph, and evaluating them. Even if I were to eventually build the perfect class library, I would still have to actively promote it to my students. Dr. Pilgreen recognizes book talks and other supporting activities as another of the key characteristics of a successful program.

I recommend this book if you are moving towards adding an SSR component to your language class.

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