At the start of this school year, South Heart Public School expanded its high school Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) program to all of its classrooms. South Heart Elementary School principal Jessica Geis said that from 8:30 a.m. to 8:50 a.m., everyone in the classroom, including teachers and paraeducators, spends the first 20 minutes of their day to read.
“It started because we were trying to find a time for collaboration between teachers and getting students to read more. And our high school has been doing SRH for a few years. So we took the opportunity to create an SRH block at school-wide,” Geis said. “For the most part, it’s about having students choose the books they want to read.”
The newest program adds to a school system that remains one of the top-performing schools in the state, ranking 8th out of 163 schools in the state according to a U.S. News and World Report list.
Geis explained that some of the younger students, like those in kindergarten and first grade, aren’t quite ready for the full 20 minutes of independent reading, so that time is used as story time during which a teacher, paraeducator or guest speaker reads aloud. .
Reading has long been proven to improve student comprehension and performance. In a study conducted at Emory University, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan students’ brains before and after reading. In the days following the reading, they saw increased connectivity in brain areas involved in receptivity to language, as well as physical sensation and movement.
South Heart fifth-grade teacher Leah Miller said the program improved the learning environment in multiple ways. She said students love the first 20 minutes of their day and it turns them into lifelong learners.
“It got all of the K-12 students immersed in the books. I saw improved endurance, increased comprehension, and really just a love of reading,” Miller said “It’s so good, and they’re so focused.”
She stressed the importance of using the program to set a good example.
“Another thing that has been really wonderful for the children is that the adults (also read). I mean, we can tell them it’s important to read, but we sit down with them,” Miller said. “It’s important that the children see this.”
On Wednesdays, that time is typically used to collaborate with the other fifth-grade teacher on successful teaching strategies, she said.
“These are days when we talk about how we can adapt teaching to student needs, what things we need to look at differently, and what we’re doing that’s successful,” Miller said. “So we come together as a team…we really look at how we build them and develop them into successful adults.”