Imagine what school would be like for your students if their level of reading stamina allowed them to easily:
- Read and complete classroom assignments involving text efficiently
- Read for pleasure or class for long periods of time without tiring
- Stay engaged with text during high stakes testing
What if there were tangible practices and attitudes that you could establish in your classroom that would support students’ development of reading stamina?
Well, there are practices that, maintained consistently, will help your students be able to read for longer and longer stretches of time! Your students will be capable of sticking to assigned reading and completing tasks. They will learn to read texts for extended intervals. Best of all, students will learn to focus on important texts for clarity, within and beyond text meaning, and synthesis. These practices include:
- Developing Perseverance
- Learning Pacing
- Expanding Metacognition
Reading Stamina Does Not Mature Over Night
Indeed, it will take weeks, even months to develop your students’ abilities to read for longer and longer intervals, but the results will be worth all the hard work! Sorry, but there is no easy path to reading stamina. Everything worthwhile is attained through diligence!
Think for a minute about what it takes to learn to play an instrument well…to develop musical self-efficacy, if you will:
- On-going introductions to the basics at increasingly more sophisticated levels (INSTRUCTION)
- The teacher demonstrating the specifics for the student(s)… (finger/hand positions, rhythm, etc.) (MODELING)
- Rehearsals with the teacher, with others (I’m thinking band here…), and individually (MEANINGFUL PRACTICE…note, this is not the same as time on task)
- Consistent, effective practice away from the instructional setting (INDEPENDENCE)
- Taking risks playing new, unfamiliar tunes and the development of assurance in one’s own ability to make music (CONFIDENCE)
- Being able to pick out (some) of the music to play (CHOICE)
- Developing the knowledge about reading music, dynamics, etc. to be able to know when the music is and is not sounding like it is supposed to and knowing when and how to make corrections to how the music is played to get it right (METACOGNITION)
- Developing the breathing skills (if the instrument requires breathing technique) and motor skills to play increasingly longer and more
- sophisticated pieces (APTITUDE)
Sounds a lot like learning to become an expert reader doesn’t it?
None of these elements of learning can be ignored if the goal is to become an expert at anything.
CIMS – Confidence, Independence, Metacognition, and Stamina
Lauren Freedman (Western Michigan University) has written and taught extensively on the importance of CIMS (confidence, independence, metacognition, and stamina) in the development of reading self-efficacy. The importance of considering elements of reading development beyond stamina alone attests to the interconnectedness of each of the components of reading development. Though the focus on this article is stamina, don’t forget that developing reading stamina cannot be compartmentalized or truly separated from each of the other important issues related to becoming an expert reader!
Dr. Freedman’s definition of stamina, “…the learner’s perseverance and pacing of him or herself when a task may become difficult or last longer than expected,” is the one that I will be building upon here. Students need to develop perseverance, learn to pace themselves, know what to do when they encounter difficulties with the text or with understanding the text, in addition to being able to read for extended periods of time.
Students learn to persevere by trying it AND having success with it. It is up to the teacher to push students to TRY sticking with a task and SUPPORT them in having success with it. There are several approaches that I have found particularly helpful in my classroom with regard to developing perseverance:
Often, students grossly underestimate how long it will take to get good at something…not just good, but an expert! At the beginning of the school year, I shared excerpts from chapter two of Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS about the “10,000 Hour Rule” with my classes. I encouraged the students to find real life examples to back up this rule. Basically, Gladwell contends that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become and expert at anything.
Exposure to what it takes to become an expert at something tended to level the playing field in my middle school 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes (especially since I taught advanced/accelerated classes to higher-achieving students than the norm). They all realized individually that simply due to the shortness of their own lives so far, they all had a long way to go to become experts at anything. This opened the door for me to invite them to consider buying into striving to become expert readers (and writers).
Reading was a pursuit that they all had considerable time invested in to and they all seemed to have some sense of the importance of being a good/expert reader. Why not really make and effort and see what happens?
In addition, I showed my students a speech that Ashton Kutcher gave in 2013 at the Teen Choice Awards. In this talk, Kutcher shares his belief that opportunity “looks a lot like hard work.” This dovetails perfectly into the 10,000 Hour Rule idea. He also talks about how important it is to be smart, thoughtful, and generous. This short video is a real confidence booster, as well, for students.
School Enrichment Model Reading Framework- Supports the Development of Reading Stamina
The reading “structure” I used in my classroom was the School Enrichment Model Reading Framework (University of Connecticut). Please follow the link and read more about this awesome reading approach.
The independent reading component of SEM-R was the most important factor in supporting my students’ development of reading stamina. Students read self-chosen reading materials (sometimes completely their choice, sometimes choice was limited to genre or topic, but always, students chose the books they read for SEM-R) while teacher conferences individually with a number of students on a daily basis. The number of students I could conference with individually grew as my students’ ability to read for longer and longer periods of time increased. The one-on-one time with students talking about their reading was important in differentiating instruction for individual learner’s needs (more about differentiation in a future article!), but the time spent reading texts the students were truly committed to was instrumental in increasing my students’ reading stamina.
