How Can You Help Students Stay on Task for Longer?

How Can You Help Students Stay on Task for Longer?

By Maddie Witter, education consultant and author of Reading Without Limits: Teaching Strategies to Build Independent Reading for Life

Anyone can improve their concentration stamina – from a wiggly toddler to a daydreaming university student. It’s a necessary, lifelong skill for success.

In a school context, teachers can help students learn to concentrate and sit still for longer by consistently including a daily independent reading block at school. Building independent reading is one way a school can effectively build concentration stamina. This stamina leads to significant gains in student literacy achievement and should be coupled with a robust literacy program. It also develops students’ thinking muscles so they can persevere and concentrate in other contexts.

Reading stamina is a muscle that needs to be flexed

Managing a group of students independently reading at any age level is hard. Some students fake read, other students get distracted easily, while others might not like any book you have available. Many teachers try incorporating independent reading and then give up. However, specific tools give kids the stamina and co-regulation skills to read for longer blocks every day. Their ability will grow incrementally with practice and feedback.

It is often easier to start small. After students have chosen great books, start with only a few minutes of independent reading. After the time ends, discuss as a group what went well with their stamina and ways in which they think it may be able to be improved. Set goals for the following day.

As you slowly build stamina, try mapping out their daily independent reading stamina on a line graph. You might find that it goes up and down, which is absolutely fine! Discuss reasons why stamina is harder on some days than others. Then, discuss a new stamina goal for the following day.

Tools for building independent reading and learning stamina

I shared a few tools that can help build your class’s independent reading stamina in the Berry Street Education Model. These tools are effective because they help students visualise and savour their progress. Some of my favourites include:

  • Stamina Graph: Tracks student independent reading stamina over time using a personal or whole class line graph.
  • Stamina Thermometer: Similar to a fundraising thermometer, students fill in how many minutes they think they can read in each class and then reflect on whether they met their goal.
  • Stamina Calendar: Allows students to pre-plan their daily reading. Then, at the end of each week, students can go back and reflect on their reading stamina for the week.

What strategies have you used that have helped you develop student stamina?


What strategies have you used that have helped you develop student stamina?

For more information about why more time reading in school matters, stay tuned for additional blog posts from Maddie.

The Berry Street Education Model is running a masterclass for BSEM alumni that focuses on developing students’ independent reading stamina. Teachers will leave with practical tools, a copy of Reading Without Limits: Teaching Strategies to Build Independent Reading for Life, and a cultivated library list.

Find an upcoming Berry Street Education Model course

Watch more about Berry Street’s Education Model


Resources

Maddie Witter. Reading Without Limits: Teaching Strategies to Build Independent Reading for Life. (San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass, 2013).


Maddie Witter is a Senior Advisor in the Berry Street Education Model team. Maddie started teaching in 2002 as a year 8 special education teacher in New York City. In 2005, Maddie co-founded KIPP Infinity Charter school as a founding reading teacher and Director of Instruction.

In 2011, Maddie moved to Australia and co-founded Parkville College, a trauma-informed school that serves incarcerated young people in Victoria. In addition, Maddie was a lead consultant on the Berry Street Education Model for the Berry Street School.

Maddie is also the author of Reading Without Limits: Teaching Strategies to Build Independent Reading for Life (2013).

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