Former Principal of the Year Joanne Yatvin offers an insightful perspective on one of the major academic debates in America in a recent article released by the Washington Post. Concerned with the lack of leisure reading among American youth, Yatvin fears classroom activities are not helping students build healthy reading habits. Yatvin suggests turning back time and adopting an old classroom tradition where children were given freedom and could read the books they wanted.
Unfortunately, the time of Sustained Silent Reading, SSR, was quickly ushered out by the new era of standardized testing. SSR was a popular classroom activity in the 1970’s where students took a break from their daily class schedules for 15 to 20 minutes and read a book of their choice. No longer are educators concerned with their student’s minds, but rather preoccupied with test scores and results.
Yatvin mentions that cities, such as New York City, are obsessed with “systematic programs”, in which programs like SSR were quickly dropped because they took far too much time from studying for state testing. Do standardized tests really prepare 5th graders for college and beyond, or is this a sugar-coated way to gain more funding for the state? Are they only worth the grade percentage they can produce at the end of the school year?
Perhaps it is time to address the reality that money has infiltrated our educational system. According to research from the Huffington Post, more and more states are contemplating performance-based funding, meaning the higher the test score, the more money the school receives. Unsurprisingly, the first thing to get the boot was SSR.
Like many other things, the intention of SSR was honorable, yet less practical in a classroom. The goal of SSR was to inspire children to read, build a solid vocabulary and even establish future reading habits. However, finding a balance between leisure reading and required core curriculum proved difficult, thus putting an end to classroom reading.
Yatvin finally states that the benefits of leisure reading are incomparable to any classroom lesson. Developing creative skills, broadening a vocabulary, even learning to tell a story are all skills that literary habits teach. Sadly, reading can often be the first thing dismissed in a classroom.
Though her suggestions to reinstate a remodeled SSR time are admirable, the outlook is rather grim. Perhaps America should make a new movement and recreate a modern classroom reading time. No ideas just yet, but I’m sure the youth of America are open to suggestions.