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Research Experiment  

Modified Sustained Silent Reading (MSSR)
An overview of the 2002/2003 intervention

Modified Sustained Silent Reading was the first experiment conducted in the Lab School. The experiment compared a sustained silent reading (modified version) approach to reading to a traditional approach to teaching reading. This experiment took place from September 2002 through August 2003.

Choosing an intervention
The intervention was chosen after in-depth discussions with the Lab School advisory board and discussions with additional leaders in the field of adult ESL nationally and locally.

The following issues were considered when choosing the experiment:


1. The intervention needed to be on a topic that was significant to practitioners and researchers in adult ESL.


2. Given that all of the classes at the Lab School were video recorded, an intervention was chosen that could be seen on video.


3. The intervention needed to focus on a teaching practice or part of the curriculum that teachers could begin to do and stop doing—in a visible way.


4. The intervention needed to be supported by research that indicated that it would improve student learning.

  5. Expected student learning outcomes were predicted to be visible on the measures used in the Labsite Student Study (annual in-home interviews and in-class assessments).

Students in the Lab School were randomly assigned either to the control condition or to the experimental condition. For twelve months or while enrolled in the Lab School, students stayed in the same condition. After six months the teachers switched condition, so that students were exposed to more than one teacher using the same approach. The table below presents a visual of the organization. The colors represent the two teachers.

Condition Fall 2002 Winter 2003 Spring 2003 Summer 2003

Modified SSR

Level A
Level A
Level A

Level A

Modified SSR

Level B
Level B
Level B
Level B

Traditional Reading

Level A
Level A
Level A
Level A

Traditional Reading

Level B
Level B
Level B
Level B
The classes met two times per week, three hours each meeting for a total of six hours per week. During the first 90 minutes of each class, the instruction followed the established Course Outcome Guides (Level A and Level B) established by Portland Community College. During the remaining 30 minutes of each class, one class (at both levels, A and B) received the control treatment while the other received the experimental treatment.

Control Group
Students in the control group experienced reading instruction that is the accepted base of good practice at Portland Community College for the academic year 2002/2003. During each 120 minute class period, students spent 1 hour on reading instruction. The teacher selected the reading materials based on the current class topic. The students:

  • Read the same text,
  • Engaged in vocabulary and/or phonics exercises,
  • Participated in schema activation exercises,
  • Took part in learner comprehension checks, and

• Completed activities that related the reading to the learners’ own lives.

Experimental Group
Students in the experimental group experienced the Modified Sustained Silent Reading (MSSR) approach. For this approach, the students spent 1 hour of each class meeting in reading instruction. The students:

  • Selected their own reading from a variety of materials in the classroom,
  • Spent 30 minutes doing free reading,
  • Talked about their the book with a partner for 10 minutes, and
  • Filled out a reading log.

Learning Outcomes

The experiment recorded changes in students’ language development through the Labsite Student Study, in-class assessments, and advancement of course level. Student learning was measured at various times with various instruments. Writing and oral language skills were assessed in class. Both standardized and locally-developed instruments were used.

In-class assessments were completed regularly and were performed using:

  Basic English Skills Test (BEST) Literacy
  Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) Listening
  • Student writing samples

The annual in-home interview assessments were performed using:

  BEST Plus oral interview (computer version)
  Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III), and
  • Survey of first and second language reading materials


In our analysis, both the control and experimental (MSSR) conditions are being compared in order to assess whether or not there is improvement in student learning. The areas of analysis are: vocabulary, literacy, and oral language. Findings will indicate if a modified sustained silent reading approach is more effective for helping learners acquire oral and written English skills than a traditional ESL reading approach.

The results will help educational practitioners better understand instructional practices that relate to improved student learning. The results will also aid those involved in developing educational programs that serve low-level adult ESL students.

Preliminary results will be presented at TESOL 2004, Thursday, April 1st from 2:00-2:45 in Long Beach, California. Final results are expected in the winter, 2005.

Educational experiments such as these are just one out of many ways to understand the relationship between instructional practice and student learning.



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