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The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen (Full Transcript)

Now Fader was clever enough not to just rely on test scores. He looked at the boys’ behavior in their daily lives. For example, he looked at their behavior during basketball games when they watched their school team play against other schools. During halftime, timeouts, free throws, some of the boys were looking at their books which they had in their back pockets. We’ve known this since 1965.

I have a couple of studies I want to share with you that are examples of what we call SSR. SSR means Sustained Silent Reading. Okay, some of us remember when it was called USSR. It’s true. Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading. Anyway, in Sustained Silent Reading you take a few minutes out of the school day and the students read. The students read whatever they want to read, 10-15 minutes or so. And the teacher gets to read whatever the teacher wants to read.

Now we’ve got to find out if this works. I have calculated if you do 10 minutes a day, your teacher — you do 10 minutes a day of sustained silent reading with one class, over a normal teaching career this amounts to about three months paid vacation. Do I have your attention? Teaching is tough enough.

Anyway in the typical study, one group does Sustained Silent Reading. And the other group does skill-building, the traditional program, and you know what that is, all the things that our state governments and federal governments, Pearson Publishers, McGraw-Hill Publishers wants you to do more of and as many of you know, to some extent, it’s the same people. Anyway, you then give them tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary and you see which group makes the greater gains.


The research in favor of Sustained Silent Reading on this stuff in my opinion is overwhelming. I will give you the bottom line. The worst thing that happens in these studies, worst result is no difference. They make the same gains.


Now think about this. Which is easier on the children: free reading or workbook exercises? You don’t know, let me try this again. Let me reverse it. Which is easier on the kids: workbooks and exercises or free reading? Free reading, thank you. Which is easier on the teacher? Free reading. So if there’s no difference in test scores, which is better? Free reading, of course.


I also find in looking at the studies, that the studies that show no difference are nearly always short term studies. Some as short as two months, 10 weeks. Now I’ve seen Sustained Silent Reading programs and I now know what some of you know. The first couple of weeks nobody is reading. They haven’t found a book yet. When you give the program a chance to run the readers are better. I found the cutoff to be about an academic year. You later run an academic year longer, the readers arc consistently better.

Well, I want to show you a couple of examples, then you’ll see on the handout what happened to me the day I discovered Excel. Two studies. In fact, I’m going to reproduce some of this on the board. I just pulled out these two because I find them — personally I find the most significant study. It was published in a journal called the Reading Research Quarterly.


Now those of you who know the reading journals know that the Reading Research Quarterly is the number one snob journal in reading. Most of the articles in this journal are long dense and nearly completely incomprehensible, which is why everyone thinks it must be the best journal in the field. The only people who can read these articles are monks who have meditated for years and can have these great powers of concentration. And that’s where it came out.


The author — which is great — the first author is Warwick Elley who is our hero and his colleague Francis Mangubhai, another really interesting guy I have worked with. Warwick Elley is a retired professor from New Zealand. It’s important I tell you this and he is well respected by everybody in the field. He has done his work for the field. Let me tell you he’s been the editor of this, the director of this, the president of this, he’s really put in a lot of time and effort. Everybody likes him. So he was one of the authors of this study.


The study took place — by the way, I’m deliberately presenting to you research from very different areas, so you can see the universality of these results. The study was done in the Fiji Islands, this isn’t EFL study. Children in the Fiji Islands begin English in kindergarten for 30 minutes a day. In Elley and Mangubhai study and I’m going to reproduce on the board which is already on the handout, the children were looked at by Elley and Mangubhai between grades 4 and 6 — I’m sorry grades 4 and 5. They looked – they divide the kids into three groups. One group got the audio lingual method, which in my opinion is a combination of everything that’s wrong in language teaching combined into one method, you know grammar drills test, or speak all this stuff.


Second group got Sustained Silent Reading. Here are the books boys and girls, enjoy. That was the only treatment. I have to emphasize the books were comprehensible. They’d had English since kindergarten.

Third group got a program called shared book experience which we know of here as big books. Children are read to from very large books. The teacher discusses the stories with them and they do free reading. I am now going to put on the board what’s already on your sheet and it’s the gains in reading comprehension on standardized tests after the first year.

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