Free Voluntary Reading / Sustained Silent Reading has been a large part of school reading culture for decades. I still remember in K5 and 1st grade having the teacher walk around “sshhhhing” us if we talked while we were reading our little sight word books. But reading should be more than sitting quietly and being forced to read the same book that everyone else is reading. Reading should be fun and engaging. It should be inquisitive. It should be something that we want to do – not something that we have to do.
Free Voluntary Reading / Sustained Silent Reading (FVR or SSR) should – and can – embody all of those things. It should be a time when students get to be involved with something they love, or think is funny, or don’t get to spend time with. It should be a time for being comfy with a book. It should be low stress & low accountability. …but then how to do you get students to do it? And how do you keep them engaged?
1 – Students need something they want to read.
Getting students buy-in for FVR / SSR has been one of my pet projects for the past 3 – 4 years. I have made it my mission to never have a student come to me and say “there’s nothing for me to read” and be right. I have made it my mission to provide SOMETHING that every student can relate and wants to spend 8ish minutes 2 to 3 times a week reading. This has looked like a lot of things. It has looked like growing my classroom library by a ton. Like, whatever you’re thinking, triple it. (You can see ways I grew my library without spending out of pocket money here.) It has looked like auditing my library for levels of books, authors / own voice authors, topics / themes, and even types of books. If students don’t have something they want to read – they won’t read.
2 – Students need to know how to read
That may sound ridiculous. You may be thinking, “of course they need to know HOW to read. Why would I give a book to a student that can’t read?!” And you’re right. But I want you to think deeper. What if that student comes across a word they don’t know? Do they know what to do? What if they come across a ‘cognate’ but their L1 (English – probably) vocabulary / reading skills are also low? Do they know how to navigate it? What if you hand them a book that’s a two-in-one with present tense on one side and past tense on the other? These situations may sound ridiculous to you… but I’ve dealt with them all this year. We need to take the time to show students how to use the glossary. Teach them how to keep a sticky note with words they learn as they’re reading a book. Show them how to handle a book that’s “upside down” and which one to choose. Teaching them how to read removes a lot of barriers to success in reading for many students.
3 – Students may need some form of accountability or a grade (eventually…)
If you’ve been around here for a while or follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m a firm believer in only grading essential things. You know I don’t give out “free” grades or “grades to motivate.” I don’t ever tell students they need to do ANYTHING because it will be graded. I tell students to do things because it helps their acquisition of Spanish… and that occasionally those things may also receive a grade. Instead of grading FVR / SSR logs or summaries, Daily or Weekly I have students look for a new word they learned while reading their book and I choose students to share it out so we can learn together. Once or twice a year I have students complete a fun project for one book they read throughout the year. I might do an Instagram project from a character’s perspective, or a NetFlix summary project for a novel… and this year I think I’m going to try Character Trading Cards. I learned (and I’m still learning) about this from our Reading Intervention Teacher so I’m excited to try it out. You know your students best – but my advice is to try NOT grading FVR / SSR time if you don’t HAVE to and allow your students to read for fun.
4 – Model the behavior you want to see
Again – probably a no-brainer. Of course you want to model the behavior you want your students to implement. As adults we do this all the time. But are you REALLY modeling ALL of the behaviors you want your students to mimic? In my room, FVR / SSR is silent reading time. It’s silent. No one talks. Late students know that I’ll catch them up after. There is no “can I go to the bathroom” asking. It’s silent. And it’s reading time. I don’t take attendance. I don’t grade. I don’t get my slides ready to go. I read. I keep a list of books that I read throughout the year just like my students keep a list of books that they read throughout the year. These behaviors are contagious. Students love seeing my list of books I’ve read growing just like they want to see their list grow. Students love seeing me read the same book they’re reading… or they want to read the book they see me reading.
5 – More is more success.
Ending the way we started – setting yourself up for success at the beginning. Now – keep in mind that I do have a much larger classroom library than most. I’ve worked hard to source these materials and I’ve sourced them very purposefully. I have at least 3 copies of every book in my library. Why? Just because it’s fun to have lots of books? No. I have multiple copies so that students can read the same book as their friend. I have several students on IEPs that have accommodations to read out loud – they can do that in partners with multiple of each book. It allows me to mix up FVR / SSR with Lit Circles and groups of students intentionally reading the same book and discussing together. If you have the room and means – I highly recommend at least doubling up on copies so that you can implement some of these alternatives / accommodations in your classroom as well.
So in summary – to make managing FVR time better for everyone you need to 1 – have something for every student to read, 2 – teach your students how to read, 3 – include accountability, 4 – model the behavior you want to see, and 5 – double up for success. I’d love to know your #1 secret for managing FVR / SSR time in your world language classroom! Feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org