What I Can Do to Increase My Students’ Reading Stamina

Reluctant readers struggle to persist with a longer text. These students need a partner to meet them where they are and help them improve. In this post, I answer my own question: “What can I do to better partner with my students?”


Each year, I hear at least once that certain students I serve think they are in the “dumb-dumb class.” That they use the same terminology each year leads me to believe they heard that from someone. My guess is they heard it from classmates; kids can be cruel.

I’m not sure who told them that, since I immediately respond with a speech about how every person put on this Earth has a gift to share with the world, and this is not a “dumb-dumb class,” instead of asking them who told them that. It doesn’t matter anyway.

In this class, I help them close any gaps in their understanding of the English language, which could have started at any point in their school career and widened as the years went by. After a few weeks of consistent encouragement and responses to such things, I don’t hear “dumb-dumb class” or other phrases like it anymore.

Meanwhile, I have been working diligently to identify those gaps in their understanding and skills. One of them happens to be what I call their reading stamina. I’m sure other teachers do too, and I’m sure I heard that somewhere and cannot remember the original source.

How Students Might Be “Reading” Texts

The class I’m referencing in this article is an 11th grade English class. According to their reports, they are typically assigned plays and novels to read each school year, but they tend not to read them. Instead, they rely on the myriad of services that provide summaries of the texts and even quizzes to assess their basic comprehension of what they read in the summaries.

Here is a sampling of what I hear from students when I ask them why they aren’t reading the actual text:

  • I don’t have time.
  • It’s boring.
  • It doesn’t mean anything to me.
  • I don’t get it.
  • I don’t do homework.

I bet many other students in other classes are doing the same thing. So, how do they “get away with it” while my students clearly demonstrate they have not read?

Addressing the Gaps

These students have been in school for at least 12 years. Over the years, content and skills have been shared with them, which become more complex year-on-year. Texts are longer and/or more complicated. Somewhere along the line, a gap in their understanding (whether of content or skills) appeared.

There could be many reasons why this gap appeared. Here are some reasons I have heard over the years.

  • Illness which resulted in time away from school
  • Issues weighing heavily on their minds and distracting them
  • Fear of asking for help when something is not understood
  • Hyperactivity and insufficient focus

The gap widened. In some cases, it became a chasm into which content and skills dropped. To avoid feeling inadequate, students turned to task-avoidance. Then, when they did not do well on a test, they could shrug it off. “I didn’t study anyway, so…”

There were also other reasons, of course. However, I want to focus on the individual student and how to help them start closing their personal gap.

Steps to Take to Address the Gaps

First, I think it is important to address personal responsibility and metacognition. Students need to own their education and know how they think and process information.

  • Once students claim ownership of their education, they will want to strategize ways to build confidence, instead of avoiding tasks.
  • Once students know how they think and process information, their confidence will also receive a boost.
  • Additionally, their fear of asking for help will dissipate, and they will ask the questions teachers need to best help them. This has been proven to me in my personal life, time and again.

Next, I believe diagnostic assessments can help after the exercises I described above are complete. There are several from which to choose, and it cannot hurt to administer several, after which a close data analysis can reveal how to address the gaps.

The diagnostics will reveal what they actually know at this stage versus what they “should” know.

Finally, knowing what their interests and goals are should prove important, especially when choosing content. In the past, I have used career and interest surveys to drive the career research essay unit. I could introduce those much earlier, and include reading interest surveys.

Those analyses (diagnostic and survey) will drive the curriculum for the class. It will drive me to find content to close the gaps, and better prepare them for the next stage. They will be my road map.

Some Curriculum Ideas

I have always wondered how curriculum maps could be developed and used year-on-year. Each year, the students change, and we have to figure out how best to reach them, right? Therefore, my path always changes. Yes, there are certain requirements (like the career essay), but each year, the content I teach and the skills I emphasize flow from where the students are to where they need to be in preparation for the future.

That said, I have some general ideas for units I would like to share with you. Ready? Here they are.

  • Independent Reading with Young Adult Literature — If I let students select the book they want to read, they should be more persistent and successful.
  • Book Clubs Using Teacher Selections — In my experience, students enjoy conversing and doing something during class. This is the perfect opportunity.
  • Socratic Seminars — These seminars require preparation, and several texts can be used to prepare.
  • Grammar and Style Instruction That Is Not Dull
  • Vocabulary in Context
  • Writing to Think and Learn: A Structured Reflection on Independent Reading
  • Why Shakespeare Still Makes Sense Over 400 Years Since His Death
  • “How Will You Change the World?” (I wrote about this unit here.)

Your ideas would help me tremendously. Please leave a comment if you have suggestions or thoughts about this article. Thank you for reading!

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