When we first began SEM-R at the beginning of the year, we started with 10 minutes or so of individual, silent reading time (teacher could conference with only one student a day in the beginning). As students began to experience and enjoy the individual conferencing that, I believe, really helped their reading stamina as well—they wanted it to be their turn again to conference with the teacher.
I increased the silent reading time in tiny increments each day until the class, as a whole, could finally stay on task reading for fifty minutes. Yes, sometimes we moved backwards, but for the most part, we persevered! I am sure that we could have extended that time period had we been able to…we were limitedonly by the length of the class periods. For a couple of years, we did block scheduling, and my students were able to read for up to one hour at a time. I do not take credit for this, though; it was the SEM-R, implemented with fidelity that supported my students in developing their reading stamina! It is an awesome reading program that I highly recommend!
Start by sharing real life examples with your students about the importance of pacing (athletic examples are especially applicable here). One can only “sprint” for short periods of time. Runners who push themselves for speed rather than pacing themselves for endurance will not develop the stamina to last for the marathon!
Students may think that if they read faster, they will be a better reader. That is not necessarily the case. Take a look at this video from the Never Stop Learning YouTube channel for readers:
When I was in high school I was assigned to a “speed reading” class (because I had demonstrated good reading skills), in which we were supposed to learn to read very, very quickly. We were taught to suppress subvocalizing in order to push ourselves through texts rapidly. I hated it. I did not enjoy the story at all (I think all we ever read from was SINK THE BISMARCK) because it was being encouraged to push myself through it too quickly. As luck would have it, I found out many years later that my husband had also been consigned to one of those speed reading classes in high school as well…he hated it too. Guess what he had to read? Yep, SINK THE BISMARCK. No, we did not go to the same high school…but apparently, our reading teachers had been trained in the same class!
I believe that the more senses that students can involve in learning, the more successful they will be as learners. Subvocalizing counts as “hearing” in my book, and therefore gets to be counted in addition to “seeing” for readers as senses involved in the reading process.
Reading Tasks Help Development of Pacing
I found that giving my students some task to do as they read was very helpful in developing their pacing. Of course, I was cognizant of not making that task more important or use up more time than the actual reading. They had to stop reading occasionally and reflect in a journal, make an illustration of something from their reading, etc. I did adapt the SEM-R log repeatedly to fit my students’ needs. Stopping occasionally during reading time to complete some minor task assured that they would not begin reading too quickly or forget that they were actually supposed to be getting something out of the reading. Moreover, it was authentic practice for developing the kind of reading stamina that students need to develop to support them on high stakes testing.
“Metacognition” is the ability to “think about thinking.” For students with regard to reading, it is the ability to:
- Ask themselves questions like “Am I understanding this?” and “What am I not understanding about this?” while they are reading.
- Experience and recognize thoughts that connect the current reading to background information.
- Realize and respond when their brains switch off from paying attention to what they are “reading.”
- Realize and respond when they are not making meaning of the text because of vocabulary, unfamiliar topics, etc.
- Recognize the need to use a reading “tool” when the reading is not going well (re-reading, using context clues, recognizing affixes to help define unfamiliar words, etc.).
- Adjust their pacing to the task at hand…”do I need to slow down” or “I can read through this a little more quickly.”
These patterns of thinking often develop naturally in readers, but just as often, they do not. Struggling readers most often struggle because they do not possess metacognitive skills. Over time, because they cannot recognize and respond to issues with their own reading, they will lose confidence and fall behind in their reading development, thus ultimately damaging their ability to be independent readers.
Direct instruction on metacognition was always part of my first few days of classes each year and we always made sure to review metacognitive strategies each time the students were struggling or learning new reading skills. In particular, we created a large poster, which hung in the classroom throughout the year for frequent reference, that listed examples of metacognitive questions the students should be asking themselves when they were reading.
Final Thoughts on Supporting Students’ Developing Reading Stamina
Now, I realize that not all teachers get to choose which reading program the institute in their classroom, so the truth is that probably very few of you will get to implement SEM-R just because I recommend it. However, if you can manipulate your students’ silent reading time to allow for slow but steady incremental increases in silent, independent reading time (ideally when students are reading texts they have chosen) that will be a huge step in the right direction!
However, if teachers to not prioritize time for students to read independently in a classroom situation for extended periods, it will be very difficult for them to develop reading stamina. Teachers must assure that time isdedicated to allowing the physiological practice it takes with the work of reading in order to develop reading stamina.
Students should learn to do tasks related to their reading in order to assure that they will be accountable for actually “reading” the texts with which they are spending time. However, the tasks should not be time-consuming and should in no way take away from the reading itself.
Finally, in order to sustain stamina, teachers should instruct students in and remind them of using metacognitive skills to enrich their reading experiences. If they are happy with what they are actually getting out of their own reading, students will more likely develop confidence, independence, and reading stamina. Success breeds success! Stamina breed more stamina!