The Unintended Consequences of 'Stamina'

The other day I was in a third-grade classroom, where the teacher spoke about increasing his student’s reading stamina. Each student completes reading logs to note how many minutes they read a day, with the end goal being 60 minutes of independent reading a day. While I certainly agree with the goal of longer, uninterrupted time for students to read, I question the word ‘stamina’. Is stamina what we want? Are there unintended consequences of the word ‘stamina’?

As a literacy educator, I certainly know the power of language. Word choice must be intentional and purposeful so that we convey the message that we intend. When I hear ‘stamina’, I can’t help but associate it with a negative connotation. According to the dictionary, stamina is ‘the ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort’. As I read it, that definition has a negative undertone – prolonged? effort? That doesn’t sound enjoyable! Stamina is what I needed to slog through the 26th mile of the first marathon I ran. Stamina is what carries me through the seventh revision of an article that I am writing. When I engage in enjoyable activities – a day at the beach, playing with my daughter and my dog, perusing bookstores and farmer’s markets – I do not need stamina. As both Daniel Willingham and Kylene Beers write, we want our readers to be ‘in the zone’. The ‘zone’ is that point when we are so enraptured, so focused in our text that we lose the sense of time.

No doubt that there are many young readers that require stamina, as reading is a process that taxes their mental capacities. But for others, reading is an act of sheer joy and pleasure – and stamina is not a factor.

My point in this quick blog is to encourage us as teachers and parents to consider how we use the word ‘stamina’ in conjunction with reading. Are we sending unintended messages about reading as a chore, an arduous activity, or a challenge that requires stamina? If we were to eliminate the focus on ‘stamina’ and instead focus on the joy of reading, children will internalize reading for its delights, wonders, and satisfaction.

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