Rebuilding Reading Stamina in the Middle of the Year

So, here we are in the middle of January of first grade.  Procedures are in place, routines have been established, and students are making steady progress.  Teachers everywhere are high-fiving because their classrooms are FINALLY running like those well-oiled machines they have dreamed about since their little birds left the nest at the end of last year.

Except...something just doesn't feel right.  You pop your head up from your guided reading table eager to look around the room at a sea of little faces engaged in their reading.  Ready to discuss the connections they're making and the new learning that's taking place. 

 Instead, you suck in your breathe because you notice little Jimmy staring into space, Susie is spinning herself in circles on the carpet square, and Michael is flipping through the pages of his Shark book faster than you can say Indiana Jones.

That's the moment you realize that the wheels have come off of the independent reading wagon.


In that moment you have a choice to make. Do you let things go on as they are and continue the status quo because "at least they've got the procedures down?"  OR do you make the difficult choice to start over completely and rebuild their reading stamina from scratch?  

That was the choice I had to make when my little ones and I came back from winter break.  I was all excited because I saw my little ones successfully getting their materials and moving through the steps to set themselves up for independent reading.  I thought to myself smugly, they have this and now I am free to DRA and assess to my heart's desire!  Well,  I was sadly mistaken!  Instead of panicking though and blaming this on my students' lack of skill or motivation or my lack of clear directions,  I decided to start fresh and go back to the drawing board.  What we were doing clearly wasn't helping them fall in love with reading or inspiring them to read for long periods of time.  Just like our own New Year's resolutions, it was time to make our own for reading independently.

I'm hoping that some of the things that I have tried in my classroom to rebuild reading stamina will help you through this mid-year slump and set you back on course to independence and reading success. So, where should you start?  Here are a few things that have helped my class and I rebuild our reading stamina.

1.  Clean Out Book Baskets
I was shocked to see how many of my students still had books in their baskets from the beginning of the school year.  How could my level 12 readers be engaged and inspired by texts that were at level 3-4?!  How could this have gone on for so long?!  I realized that it was time to clear out our baskets and start fresh.  

I encouraged my students to REALLY look at the books in their baskets and decide what was a good fit for them and what clearly was not.  I can't tell you how many giggles I heard from students who finally felt empowered to say, "WOW Mrs. Yannuzzi I could read this book in my sleep!"  

We had real conversations about how these books, although fun to reread at times, were not helping them become stronger readers and it was time for them to return to our class library.  We have set a goal for ourselves to make sure we have two challenging, two on-level, and two just for fun books in our baskets at all times.

I even have some friends who were introduced to the chapter books bookshelf.  THAT was a BIG moment of celebration!


2.  Review the Rules and Expectations
This seems like a no-brainer but it is so powerful and necessary.  We create a new anchor chart for Reading Independently expectations.  We discuss what THEIR job as students are and what MY job as the teacher is.  Our rules are very similar to those of Read to Self by the Two Sisters from the Daily 5 books.
1. Read the whole time
2. Stay in one spot
3. When you're done with one, pick up a new book from your basket
4. Reread your books back that you finished
5. Read the pictures and the words
6.  Try your best

3. Rebuild Stamina From the Beginning
Even if you think your students are reading from the 20 minutes you expect them too, they may not be.  It doesn't hurt to take a few days to re-establish reading stamina goals and practice in small increments from the beginning.  My students love to celebrate their time and we always make a big deal of it!  Even if you start off trying to rebuild their stamina slowly from 10-20 minutes by using two minute increments, I'm sure you will see a huge difference in their motivation.


4. Reflect, Reflect, Reflect
Whether you use the Daily 5 model of Read to Self, D.E.A.R., or Reading Workshop, the goals of independent reading are all the same.  We want students to independently read on-level texts on their own in order to use the strategies and skills that we have taught them. If you're meeting with guided reading groups or conferencing with students during this time it is difficult to get the pulse of the whole class while you're working with a minimal amount of students.  That's what I have found that a reflection time after EVERY independent reading cycle has taken place is so effective.  We reconvene on the carpet, discuss the rules for our time and reflect on which rules we followed and which ones we could use more work on.
I also try and call on a few students at a time to share about a new strategy they tried using their books, a new fact they learned, or a connection they have made.  This gives students a chance to share out about their learning and take a minute to shine in front of their classmates.  

5. Turn Bad Reading Habits Into Good Habits 
This is a strategy I learned from the Reading Workshop Units of Study and it has been really effective for my students.  As a class, we brainstormed bad reading habits that some of us do during independent reading.  I discussed what I had noticed students doing, like the "Fake Read" where they flip through the pages without reading the words or pictures and then we challenged ourselves to come up with ways to change this bad habit to a good habit.  We came up with other bad habits that we noticed or had done ourselves.  My favorite has to be the "Sit and Stare."  I have so many little friends who love to sit and stare off into space once they have finished a book.  We know now that we should be reading the whole time and continue to get new books out from our basket or reread the ones that we have already finished.  

We reference our Bad Habits to Good Habits chart a lot while we're reflecting and my students have really taken ownership of their behaviors. As always, thank you Lucy Calkins!


I'm hoping that with these few simple tips you will be able to rebuild your students' reading stamina to ensure a successful independent reading block for the remainder of the year.  The most important lesson I have learned is not to just be satisfied with students who "know the routines." If they're not truly reading then it's not worth their time or yours.  Make sure that you're checking in with them and reflecting on their reading and learning in order to guarantee that their time and yours is being used wisely.

Thank you so much for stopping by!  I hope you find these tips helpful with your own students!  Happy reading!

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