we think it’s important to stay out of the way as much as possible when kids are reading independently and working to build their stamina. this means forcing ourselves not to say to the class things like, “keep going,” or, “get started.” it’s so hard, but what we’ve realized is that, by giving those reminders and prompts, we’re providing a crutch for our kids, and they’re not really as independent as we think they are. that is, they’re independent with our reminders, but if our goal is for them to carry on as if we’re not there, then we have to get rid of the prompts.
so, while we continue to work on staying out of the way so that the stamina our kids build is truly independent stamina, there will always be some kids that need more than time to build stamina. you know the kids we mean. the ones who are sitting quietly, but eyes are looking around the room rather than in their books. the ones who always need to go to the bathroom or water fountain during independent reading. the ones who need to sharpen their (sometimes not broken) pencil before they can do any writing about their reading. the kids who turn and talk to their neighbors – not the turning and talking we get excited about and ask them to do, but the kind that pulls their neighbors away from their own reading. these kids need some strategies to help them build their stamina.
below is a list of strategies that can be taught during a quick 1:1 conference or to a small group of students. we’d decide who to do this conference with by observing students reading independently during the first few weeks of school. they’re good conferences and small groups to have in your mind to be able to do on the spot as it’s appropriate for your kids.
post-it goal: teach students that they can put a post-it a few pages ahead of where they’re beginning their reading, and work to get to that post-it without taking a break from their book. we suggest putting the post-it just 2 or 3 pages ahead of where they are to begin with. then teach the students that, when they get to the post-it, they have a decision to make: are they in need of a break from their book or are they able to keep reading? (it’s amazing that, usually, kids will get to the post-it and realize that they can keep going, that they didn’t actually need the break after all.) present both choices as totally acceptable and totally up to the readers for themselves. if they need a break, they may choose to do one of the things below. but, if they feel like they can keep reading, they can move their post-it ahead again, sticking with the same number of pages for now.
you might also want to mention to the students in your small group that, if they keep reaching their goal over and over, and are realizing that they didn’t need a break yet, that may be a sign to increase their goal a little bit. and, just like we gradually build our stamina, we’d gradually increase this goal, so maybe move it 3 or 4 pages ahead if we had been 2 pages originally.
pausing and…: the ideal scenario is that, when a student realizes he needs a break from his reading, the break is somehow tied to reading. so, one thing we teach students in this situation is that they might read something else – a magazine, poetry book, nonfiction book (if we’re in a fiction unit currently). sometimes, taking a few minutes away from a just right chapter book allows the reader to return to it more focused. and, if it ends up being more a than a few minutes away, reading something is better than reading nothing, and so we’re ok with that.
another thing students may do when they pause their reading is to do some writing about reading. this might be on a post-it or in their reader’s notebook, depending on the type of writing about reading it is. students can use anchor charts to support them in this work.
a third thing students might do is just pause to do some thinking about their reading. this is something we do as readers, isn’t it? students might retell what they read in their mind or think about how the part they just read fits with what they’ve read so far. really, any of the writing about reading strategies we’ve taught (and these are posted on charts around the room) can also be thinking about reading strategies. this is something we can explicitly teach our kids to do.
breather box: this is something we’ve had in our class for a few years. it was implemented because of a few students in our room, but is made available to everyone so that its use is normalized. the idea is that we all need a break sometimes, and the breather box allows us to take that break. usually, this break is student-initiated, but, sometimes, an adult in the room may suggest a breather to a student.
our rule is that, as long as there isn’t whole-class teaching going on (or teaching going on in a small group or conference that you’re a part of), it’s ok to take the breather box into the hall for a few minutes without asking. our breather box is a small plastic bin that has some brain break things in it: a ring with a list of brain breaks we’ve done as a class, a list of feelings and some prompts to help students think through how they’re feeling and what their next steps are to move past the feelings, a mirror, a sand timer (for students who have trouble gauging how long they’ve been using the breather box), a tennis ball, a squishy ball, and some other fidget-y type toys.
expect that when the breather box is first introduced students will overuse it. but, give it a few days before jumping in and addressing this because it will usually fix itself. there have been occasional times throughout the year that we’ve had to put the breather box away for a day or two because it wasn’t being used appropriately, and when that’s happened, we’ve just directly and matter-of-factly said what the issue was and then put it away. before re-introducing it, we open it up to the class for a quick discussion of how they might avoid the issues we had with the breather box before it was put away.
for students who are reading and get to a point where they are no longer able to continue reading without a break, the breather box is a perfect option because it allows the student to take a break without disturbing anyone around him. our preference would be, of course, for students to choose to do a break more tied to their reading – like writing about their reading or reading a different text – but if a two minute break allows a reader to settle back into his book and keep reading, then we think that’s worth it.
some additional thoughts: we suggest teaching the strategies and then stepping back to see how they do independently. we’d probably teach them in the order that they’re listed above, so that they’re first taught to do something that will (hopefully) lead to reading longer, then to do some work related to reading, and, finally, to take a complete break to get refocused. we could teach the strategy, see how it goes, and then teach the next one if the first wasn’t successful in helping the student to maintain the class’s growing reading stamina.
once we’ve taught a child a strategy, we might ask them to join a conference or small group to teach other students who are having trouble maintaining their reading stamina. we’ve found that giving a reader the opportunity to teach others not only makes the work more appealing to the peers being taught, but also holds the (student) teacher more accountable to the work. if you’re teaching others to do something, you better be doing it yourself, right? and, there are few things more empowering for the kids or exciting for the teachers than watching the students become the teachers.
how do you support readers in building their stamina?