Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sustained Silent Reading: The effects are substantial, it works, and it leads to more reading. A response to Shanahan (2016).

Stephen Krashen

Shanahan (2016) makes three unsubstantiated claims about sustained silent reading (SSR).
A "tiny" effect?
Shanahan states that "the effects of DEAR, SSR, SQUIRT or any of the other 'independent reading time' schemes are tiny when it comes to reading achievement."
Shanahan does not cite any sources for this claim. Several meta-analyses of studies done with second language acquirers, however, show that effect sizes for SSR are quite respectable and the results for readers of different ages are similar.  Table 1 summarizes these studies. (Several individual studies are included in more than one meta-analysis, but the overlap is not complete.)

Table 1: Meta-analysis of the effect of Sustained Silent Reading

Effect sizes

R.C. (N)
Krashen (2007)

.87 (15)
Nakanishi (2014)
.18 (9)
.68 (15)
Jeon & Day (2016)
.47 (17)
.54 (46)
N = number of studies

In Tse, Xiao, Ko, Lam, Hui, and Ng (2016), fourth grade children in Taiwan and Hong Kong who reported doing more independent reading in their first language in school scored higher on the PIRLS 2006 reading test, controlling for students' reading attitude, parents' reading attitude, home education resources, the amount of outside schol informational reading done, and the amount of in-class reading aloud done by students.
Students indicated how much SSR they were doing on a four point scale where 1 = none at all and 4 = every day or nearly every day. The results predict that a school moving from doing no SSR to an every day or nearly every day program will experience a PIRLS gain of 20 points for Hong Kong schools and 45 ponts for Taiwan schools, which is substantial.
The "failure" of SSR?
Shanahan also states "As it became obvious and research accumulated showing the lack of learning from unaccountable reading (e.g., DEAR, SSR) ...".
The evidence cited above confirms that SSR works, as do many other studies (Krashen, 2004, 2005, 2011).
Does SSR promote a reading habit?
Shanahan also claims that "research doesn’t provide us with methods proven to increase the likelihood kids will become lifelong readers. But it does give us insights into what does motivate people. SSR and DEAR do not match well with those insights."
Studies have confirmed that students who have participated in SSR programs read more on their own than those who have not, both immediately after the program ends (Pilgreen and Krashen, 1993) as well as years later (Greaney and Clarke, 1975).
McKool (2007) interviewed fifth graders who were clearly "avid readers." Avid readers ... reported that voluntary reading was promoted in their classes through the practice of Sustained Silent Reading ... they felt ... that it was critical for teachers to allow them to read whatever they wanted to read. When avid readers were asked to read required materials during this time, they frequently admitted that 'This makes me not want to read.'" (p. 125).
The research does not support Shanahan's claims.  

Jeon, E-Y., and Day, R. (2016).  The effectiveness of ER on reading proficiency: A meta-analysis. Reading in a Foreign Language 28(2): 246-265.
Greaney, V., and M. Clarke, M. (1973). A longitudinal study of the effects of two reading methods on leisure-time reading habits. In Reading: What of the future? ed. D. Moyle. London: United Kingdom Reading Association. Pp. 107-114.
Pilgreen, J. and Krashen, S. (1993). Sustained silent reading with English as a second language high school students: Impact on reading comprehension, reading frequency, and reading enjoyment. School Library Media Quarterly 22: 21-23.
Krashen, S. (2004). The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, and Westport, CONN: Libraries Unlimited (second edition).
Krashen, S. (2005) Is In-School Free Reading Good for Children? Why the National Reading Panel Report is (Still) Wrong Phi Delta Kappan 86(6): 444-447.
Krashen, S. (2007). Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 3 (2): 23-29.
Krashen, S. (2011). Free Voluntary Reading. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
Nakanishi, T. (2014). A meta-analysis of extensive reading research. TESOL Quarterly 49(1): 6-37.
McKool, S. 2007. Factors that influence the decision to read: An investigation of fifth grade students' out-of-school reading habits.  Reading Improvement 44(3): 111-131.
Shanahan, T. 2016). Does independent reading time during the school day create lifelong readers?
Tse, S. K., Xiao, X. Y., Ko, H. W., Lam, J. W. I., Hui, S. Y., & Ng, H. W. (2016). Do reading practices make a difference? The analysis of PIRLS data for Hong Kong and Taiwan fourth-grade students. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education. 46(3).


  1. Thanks for posting this! I was actually going to cite your research in my response back... Let kids read!

  2. Excellent. I have suspected that the impulse away from SSR was meant to establish and maintain focus on the formulaic reading of excerpts to perform on assessments.

  3. Simple classroom experience has told me over the years that SSR works very well. In fact I also passed the threshold by reading a whole novel.

  4. I have "felt" that SSR was helpful for many, but was not sure about the students who seem to be merely page turners. I am so glad to know that the practice has real substance. Thanks for this conversation.

    1. About "page turners": Please see Non-Engagement in Sustained Silent Reading: How extensive is it? What can it teach us? Stephen Krashen
      Colorado Reading Council Journal 2011, vol 22: 5-10. Available at, section on "free voluntary reading" (free download)

  5. As an EL who never read for joy until 9th grade, I LIVED the achievement gap until college. We never had SSR in high school. I just picked up the habit one book at a time. My academic life would have been different if I had read more as an adolescent.

    Now I read for joy; read for life.

  6. As an EL who never read for joy until 9th grade, I LIVED the achievement gap until college. We never had SSR in high school. I just picked up the habit one book at a time. My academic life would have been different if I had read more as an adolescent.

    Now I read for joy; read for life.

  7. But at what age should independent reading begin. Should children of 5 sit for 20mins each day with no support and 'independently read'. Putting their hand up if they can't read a word for the teacher to come.round and help them if there is time. Is there value in this?