by Jason Loh
We need to read for all kinds of reasons, yet there seems to be a declining interest in the written word. How can students be encouraged to become lifelong readers? And what can be done in schools to make the whole reading experience more enjoyable?
In a fast-paced society like Singapore, the ability to read and to comprehend what you read can and does make a huge difference to a person’s academic performance, career potential, and even personal success (Kearsley, 2002; Lo Bianco & Freebody, 1997).
Teachers play a critical role not only in helping students become independent and proficient readers, but also in deriving the full value of reading.
Reading Requires Practice
Children are taught to read and learn so that they can eventually read to learn. Reading is a tool that allows one to acquire knowledge and understanding.
As in so many activities, such as walking, cooking, or piloting an aeroplane, one gets better at it by frequently repeating the activity. The principle is universal. Reading, like these activities, also needs to be practised.
Many primary schools in Singapore have implemented an extensive reading programme known as Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading (USSR). During USSR, students and teachers usually sit in the school hall or assembly area and read for 20-30 minutes daily.
Despite schools’ efforts, there are many students who are not “turned onto reading” (Saxby, 1997, p. 215) or “hooked on books” (Pilgreen, 2000, p. 12). As they do not read well, they refrain from taking part in any reading activities, especially during reading periods. This can become a vicious cycle, and their reading ability will make no progress as there is no practice involved.
Making Reading a Regular Practice
What are some of the factors that contribute to students’ reading behaviour?
In order for our children to get better at reading, they must have time to read. Time to do nothing else but enjoy a good book. Time that is sacrosanct – that will not be “stolen” for other tasks such as completing their homework.
Besides time, the other essential condition is a conducive environment. However, during USSR, students and teachers usually sit in the school assembly area. As all the students and teachers are gathered in one confined area, the warmth from the close proximity of the physical bodies can reach an uncomfortable level, which may affect the whole reading experience.
Children should be provided with an environment that permits them to enjoy the activity of reading, to have solitude and to savour the beauty of the written word without having to defend that decision to read.
Teachers have been known to mark or chat with each other during USSR instead of read. This creates a perception among the students that reading as an activity is not at all that important. In a recent study (Loh, 2009), the students pointed out that since teachers did not read during the extensive reading period, it implied that reading is not important.
Other studies (Methe & Hintze, 2003; Pluck, Ghafari, Glynn, & McNaughton, 1984; Wheldall & Entwhistle, 1988; Widdowson, Dixon, & Moore, 1996) have shown that students’ on-task reading behaviour increases when the teachers also participate in this reading activity. Clearly, it is important to provide students with exemplary models of silent reading behaviour.
Drop Everything and Read
Instead of the traditional USSR, schools might like to think about promoting another variant of extensive reading through DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time.
A regular time
Time needs to be provided for this sustained silent reading activity. Reading daily for 10-15 minutes is more beneficial for the students than a 50-75 minutes reading period held once a week. Because of the regularity of the reading activity, students would be less likely to forget their books and more likely to form a reading habit.
A conducive environment
The venue for DEAR time is the classroom, rather than the school assembly area. In a classroom, the number of students within a confined area is dramatically reduced and there is better air circulation, thus ensuring a uniform and comfortable classroom temperature.
With fewer distractions in a classroom, there is also greater motivation to read. Moreover, as many primary school classrooms have class libraries, the children have access to a selection of books if they wish to read a different book during DEAR time.
A good role model
Teachers can demonstrate the importance of reading by modelling the reading behaviour during DEAR time. Being the only adult in the classroom, the teacher is more accountable to the students. It is important for students to see that the teacher also takes time to read. This will indicate to them that reading is not a disciplinary or classroom management tool but a habit that is important enough that even the teacher engages in it.
Even though these factors may not completely solve the aliteracy malaise that is evident in many schools, they go a long way in ensuring that important conditions are in place for an effective and sustained reading programme to take root (Pilgreen, 2000). In fact, they can be put in place by any teacher easily and almost immediately.
Since these conditions are so easy to put in place, why not give it a try? Your students will thank you for it in years to come!
Kearsley, I. (2002). Build on the rock: Teacher feedback and reading competence. The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 25(1), 8-24.
Krashen, S. (2004). The power of reading (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Lo Bianco, J., & Freebody, P. (1997). Australian literacies: Informing national policy on literacy education. Melbourne: Language Australia.
Loh, J. (2009). Teacher modeling: Its impact on an extensive reading program. Reading in a Foreign Language, 21(2), 93-118.
Methe, S. A., & Hintze, J. M. (2003). Evaluating teacher modelling as a strategy to increase student reading behavior. School Psychology Review, 32(4), 617-624.
Pilgreen, J. L. (2000). The SSR handbook: How to organize and manage a sustained silent reading programme. Boynton/Cook: Heinemann.
Pluck, M. L., Ghafari, E., Glynn, T., & McNaughton, S. (1984). Teacher and parent modeling of recreational reading. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 19(2), 114-123.
Saxby, M. (1997). Books in the life of a child: Bridges to literature and learning. South Melbourne: Macmillan Education Australia.
Wheldall, K., & Entwistle, J. (1988). Back in the USSR: The effect of teacher modeling of silent reading on pupils’ reading behaviour in the primary school classroom. Educational Psychology, 8, 51-66.
Widdowson, D., Dixon, R., & Moore, D. (1996). The effects of teacher modeling of silent reading on students’ engagement during sustained silent reading. Educational Psychology, 16(2), 171-180.