It seems impossible that our school year is half way over! This is the time of year when worry and doubt start to creep into teachers’ brains about student growth and preparedness. Teachers start to panic and perseverate about “the TEST”! It becomes a tempting prospect to abandon Reading Workshop and go back to more traditional test prep practices. Drill and kill packets start to sneak their way out of the filing cabinet headed in a full sprint to the copier. Teachers worry about reading stamina, because we have all seen the data showing that students often do better at the beginning of the STAAR Test and simply runout of gas and desire towards the end. Thus, students make more mistakes towards the end of the test, loose focus, and some simply don’t finish. Stamina Bags are a great way to build stamina in readers in a way that better prepares them for the unique nature of high stakes tests and does it without drill and kill.
State testing puts demands on readers that are unique to testing genre and are never encountered in even a normal avid reader’s life. Students are expected to stay focused, read, and answer complex and difficult questions about their reading for two to four hours without stopping. As if those expectations aren’t ridiculous enough, they are expected to shift from genre to genre while doing it. When is the last time that you chose to sit down and read a fable, a poem, a biography, some realistic fiction, an expository text, and a piece of drama all back to back in a two hour period? This requires more than just reading stamina. I can sit and read a good book all day long, but I don’t stop and read some poetry when I take a break. To be fair to our students, we need to give them some practice shifting genre gears. Stamina Bags offer students an opportunity to do just that.
A Stamina Bag is a collection of literature pieces representing many different genres put into a large Ziploc bag. Just like a bag of “just right” books, it is a bag of “just right” passages. Stamina bags can be made by gathering articles and short pieces from a variety of sources. Getting together a group of teachers to help search for the literature needed to create the bags can save hours and hours of prep work. Articles and short pieces can be pulled from different children’s magazines, basal anthologies, websites, short books, and even test prep materials. We divided up by resource. For example, I sorted through a large pile of National Geographic Kids magazines for articles that would work well and be no more than three pages in length. Another teacher looked through a workbook of test prep materials to find passages that were interesting. One teacher searched through Highlights magazines to find short stories. Stamina Bags can be easily differentiated for different ability levels as well. Collaborating made the task manageable. The Stamina Bag should consist of five or more pieces that all represent a different genre of literature. A class set should be made of each bag. Color coding each class set of stamina bags can help to keep them organized. Creating six to eight class sets should be plenty.
Stamina Bags can be used once a week during independent reading to build stamina, but most of all to allow students’ brains to practice shifting from one genre to another during a short time span. After students have read continuously for a sustained period of time, give them an opportunity to discuss their reading in small groups or partnerships. The idea is not to give students multiple choice questions to answer after each passage. Students can pair up based on the pieces that they enjoyed the most, the least, found the most interesting, or any other criteria that the teacher can think of. Provide students with talking stems to guide their conversations about the passages that they are expected to discuss. These group discussions should look much like a book club discussion.
Resist the urge to overuse stamina bags. Keep it fun by finding interesting articles or by grouping them in themes. Most importantly, take a deep breath. Be confident in the growth and progress that your students have made in workshop! Don’t let test prep crush all of the hard work that you’ve done to create enthusiastic readers!
Have a fantastic week of Reading and Writing Workshop and just “hang-on”!