How do I get my kids in reading and writing shape, so they can move forward? Here are 6 questions I am asking myself as I attempt to help students build their stamina. 


  • Am I seeing this challenge from the students’ perspective? I should start there. If we’re going to continue the analogy of being in shape, I need to remember my own foray back into fitness after a long time off. It was hard and embarrassing. The ugly, jiggly trip to the stop sign at the end of my street was painful. And I forget sometimes that students feel all of those emotions when they are asked to do hard things. Honestly, since the pandemic, the feelings of inadequacy have been fogging up the room, and they haven’t gone away. I have to be mindful of that. 


  • Have I shared the “why” behind the need for stamina? For a young reader, the why of sustained reading and writing isn’t always clear. I think students sometimes see these as a teacher’s way of filling up class time--reading time becomes about us, because we need time to take attendance or check email (these tasks are real, don’t feel guilty). If I can keep the “why” out there and remind students that reading and writing are invaluable part of who we are as learners and humans—they develop our mental strength, they give us new perspectives and ideas, they form and polish the messages we send to the world, they develop our empathy as people, they prepare us for our future—kids may see this chunk of time differently, even if we are taking attendance or checking email for a minute. Stamina might not follow if students believe they aren’t reading for us, they’re reading for themselves. (Students can smell a “time-soak” activity from a mile away.) 


  • Do my kids have the right equipment? Fitness is harder with a broken bike or a rusty barbell or the wrong shoes. What will add to the comfort of our readers and writers? I don’t mean fanning them and feeding them grapes. I’m talking about flexible seating, possibly, or headphones or--most importantly--high-interest books or topics they have chosen themselves. 


  • Am I teaching the soft skill of dealing with distractions? We need to talk about what sustained reading/writing looks like and strategies for countering distraction—body positioning, closing all tabs but one, turning off volume, breaking tasks into chunks, and others. 


  • Am I a fan or a taskmaster?  If we want our students to achieve diligence, then we need to cheer them on. They may have parents at home who are cheerleaders, or they might not. So we have to become our students’ fan base. We have to be hooting and hollering when they are closing in on the end of a book or clicking “share” on that doc.  We are the ones who have to be finding new challenges and prodding them to try.  We are the ones who have to give the high-fives, “well dones!” and “I’m so proud of yous!” Teachers, that’s part of our job. It is probably the most important part. 

In a culture of out-of-shape students, where distractions prevail and there are a thousand other ways to entertain the mind, let’s give kids the gift that will serve them well down the road: the grit to keep the pages turning and the keys clicking. 


Carmel McDonald has taught middle school ELA in both British Columbia and Michigan, and has learned that tweens are tween-ish everywhere. She digs that. In 2019, Carmel was named Jackson Magazine’s Teacher of the Year. Carmel has nineteen adventurous years behind her as an educator, and is enjoying year twenty.