Rebuttal – picklerick

Teaching Students to Really Read

When it comes to teaching students to read, many teachers have the wrong idea. It’s a popular belief that in order to show kids the joy of reading, they should be assigned to read whatever they want. Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post claims, “the easiest path is to make independent reading at least half of every day’s homework by putting strict limits on subject matter assignments.” This seems logical; giving students freedom to read what they want will make them more attached to the story, right? As it turns out, there are actually significant downsides to letting students read what they want. As Mark Pennington explains in his article from the Pennington Publishing Blog, “Students often choose books with reading levels far below or far above own their reading levels and so do not experience optimal reading growth.” If you give a student the assignment to read freely, of course they’re going to choose a book that’s simple to read. Also, as a teacher, you have no way of knowing whether or not the student comprehended the text. This is why it the best method to teach kids how to read properly is to insure that they have the close reading skills necessary to read books that are on their reading level. The best way to do this is to assign them short, nonfiction texts which challenge their ability to analyze, comprehend, and make inferences.



Strauss, V. (2014, September 08). Why kids should choose their own books to read in school. Retrieved March 17, 2018, from

Pennington Publishing Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2018, from

Dakin, C. (2013). The Effects of Comprehension Through Close Reading (Unpublished masters thesis). St. John Fisher College.

3 thoughts on “Rebuttal – picklerick”

  1. Thank you for requesting feedback, Picklerick. I’ve noticed a few things in your brief draft that will be good to clear up before you do a more substantial rewrite. My comments are in no particular order, so please don’t assume that #1 is the most important.

    1. I followed your link to the Washington Post and discovered that Joanne Yatvin, not Valerie Strauss, is responsible for the quote you wrongly attribute to Strauss.

    2. I doubt Yatvin is your best “opponent,” or that she makes the best case for independent reading. If you limit your rebuttal to a refutation of her weak claim that students should be assigned independent reading for homework, she’ll be pretty easy to beat. But your readers are unlikely to be persuaded much by your pair of threes. What you want is to find and beat a full house with your straight flush.

    3. Picking up the term from your Washington Post story, I did a quick Google Scholar search for “proven benefits of SSR” where SSR means Sustained Silent Reading. In one second I found this lovely source, which, if you can refute it, will earn you a lot of credibility:
    If you want to conduct your own Google Scholar search:
    Or plug the same sorts of phrases into the search field at the Rowan’s Campbell Library.
    Here’s the link to the full text online. You’ll have to be logged in to your Rowan account for the link to lead you to the article.

    4. In that worthy article, the following more complete description of SSR emerges:

    Like other instructional methods, it can and does operate along a continuum. At one end of the continuum is pure SSR as a time devoted to free reading during which students read books of their own choice, without assessment, skills work, monitoring, or instruction from the teacher. In fact, often the teacher reads a book along with the students, thus providing a model of literacy for the class. Other teachers implement SSR by monitoring the type and the number of books students read; they may also administer assessments, keep reading checklists, and ask questions or encourage student discussion about books (Atwell, 2007; Gambrell, 2007; Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, & Smith, 2008).

    Regardless of the amount of teacher involvement, however, the distinguishing feature of SSR is that every day for at least 15 to 30 minutes, students are permitted a block of time to read a book, usually of their own choice (Stahl, 2004). SSR can also be found under a variety of labels including, but not limited to, DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) and SQUIRT (Super Quiet Reading Time), as listed in the NRP report (NICHD, 2000, p. 3-24). Now, we will examine the problems the NRP experienced in attempting to gather significant research on SSR and why any statements opposed to independent reading-even those made by panel members-cannot be based on sound research.

    Notice it also refers to several other sources as well. Those can be YOUR next sources if you find them useful. Either way, engaging into rebuttal with THIS source (or others like it) will be MUCH MORE beneficial than pushing around a tackling dummy like the Wash Post article.

    5. You listed Dakin in your References section but didn’t cite Dakin in your post. List as references only sources that you cite. (If you want to list Dakin, you’ll have to cite Dakin.)

    6. Two things to avoid in academic arguments: Rhetorical Questions and the Second Person.

    7. Rephrase to eliminate this Rhetorical Question: “This seems logical; giving students freedom to read what they want will make them more attached to the story, right?” It invites your reader to say, “No. As a matter of fact, that’s not right.” And then you’ve lost control.

    8. Rephrase to eliminate all Second Person pronouns (You, Your, Yours, Yourself, Yourselves). They are effective only in Instructional Manuals and Sermons, where you are being paid to Set People Straight. Readers do not like to be told how to think and take it personally when we address them as YOU.

    9. Plus, most of your readers will not be teachers, so it’s weird to say to them:

    Also, as a teacher, you have no way of knowing whether or not the student comprehended the text.

    Such claims are easy to rephrase using plurals and class nouns. The noun here is “reading teacher.” Plurals help us avoid singular pronouns with their pesky gender issues. So:

    Also, reading teachers have no way of knowing whether or not their students comprehended the text.

    10. As your most attentive reader, I would be thinking: It’s too easy to criticize “independent reading” if the critic is in charge of what the term means. Teachers could permit, even assign, independent reading without accepting WHATEVER text a student selected. Students could choose from a long list of pre-approved texts appropriate to their reading levels. Or students could bring their preferred texts to school for approval before being given permission to read them for credit.

    I hope those are useful recommendations, Picklerick. I enjoy the interaction with my students and hope you’ll benefit from and enjoy it also. Please respond. I quickly learn who values the feedback and who doesn’t and spend my time on those who want it.


    1. Thank you for all of the useful links. I’ll focus now on refuting a source which is in favor of sustained silent reading. I think I’ll have an easier, and more successful, time doing this. All of your advice is helpful and I’ll certainly take into account your recommendations.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I found Stephen Krashen’s remarks at the bottom of your Mark Pennington source to be very thoughtful and informative. He maintains that Pennington is attacking a straw man. Nobody ever claimed that SSR is a comprehensive reading program. At most, it’s a complementary bit of curriculum enhancement meant to stimulate interest in a craft that other instructional techniques are designed to achieve. Worth reading.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: