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A SILENT READING INTERVENTION FOR DEVELOPMENTAL STUDENTS: EXPLORING ATTITUDES TOWARD READING IN COLLEGE.

The number of underprepared students entering institutions of higher education continues to increase (Atkinson, Zhang, Phillips, & Zeller, 2014; Bahr, 2012). The majority of underprepared students who enter college are often from minority, low-income, or disadvantaged populations (Deil-Amen, 2011; Paulson & Armstrong, 2016). Students underprepared for college coursework typically enroll in at least one developmental education course in English, reading, or mathematics (Bahr, 2012; Deil-Amen, 2011). However, many students test into all three developmental courses. There is an increasing number of incoming students that demonstrate difficulties with the reading skills needed for college-level coursework (Paulson & Armstrong, 2016). According to the ACT (2016), only 44% of high school graduates are meeting college-reading benchmarks. High school graduates who do not meet college-reading benchmarks enroll in developmental courses when they first enter college. Community colleges offer developmental reading courses as a way of helping underprepared students increase their reading proficiency to meet the demands of college-level coursework (Deil-Amen, 2011; Paulson, 2014). Developmental reading support has become not only a prevalent aspect of a significant number of students' college curriculum, but it also has played an integral role in student success (Huang, Capps, Blacklock, & Garza, 2014; Paulson, 2014). Of all of the developmental proficiency issues that students demonstrate, reading difficulties have become recognized as the most serious (Frailey, Buck-Rodriguez, & Anders, 2009; Paulson, 2014).

Faculty teaching developmental reading courses are up against numerous challenges with helping students succeed (Ari, 2015a). It is evident that student success is dependent upon quality teaching and learning experiences (Paulson & Armstrong, 2010). Despite the best efforts of faculty, developmental reading students continue to fall behind academically, and continue to face academic challenges (Ari, 2015b; Deil-Amen, 2011). Students who test into developmental reading courses typically struggle with reading skills such as fluency and comprehension, which can have long-term consequences both in college and beyond. Reading fluency consists of "word recognition and automaticity" as well as "expressive or prosodic reading" (Rasinski et al., 2016, p. 454). Developmental reading students struggle with automatic word recognition, which in turn affects their reading rates and overall comprehension (Rasinski et al., 2016). Prosody, or the "ability to read with expression, volume, pitch, and phrasing [that reflects and enhances] the text when reading orally" is another weakness of many students (Rasinski et al., 2016, p. 454). Given the variety of deficits with reading skills that many underprepared students bring with them, there is a need for further exploration of teaching methodologies, practices, and interventions that address students' reading deficiencies (Ari, 2015b).

Silent Sustained Reading (SSR)

SSR is a reading instructional method that could potentially benefit adult students within developmental courses. SSR has been used within elementary and secondary schools since it was first introduced in the 1970s (Chua, 2008). Gardiner (2005) defined SSR as "a time during which a class, or in some cases an entire school, reads quietly together. [Students] are allowed to choose their own reading materials and read independently during class time" (p. 15). SSR has been given several different names and has come in numerous formats (Hilden & Jones, 2012). Some common forms of SSR are Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), Daily Independent Reading Time (DIRT), Love to Read (LTR), Providing Opportunities with Everyday Reading (POWER), Writing and Reading Time (WART), and Uninterrupted Silent Sustained Reading (Gardiner, 2005; USSR). While each program may come with a different name and slightly different approach, the goal of each program is to create opportunities for students to read (Hilden & Jones, 2012) in order to improve reading habits, attitudes, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. It is important to note that one critical element to a silent reading program is that students choose their own reading material, something that is of interest to them (Gardiner, 2005; Hilden & Jones, 2012; Krashen, 1989). It is important to note that while some teachers provide students with a selection of books to choose from, other teachers require students to either bring a book from home or to find a book at the school or public library.

SSR has been a program of debate among researchers and teachers for several decades (Chua, 2008; Hilden & Jones, 2012; Reutzel, Petscher, & Spichtig, 2012). There exist a variety of research both supporting and criticizing the use of SSR within the classroom (Reutzel et al., 2012). The benefits include improved reading speed, comprehension, interest, and attitudes which in turn improve academic performance (Chua, 2008). Some criticisms are that SSR takes away from instructional time, it is difficult to ensure that students are actually reading (Hilden & Jones, 2012), and that there is no academic value with reading for pleasure (Gardiner, 2005). Of the existing research on SSR, there has been primarily a focus on elementary and secondary classrooms. There is scant research pertaining to the application of SSR programs to adult students, whether within a community college or university setting. There is some research covering adult English language learners (ELLs) in English as a second language (ESL) programs within college settings. There is little research pertaining to how reading theories and practices (such as SSR) affect adult learners (Mellard & Fall, 2012). The research pertaining to using SSR within ESL courses has focused upon the effects of SSR on language acquisition, rather than reading comprehension, fluency, or reading for pleasure. Despite the existing research with adult students, literature pertaining to SSR and adults within developmental reading programs is scarce (Valeri-Gold, 1995).

One study by Valeri-Gold (1995) incorporated USSR, a version of silent reading, in a developmental college reading course. One characteristic of the USSR version of SSR is that students are required to read and are not allowed to create interruptions, whether by asking the teacher questions or talking among themselves (Valeri-Gold, 1995). Valeri-Gold (1995) used journal questions to elicit responses from students to assess their attitudes regarding reading after having participated in the USSR program during the semester. According to Valeri-Gold (1995), students, "appeared" to have had improvements with reading habits and attitudes (p. 385). Despite this singular case in investigating adult students' attitudes regarding reading after their participation in a reading program, there still exists a gap in research pertaining to silent reading with adult students at the developmental college reading level.

Purpose of the Study

Given the large number of adult students participating in developmental reading programs within higher education, and the national impetus to improve retention and graduation rates within community colleges, there is a need to continue to investigate the adult developmental reading student population (Ari, 2015b; Paulson & Armstrong, 2010). A majority of research pertaining to reading improvement and teaching practices has been within elementary and middle school students (Huang et al., 2014). Thus, a drive to investigate reading interventions for college students is both needed and warranted (Huang et al., 2014). Therefore, applying a reading intervention, the SSR program, to adult students within developmental reading courses may prove beneficial because it allows for repeated exposure to reading. Repeated exposure to reading may improve reading skills (Ari, 2015b) and thus attitudes toward reading. There was a need for this study given the increasing number of students enrolling in institutions of higher education are underprepared for the demands of college-level reading, and thus enroll into developmental reading courses. Given the national demand to increase college readiness and student success among adult students, there has been a need for innovative teaching methods (Ari, 2015b). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate whether an SSR program had the potential to positively affect adult students' attitudes toward reading in college.

Methodology

This study was in the form of a multiple case study. Two cases, a control group and experimental group, were utilized. A multiple case study allows for the exploration of differences across cases (Baxter & Jack, 2008). With the use of multiple cases, contrasting results can be predicted between cases (Baxter & Jack, 2008). The goal of this study was to answer the following research question: How does the implementation of an SSR program within a 15-week, introductory college-level reading course affect students' attitudes toward reading? The prediction for this study was that the use of an SSR program may positively affect students' attitudes toward reading.

Site

The site for this study was Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in downtown Manhattan, New York City. BMCC is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. As of 2015, BMCC had approximately 26,000 degree-seeking students and 11,000 continuing-education students (Borough of Manhattan Community College, 2015). Students from over 155 countries and speaking a total of 108 languages are represented through BMCC's student population. Many students are first-year, first-generation. Latinos account for 40% of the student population, while African-Americans account for about 30% (Borough of Manhattan Community College, 2015). Of the first-time freshmen population, approximately 77% require at least one developmental education course (Borough of Manhattan Community College, 2016), and approximately 20% of these first-time freshmen test into developmental reading courses (Borough of Manhattan Community College, 2016).

Population

The population investigated at BMCC for this multiple case study included students enrolled in introductory college-level reading courses. BMCC has two levels of developmental reading courses, introductory and advanced. Both courses are 6 contact hours, and 0 credit hours. Both the introductory and advanced college-level reading courses do not offer college credits, are defined as developmental courses, and are prerequisites for entering college-level coursework. These developmental reading courses cover a range of reading skills such as literal and inferential critical reading, vocabulary developmental, writing skills, and general study skills. The introductory reading course introduces students to the aforementioned skills, while the advanced course aims to further strengthen and refine those skills through advanced readings and reading practice.

Students who test into BMCC's introductory college-level reading courses are representative of a variety of ethnic, racial, cultural, social, and religious backgrounds. Some students are first-time freshmen, having just graduated from high school and entering college for the first time. Other students are non-traditional students, typically adults who did not immediately go to college after high school. There are also students enrolled in developmental reading courses whose first language is not English. The ELL population is often put into developmental education courses at BMCC if they do not demonstrate college-level English-language skills. The participants for this study were enrolled in an introductory college-level reading course after having tested below the college reading level on the CUNY Assessment Test for Reading (CAT-R).

Sample

The sample for this study included two cases. Each case was one class section of an introductory college-level reading course at BMCC. The researcher was the assigned professor for each of the two class sections. Introductory college-level reading courses are capped at 26 students. The sample for this study included all students registered for each of the two class sections. One case served as the experimental group while the other case served as the control group. The experimental group participated in in the SSR program. The experimental group had an initial enrollment of 11 students. All 11 students consented to participate in the study. The initial enrollment for the control group section was also 11 students. One student in the control group elected not to participate in the study. Therefore, there was a total of 10 students in the control group who initially participated in this study. Tables 1 and 2 outline the students from each group, demonstrating the ethnic and racial diversity. The majority of participants in this study were first-year freshmen and were within their first or second semesters. Only one student was not in his first year--he had been at BMCC for 4 years. While community college students vary significantly, the participants in this study represented mostly a narrow band of first-year freshmen. However, within this group, there was significant ethnic and racial diversity.

Data Collection

Ethical clearance was obtained from the City University of New York (CUNY) Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) prior to interacting with potential participants or collecting any data. Informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to the start of the study. Data collection was in the form of individual semi-structured, open-ended questionnaires, focus groups, and participant observations. Questionnaires were distributed during the first week of the course, prior to the start of the SSR program. Questionnaires, with the same interview questions, were presented during the final week of the course, the week after the conclusion of the SSR program. Additional questions were added to the final questionnaire (for the experimental group) to explore participants' attitudes regarding reading as part of the SSR program, and aspects of the SSR program after having participated throughout the semester.

During the first week of class, students in the experimental group were introduced to the SSR program, its purpose and goals, and what would be required of them throughout the course. Students were also introduced to the college library. Students had the option to either bring in their own personal choice of reading, or they could select a book during the class library trip. Assisting students with choosing appropriate texts was important because it has the potential to alleviate issues of reading motivation and interest during SSR sessions (Hilden & Jones, 2012). SSR began during the second week of class, and students silently read a book of their choice, for the last 10 minutes of every class session. The researcher joined participants, and read silently, modeling appropriate reading behavior. Silent reading time increased by one minute, every two weeks, beginning with ten minutes the first two weeks and ending with a total of 15 minutes by the end of the course. The SSR program ended at the conclusion of the second-to-last week of class. Increasing the time slowly allowed students to adapt to the program, build reading confidence, and become accustomed to reading for an extended period of time.

Triangulation for this study was established through the utilization of three data collection points, a) semi-structured, open-ended questionnaires; b) focus groups; and c) participant observations. During the middle of the course, participants took part in a focus group to discuss their attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts regarding the SSR program. At the conclusion of the SSR program, participants completed the same questionnaire from the beginning of the course. Throughout the course the researcher, acting as a participant observer, observed participants during the silent reading time. The researcher created observation notes immediately after the silent reading session, rather than during the session. This allowed the researcher to act as a participant and model appropriate reading behavior during the SSR sessions.

Results

The research question for this study was: How does the implementation of an SSR program within a 15-week, introductory college-level reading course affect students' attitudes toward reading? Thematic analysis was used to analyze the collected data. A peer reviewer was utilized to corroborate the researcher's findings, and thus establish dependability (Cope, 2014). Pseudonyms were assigned to all participants. Numbers represent the control group (e.g. Student Participant 1 [SP1]), and letters represent the experimental group (e.g. Student Participant A [SPA]). At the end of the semester, both the control group and the experimental group had 11 students enrolled. Participants represented students from a variety of linguistic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. A majority of participants were multilingual, speaking English and other languages both inside and outside the home. Most participants were in their first or second semester at BMCC.

From the experimental group, a total of 7 participants were included in the final data analysis. At the beginning of the semester 11 participants were enrolled in the experimental group. Halfway through the semester two participants (SPJ and SPK) withdrew from the course. These two participants were not included in the data analysis. Two participants (SPH and SPI) had excessive absences from the course and were either not present to complete the focus group or were not present to complete the post-SSR questionnaire. These two participants were not included in the data analysis. For the control group, there was also a total of 7 participants that were included in the final data analysis. Three participants from the control group (SP6, SP7, and SP9) had excessive absences toward the end of the course and were not present for the focus group nor for the post-SSR questionnaire. Therefore, participants SP6, SP7, and SP9 were not included in the data analysis for this study. One student declined to participate in the study from the control group section. Thus, there were a total of 7 participants from the experimental group and 7 participants from the control group who participated in this study. Table 1 presents demographic data regarding the participants included in the control group. Table 2 presents demographic data regarding the participants included in the experimental group.

Questionnaires

Questionnaires containing semi-structured, open-ended questions were distributed to both groups of students at the beginning and end of the semester. The questions were created around themes pertaining to students' attitudes and beliefs regarding reading, how they felt during reading, if and why they read for pleasure, and how they felt about reading in a variety of contexts such as at home or for class. For the experimental group, the questionnaire at the end of the semester contained additional questions pertaining to the SSR program. These questions had a central theme related to students' attitudes regarding the SSR program, such as if they enjoyed the program or not, their recommendations for the program, and whether or not they would recommend the program to a peer, family member, or friend.

General lifestyle questions regarding reading were used to create context for this study. Participants in both the control and experimental groups cited a variety of books as their most recently read book. Two participants could not remember which book they read last. Many of the participants provided only the title of the book, while a select few took time and provided brief summaries of the books. A majority of participants mentioned adult fiction. Some participants cited young adult fiction, and adult non-fiction selections. Participants appeared to have a preference for a variety of reading materials. Both groups of participants stated having a variety of books in their households. Participants mentioned romance, young adult, children's books, books in Spanish, and as SPB stated, "very big chapter books." The nonfiction books mentioned included business, science, self-help, history, and African-American history. Most participants stated that the books at home were theirs. Some participants mentioned that household books belonged to other family members, such as siblings, parents, or other younger children such as nieces or nephews.

The control group had a mixture of responses about reading. Some stated that they read for pleasure, while others stated that they did not. Participants often cited reasons for reading such as learning new things, reading famous authors, and being able to not think about negative things going on in their lives. Some stated that reading was boring or not interesting for them. Most participants read in order to gain knowledge or to improve their skills, while others stated that they read only if they found the topics interesting. Participants in both groups provided a variety of responses pertaining to their attitudes and how they felt about reading. There was a mix between feeling positive, excited, and motivated to read, versus feeling bored, uninterested, and forced (in school) to read. After examining pre- and post- questionnaires, responses for both groups showed no changes in self-reported attitudes. Many participants repeated similar thoughts and feelings, and often using the same vocabulary, about reading for pleasure.

When the experimental group was asked about the SSR program, all participants but one (SPB) stated that they enjoyed the SSR program. SPB stated that she did not enjoy the SSR program because reading in class made her tired. For participants who did enjoy SSR, positive comments were made to justify their reasoning. SPC stated that SSR helps to "focus on the book." SPE and SPF both found independent reading time beneficial. SPD stated that the independent work was quiet and helped him read. Two participants mentioned that having the professor present during SSR gave them opportunities to ask questions regarding the books they were reading. Most participants did not recommend any changes to the SSR program. However, two participants (SPC and SPF) recommended more time for reading in class. All participants stated that they would recommend SSR to a student, family member, or friend.

Focus Group Findings

Both groups participated in focus groups at the midpoint of the semester. Open-ended questions were utilized to start conversations pertaining to attitudes about reading. In addition, questions pertaining to the SSR program were asked during the focus group for the experimental group. Both focus groups revealed similar findings as were discovered during the pre- and post-questionnaires. Participants often mentioned many of the same themes regarding reading attitudes such as being bored by reading if the topics were not interesting, or being excited about the idea of reading. There were no apparent differences between the two groups of participants from data collected from the focus groups. The focus groups only served to confirm the findings from the questionnaires.

Participant Observations

Participant observations were conducted during the SSR sessions. The researcher acted as participant observer, and was involved in the activities being observed (Agmon, Sa'ar, & Araten-Bergman, 2016). This allowed for the observation of participants' contextualized point of view (Agmon et al., 2016). Several key themes were discovered through the observations. At the beginning of the course all participants were actively engaged in reading, and appeared eager to participate. During the first few sessions, one or two participants would look at their cellphones, or try to start a conversation with the participant next to him or her. However, this was rare, and often the action stopped immediately once the participant saw that the researcher was watching him or her. Toward the end of the course, some participants began to lose focus and started to look at their cellphones more often. Two or three participants had attempted to hide a cellphone in their books while reading during SSR. The researcher intervened and guided participants back to reading. There were two participants who fell asleep, each twice, across several SSR sessions.

Discussion

Within the experimental group, participants' altitudes toward reading as part of a required SSR program did not appear to undergo any change. There was a mixture of attitudes toward reading. Some participants found reading exciting and educational, while others found reading burdensome, boring, and even frustrating. Participants who had positive attitudes toward reading at the beginning of the semester demonstrated similar attitudes after the SSR program at the end of the semester. The same holds true for participants who had negative or neutral attitudes towards reading for pleasure--their attitudes remained the same at the end of the semester. It is possible that students who had negative attitudes toward reading were not open to change or being mandated to read in class. Their attitudes may have reflected firmly held beliefs about reading. The same is true with students who had positive attitudes--perhaps their positive responses were indicative of firmly held beliefs about reading. The mandatory aspect of the SSR program may play a role in how students self-reported their attitudes and beliefs. While the results of this study did not demonstrate the prediction that students' attitudes toward reading may have positively changed after participating in an SSR program, the findings do suggest that further work is needed in this area.

Student accountability is critical during SSR, given that students are required to actively read and make use of the allotted time. Accountability has been an issue of debate of SSR with younger readers. It is interesting to see how accountability concerns translated from younger readers to adult readers. There could have been several factors affecting the students who fell asleep or used their cell phones during SSR. Many students become disengaged toward the end of the semester which could affect their in-class behavior. Other students often experience out-of-class obligations or challenges which may affect their in-class behavior during SSR. Some tasks could be used to remedy students' behavior, such as having one-on-one book discussions while other students read (Hilden & Jones, 2012). Students' attitudes regarding reading varied within and across the two cases. The different responses represented the various individuals, their experiences, personalities, and attitudes toward reading. Although the research question for this study was not answered, there were interesting findings. One such finding was that the majority of participants enjoyed and thought positively about SSR. This is important given that SSR has not been widely adopted for adult learners in introductory college-level reading courses. This finding may prove beneficial when exploring further research and teaching practices with adults and SSR. While some participants enjoyed SSR, it does not mean that SSR may prove successful with students who have more negative attitudes toward reading.

There were several limitations associated with this study. Firstly, the sample size was quite small. The initial goal was to have a larger sample. However, low course enrollment affected the number of participants. It is possible that a smaller class size affected the behaviors and attitudes of participants in this study. It is also possible that other findings may have been found with the participation of more students in a larger class. While the goal was not on the generalizability of the research results, there still remain opportunities at ensuring the data obtained are representative of the student population. Another limitation could have been related to the researcher being the professor for the two cases. It is possible that participants' responses were altered in some way due to the knowledge that the responses would be read by their professor. Future research could mitigate this through an outside researcher as opposed to the professor acting as researcher. Participants may also have felt that the researcher was present in a more authoritative capacity, rather than a teacher modelling reading behaviors.

Conclusion

Increasing literacy not only affects the academic success of students, but it has the potential to positively impact life and career accomplishments (Atkinson et al., 2014; Huang et al., 2014; Mellard & Fall, 2012). It is imperative that critical inquiry regarding developmental reading students continues (Mellard & Fall, 2012; Paulson & Armstrong, 2010). Improving students' attitudes about reading is critical when attempting to improve reading comprehension and fluency. There many teaching methodologies in use which address reading comprehension and fluency issues with adult students, and there are opportunities at exploring other options. With the lack of literature pertaining to SSR and adult students, there still exist opportunities at exploring methods of utilizing SSR within the adult reading classroom. Future work is needed to better understand the attitudinal effects of an SSR program on adult students in developmental reading courses. While many participants enjoyed the SSR program, work is needed to determine if SSR has the potential to positively affect attitudes regarding reading. The ultimate goal of SSR is to promote positive attitudes toward reading to improve reading comprehension and fluency, which would positively affect academic success. A larger sample size is needed to better investigate the research question for this study. A departmental-wide study, which would include several dozen developmental reading courses, and thus several hundred students, would be ideal to investigate the research question within the context of this student population.

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