Reading Stamina: What is it? Can I Plan for It?

Sometimes, two unrelated experiences coalesce to stimulate thinking. This is what happened and what I have been thinking.

Reading stamina: What is it? Can I plan for it? Experience one: I had the opportunity to review secondary ELA units for Achieve using the EQuIP rubric. I have written about this process before. Our purpose was to identify exemplary units aligned to the CCSS so they may serve as models for planning or be used in the classroom. The three units we reviewed all failed to meet this rubric criteria:

  • Indicate how students are accountable for independent reading based on student choice and interest to build stamina, confidence, and motivation (may be more applicable across the year or several units).

Choice-based, independent reading is tricky to include in tightly sequenced units that build logically to a final product or summative assessment. Since exemplary units need not tick every box in the rubric, many strong curriculum writers often don’t attempt to meet the criteria or choose to address it superficially.

Experience two: This New York Times headline drew my attention: New, Reading-Heavy SAT Has Students Worried”. The concerns are a little different than what the headline implies because a big part of the worry is about the reading load in mathematics items. I took the five exemplar math items and in fact they featured quite a bit of reading to comprehend what the items are asking for. This got me thinking not only that reading comprehension is a barrier to success but also stamina is a barrier.

So, I have been thinking about reading stamina. What is it and how do we develop it? I think most of us associate reading stamina with sustained silent reading of text. That is, someone with good reading stamina can stay engaged with a text for a long period of time without becoming distracted. Students can best develop this stamina by reading independently what they choose to read. That notion of reading stamina seems to be what the EQuIP rubric has in mind with its emphasis on independence and choice. We know many students struggle with this and the online environment has not helped. There are a number of ways schools approach reading stamina from carving out time in the day for independent reading to using a Reader’s Workshop model embedded in the core curriculum. This excellent post on the KIPP blog has common sense advice on how to develop reading stamina and just as importantly how to help students understand the importance of reading stamina.

I wonder if there isn’t a second aspect of reading stamina different than sustained silent reading that should also be an instructional focus. I might characterize this as engaged reading or task reading. This is the sort of reading many adults do in the workplace: read a report, study or proposal to gain specific information or to plan a course of action. Recently, I read the new education law, ESSA, as a work task—a very different effort from sustained silent reading but requiring incredible stamina to stay engaged.

This latter kind of stamina is important to students as an aspect of career and college readiness. Much course reading is of this sort, independent reading to accomplish a specific course objective. Yes, this is the sort of reading stamina that the new SAT and many other standardized tests require. Imagine a student taking the five exemplar math items who after three items thinks, “oh no, more reading,” and begins to disengage.

It seems to me that just as we can build sustained silent reading stamina by both explaining to students its importance and by intentionally increasing reading time, we can do the same with engaged reading. Across a unit, we can incrementally increase the amount of time we ask students to independently do task focused reading, and we can explain to them importance of building this capacity. Fortunately, this sort of reading stamina is much easier to embed in high quality units of instruction.