Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Endurance and to be able to endure 
is the first lesson a child should learn because 
it's the one they will most need to know...   
~Jean-Jacques Rousseau

In Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop I write about how "Strengthening Endurance and Stamina" with the readers in my classroom (p. 51-62) is one of the most important "ashlars" of our reader's workshop.  Lately, I've once again been thinking about the idea of helping nudge young readers by strengthening their ability to become thoughtful, independent learners.  Since I wrote the book, I've continued to explore this idea of encouraging children negotiate their "ability to do something or 'carry on' for a long period of time."
     I'm coming off a stellar year.  I've had the best time working with 31 fourth graders.  It was one of those eclectic, energetic, and enthusiastic groups of learners that we all dream about... just enough angst to keep me humble and just enough commitment to learning know that the fruits of our labors far outweigh the "stuff" going on outside the classroom.  Brilliant thinkers... the majority of whom had the fortitude to stick with learning tasks and the ability to make wise choices as learners.  And, I believe, it was because they were in a supportive environment, provided choice, and given time to endure!
     As I talk to colleagues about working with readers, I'm intrigued by the rituals and routines that are put in place in order for learners to "do" the work they "must do" during our literacy workshops.  Bells still ring for groups to rotate from place to place.  Elaborate charts and structures are put into place to imply "choice."  Laminated charts adorn classroom walls (Isn't change a constant in learning to be a wise reader)?  Points and prizes are awarded for finishing a book.  Children "choose" from their teacher's menu of choices.  All in the name of "independence."
     Don't get me wrong... everyone has a personal definition of "independence."  In fact, I'm continuing to re-vision mine.  I want to make sure that I'm instilling a sense of stamina instead of creating"co-dependent" learners.  I want my students to know that I'm there for them as their teacher, but that, ultimately, they have take on the responsibility of the learning role.  And, for me, it all goes back to our work at the forefront of the school year... the shared "coming to know" that takes priority as we work together to build a workshop structure (which is, indeed, the best structure for engagement and learning) in which independence can thrive.
     I recently received an email from a former student (who transferred to another school at the end of his fourth grade year and spent his fifth grade year reading "classics").  His sense of endurance still a stronghold in his mind.  In the email, he wrote...

     I would like some more books to read because I opened up my old reader's notebook and noticed three things.  One: "Wow I had really messy handwriting."  Two: "It is cool that I get to look through it again."  Three:  "How cool would it be if I continued."  So, I am.   This month's subject is not metacognition, synthesis, etc. but... STICK-TO-IT-NESS!  So please give me some more book titles I can read!!!   *:) happy*=)) rolling on the floor*'+_+ cold*%||:-{ unlucky*~^o^~ cheer

    STICK-TO-IT-NESS... one of our synonyms for endurance and stamina.  As teachers it behooves us to rouse the agility of learners in our care to strengthen their stamina.  On page 62 of Conferring, I write...  

We must focus on stamina and endurance
  • if we want our students to become independent, mindful readers
  • if we believe that "Endurance and to be able to endure is the first lesson a child should learn because it's the one they will most need to know."
  • if we believe that our reader's workshops should be places where conferring can thrive
  • if we want our students to become intellectually engaged during reader's workshop and we want to have the time to spend our energy on conferring
     So, as I begin my summer and start planning for next year, I'm going to revisit the role stamina and endurance plays in reader's workshop.  A new group of learners will certainly inspire a new set of wonderings and investigations... but the idea of "Learning with a spirit of endurance" remains a constant.  Can't wait to begin.



  1. LOVE that a student wrote to you, his former teacher, for more book recommendations. That's evidence of the mark that you left on him.

    Your conferring book is in my stack of PD books to read this summer. I have convinced my co-worker to take the plunge and try readers workshop this upcoming year with our 6th graders. We both have some anxiety (actually LOTS of anxiety), but with guidance from you and a few other outstanding educators we are hoping for the best.

    We just hope we have to stamina to make it to the end of the year without giving up! :)


  2. Patrick,
    As Donalyn recently shared, "Let my people read." I think it is as true in our workshops as during the summer. I would love to hear more about helping students be independent readers instead of co-dependent. I feel I am constantly trying to improve in this area of my workshop.

    Your bring up stamina and I hope you will talk more about it. It seems there are classrooms in which students work to "increase minutes," but I can't help but think that stamina and engagement are tied together a bit. Stamina seems to be about more than minutes I can sit quietly with a book. Readers have to know how to choose a book, think about it, discuss it, write about it, and get lost in it.

    You have me thinking....


  3. I wish I knew what stamina and endurance looked like in a first and second grade classroom. I felt like I didn't have enough time to confer with my readers this year. We developed our routines with modeling and practice, then I had some time for groups and conferring Nov-Feb. I felt like I had to revisit more time in small groups Feb-Apr. Then at the end of the year, there was so much work on endurance I had such little time to confer.

    Are there any teachers you have seen teach first and second grade with a "just right" conferring schedule? I would love to have a contact person to ask more questions.

    1. I think that stamina and endurance look the same in first/second grade as they do in any other grade. It's about the expectations for what takes place during reader's workshop... the rituals and routines that put into place the effective use of time, of ownership, of choice. When I confer with "little guys" often my conferences are thinking aloud/along with them as readers... often when working on surface structure systems.

      I don't know if there's such thing as a "just right" conferring schedule. I know friends who flipflop conferring one week/small group work the next week. I've watched Debbie Miller's DVDs on conferring a lot (as well as my own). I've recorded my conferences to see who really does the work...

      If you put into place the "ashlars" I write about in Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop... then there's time for conferring. Conferring during the workshop works if readers are doing the meaningful work that readers during the composing time of the workshop... those are often defined by strategy study, "curriculum," important rituals, gathering meaningful assessment data... and, well, reading! Making sure that they have lots of text available, have the strategies to solve problems either by themselves or with a peer, helping them understand the "purpose" of reading during reading workshop (which is often their own purpose).

      Reread Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller or Catching Readers Before They Fall by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier. Both great resources.

      Ultimately, conferring only works as well as the rituals/routines we build in our classrooms on a daily basis... the authenticity of what we're hoping for will shine through our conversations with kids.