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Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement

by Robert J. Marzano

Table of Contents

Chapter 3. Tapping the Power of Wide Reading and Language Experience

In Chapter 2 we noted that reading accompanied by language interaction (talking and listening to others) may compensate for the lack of direct experiences by providing a variety of virtual experiences. We also discovered that students from different environments vary widely in the amount of reading they do and the amount of language they experience. This chapter describes an approach to adapting sustained silent reading (SSR) so that it enhances the academic background knowledge of students through extensive reading and language interaction.

Sustained Silent Reading

As described in Chapter 2, SSR programs have a proven track record of enhancing students' knowledge and skills. To be effective, however, the SSR program must have specific characteristics. One of those characteristics is that it must be continuous over many years. To illustrate, Krashen (2000) organized the studies in SSR into three categories based on how long the programs were in place: less than seven months, seven months to one year, and more than one year. Again, I used meta-analytic techniques described by Bushman (1994) to analyze these data (for an explanation of the process used, see Technical Note 4 on pp. 130–131). When I analyzed the impact of SSR programs that were used for less than seven months or for seven months to one year, I found no significant effect. In other words, statistically there was no difference between the students who went through SSR programs and those who did not in terms of their comprehension ability. For the studies in which SSR was used for more than a year, however, the estimated effect size was .87. To interpret this, consider two students who are both at the 50th percentile in terms of their comprehension ability. (For a more detailed discussion of how to interpret an effect size, see Technical Note 5 on p. 131.) One student is placed in an SSR program that lasts for more than a year and the other student is not. At the end of that period, the student who has gone through the extended SSR program will be at the 81st percentile and the student who did not will remain at the 50th percentile.


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