If I was at all unsure of the wisdom of spending class time on SSR, my summer reading test proved that the idea is sound. I am not a huge fan of summer reading tests, but I am required to assess somehow. Usually my assessment consists of an essay on each assigned reading with a prompt that will not allow them to summarize. I already know they can use sparknotes, and do! So the prompt allows them to focus on their reactions to the reading and how they might connect that to their LQ (lit quotient, what they know of analyzing lit after 11 years). What I found were some great thesis statements and then jumbles of half connected thoughts and support--as if they knew what they thought but were unable to express it. They were using 6th grade words to discuss the Picture of Dorian Gray and Taming of the Shrew. That won't work. They are not thinking 6th grade anymore, but their stash of words and constructions failed them.
Then I also reviewed the index cards they fill out on the first day. The front side contains their first name (for the first week while I learn all 150 names)and the reverse has their LAST favorite book. Bingo. In a class of 27, there were 6 Harry Potters, 4 Twilights, a couple of Catcher in the Ryes/Great Gatsbys from last year's American Lit and other miscellaneous middle school books--Holes, The Outsiders, Francesca Lia Block, Nicholas Sparks, etc. These are all good choices, but it means most of them had not read a book they liked or remembered since middle school.
I had spent last year tracking the writing problems in my junior classes, and even in the Honors classes, I noticed that their grammar, punctuation and even their paragraphing was fine. The biggest problems seemed to be a lack of vocabulary to express their thoughts accurately, and an inability to string the words together in a coherent way. Misuse or inaccurate use of articles, adjectives, adverbs, even the confused relationship between dependent and independent clauses were obscuring what might have been fine observations. I attribute this to the lack of reading outside school. Am I right?
We shall see. I am using some of my SAT prep time (added to my schedule in August. Surprise!) to do this SSR and I hope I am right. Their brains should be absorbing the smooth flow of language unconsciously while on the SAT prep days we'll be teaching to the test. Wish me luck.