Let’s Talk Stamina

Building Stamina

Stamina in literacy learning has been a popular topic lately, and rightfully so.  Without it, students are unable to tackle the challenges that come with close reading, for example, and can’t follow through on more straightforward tasks either.  When I’ve seen stamina addressed in classrooms I’ve mostly seen it tied to the clock.  Teachers are timing students to see how long they can read without getting fidgety or needing a break.  This isn’t necessarily a bad practice by itself.  It’s important to build students’ abilities to sustain attention over time.  But there’s more to stamina than minutes on the clock.

The first consideration teachers need to think about when timing students is the type of material students are engaged with.  Are the texts of the right difficulty level for individual readers?  Are they a good length?  How interested are the students in what they’re reading?  How much choice did they have in the texts they’re expected to use to build stamina?  These questions are worth asking if we’re really going to measure the timed stamina students have gained.

I would argue that stamina can’t be measured in minutes alone.  What about the resilience students demonstrate when engaging with texts and tasks?  Are they able to wisely recognize their limits, set work aside, and return to it with renewed vigor?  That’s the type of stamina I care most about.  I want students to think metacognitively about their learning, build an awareness of their challenges, and know when to say when.  This is what established authors do all the time, yet we continue to measure our students’ stamina abilities in how long they can attend in one sitting.  In today’s fast paced, on-demand world we rarely accomplish tasks in one sitting, let along the long term goals we set for ourselves.

So let’s pay attention to stamina off the clock as well.  Take a moment during say, Writer’s Workshop, and check to see which students give up too soon?  Which ones recognize when they’re stuck and seek out help?  Which students return to their writing and work to improve it?  It might be an equally successful way to measure and motivate your students toward endurance of the best kind.