Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is a classroom reading activity carried out on a regular basis, whereby students are given a fixed period of time every day for to read to themselves material either for pleasure or for information. It is a strategy aimed at increasing reading interest and enjoyment and has gained popularity in many elementary and secondary classrooms in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand.
SSR was first proposed by Lyman Hunt at the University of Vermont in the 1960s and by the 1970s it had been implemented in the public schools system. It is known by many different names such as High Intensity Practice (HIP), Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading (POWER), Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), but perhaps the most commonly used name is Sustained Silent Reading (SSR).
It has been argued that SSR has three important characteristics, which are supposed to mediate the relationship between reading attitude/reading comprehension and the activity itself. These include self-selection, role modeling, and non-accountability. Self-selection is related to the theory of self-determination and intrinsic motivation which postulates that children are motivated when they have choice and ownership in what they read. Therefore, giving them the opportunity to select reading materials promotes their literacy development and involvement in reading. Several studies have demonstrated that individual preference of topics has a facilitative effect on cognitive and affective functioning. A key element to successful SSR is to provide materials on a wide range of topics and readability, in order to ensure that each student will find a book that will be of interest to him/her.
Role modeling is related to the theory that human behavior is learned in part by observation and imitation (Bandura, 1986). According to several researchers in the field of literacy education, role modeling is a crucial factor for acquisition and development of reading attitude. For example, Gambrell (1981) stated that "students need to see that we value reading and that reading is important in our lives." Teachers can model the thought processes that accompany reading by talking about how the main character changes through the course of the book, about the author's use of language, and about surprises and disappointments they encounter as they read.
Wheldall and Entwhistle (1988) conducted a study to determine whether teacher role modeling is an important factor in children's reading behavior development. The results revealed a 32 percent increase in on-task-reading behavior from the initial baseline to second intervention when a teacher modeled reading during SSR sessions. These results clearly demonstrate that a teacher role modeling as non-verbal feedback plays a crucial role in fostering children's reading attitude.
The third important characteristics of SSR is non-accountability, which means that SSR does not involve earning credits or grades but focuses on the pleasure of reading. Therefore, children may not be required to keep records, prepare book reports or daily reading journals, or write summaries during SSR sessions. Instead of imposing accountability, teachers are encouraged to exert all possible efforts to share their reading experience with children.
On the whole, scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of SSR on reading attitude is equivocal. For example, a few studies have indicated that SSR promotes positive attitudes toward reading (Aranha, 1985; Dully, 1989; Wilmot, 1975). In contrast, other research results question whether SSR has a positive influence on attitude towards reading (Collins, 1980; Dwyer & Reed, 1989; Langford & Allen, 1983; Manning & Manning, 1984; Summers & McClelland, 1982).
One of the most recent attacks against SSR has come from the National Reading Panel (NRP) Report on Fluency (2001), which stated that research "has not yet confirmed whether independent silent reading with minimal guidance or feedback improves reading achievement and fluency." In response, several advocates of SSR, including NRP members spoke out against this argument.
Stephen Krashen has defended SSR most vocally stating that the NRP simply missed substantial evidence of the success and utility of SSR (2005). In his own research, Krashen determined that 93 percent of the SSR students did as well as or even better than students having no SSR time. In accord with Krashens defense of voluntary reading versus direct instruction in The Power of Reading (2004), Ivey and Fisher state in their article Learning from What Doesn't Work (2005), that "students need instruction, but mostly they need opportunities to negotiate real texts for real purposes."