Let them Read: Building Stamina

Help students become better readers, hone their self-management skills and build stamina.

By Amber Chandler

All reading is not the same. As good readers, we know what we can skim, what needs a really thorough read, and what requires note taking. As real readers, students should determine the purpose for reading, and then read accordingly.

For example, if a student is reading to answer specific questions, it isn’t a bad idea to preview the questions first. If a student is reading for a classroom discussion, taking a few notes or highlighting might do the trick. Truthfully, I think the real problem with reading is that our students have lost their stamina, and I think that is in part because we don’t just let them read! I’d like to suggest some ways to help students become better readers while also pushing them to read greater chunks of text and hone their self-management skills and improve stamina.

So far this year we have read “The Landlady” and “The Monkey’s Paw.” In both instances, students did a jigsaw activity after reading that pushed their thinking about the story, but also allowed them to work collaboratively. For “The Landlady,” we listened to the story together (try this great version with John Lithgow as the narrator) as they followed along, and they were given a focus question. They were then divided into five groups and were given 100 lines to do a “close read” together—looking for the answer to a single question: “How is characterization important in this section?” Then, they were brought back to their original group where they shared their explanations chronologically. In this way, they went deep into 100 lines, listened to four other chunks of 100 lines, and walked away with both a “close read” and some collaboration.

For “The Monkey’s Paw,” we approached the jigsaw a little differently. All students read the story, and we watched this great old version. Then, each group was assigned a single question about plot, setting, theme, and characterization to discuss in their small groups. After, they were dispersed to talk to the other groups about their question. They knew they were reviewing for the test, and that they needed to gather as much information as possible since the questions were the essay portion. They had a real reason to be digging into the test, and as an open note test, they needed all the evidence they could get. Having an authentic reason to annotate makes a huge difference.

I’m hoping that these tasks have helped my students’ self-management skills as they approach a text from multiple perspectives. However, the true test is happening right now. I’m at a conference, so I left Amy Tan’s “The Rules of the Game.” They are required to read and annotate, while also looking for specific answers to questions, and they have to provide the line number where they found the answers. This small modification requires students to have the stamina to read the entire story, and then find the answers, not guess at them. This is a good self-management strategy because they have to do the hard work of reading carefully, but the purpose is clear, and the reward is tangible: find the answer to specific questions. By making the evidence a part of the required answer, we are showing students that annotations and notes are not an interruption or afterthought. However, this time the work isn’t collaborative, which is going to be more difficult for some students, yet it is crucial for educators to keep pushing their limits and build their self-management skills.

How do you build stamina with your students? I’m especially interested in math or subjects where the answer might not be easily determined. How do you keep students engaged in the process of finding the answer. “Reading Stamina: What is it? Can I plan for it?” by John Wood is an interesting look at the reading load in math problems. I’d love to hear what you do in your classroom to grow students’ self-management skills and help them build stamina in the tasks your subject area demands.

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified ELA teacher and the author of The Flexible ELA Classroom: Practical Tools for Differentiated Instruction in Grades 4-8.

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