Increase Your Reading Endurance (SAT Series Week 2)

The Illinois April 5th state-mandated SAT is now six weeks away. With all Illinois public school students sitting for that SAT, we want to offer a series of weekly insights along the way to help you prepare. This week’s focus: are your students getting in enough reading rounds?

We understand the value of getting in enough rounds when it comes to a sport like boxing. For a title fight, if you want to “go the distance,” that means conditioning yourself to fight for 12 3-minute rounds, 36 total minutes of demanding physical exertion. Obviously, if you get in only 8 to 10 rounds in your training, you’d be poorly prepared, and outcomes will most likely be poor. If you appreciate the value of conditioning, then, like many boxing experts, you don’t take very seriously Conor McGregor, the UFC’s reigning champion, and his recent bid to take on Floyd Mayweather Jr., the greatest boxer of the last 25 years. As an MMA athlete, McGregor fights for 3 or 5 5-minute rounds, 15 to 25 total minutes of output, while Mayweather for the last 7 of his 49 fights has gone the distance of 36 minutes and won every time. How can you beat Mayweather’s experience in enduring that vital 11 to 21 extra minutes of intense fighting? I think you can’t.

Let’s extend our MMA/boxing analogy to reading. Illinois public high school students for the past 15 years have all sat for a 35-minute ACT reading section on the state-mandated ACT in the spring of junior year. In School Year 2016-17, that ACT has changed to the SAT, and “going the distance” means something entirely new. The Redesigned SAT features a 65-minute reading section, and the number of passages has grown from 4 to 5. So, our reading gladiators have entered a new arena, and the endurance requirement of their sport has changed: a reading rumble that involved 4 rounds of approximately 9 minutes of reading on the ACT has now transformed to 5 rounds of 13 minutes of reading on the SAT. Students need to adjust to 30 continuous extra minutes of intense focus on comprehending complex texts. This challenge raises some important questions:

How are our students training? Are they getting in enough reading rounds? How long do your students sit for and read complex texts? And let me specify: without interruption! With average class lengths of about 50 minutes, it is most likely that during the school day students have no comparable experience of reading and reasoning continuously for 65 minutes.

In the weeks prior to the April 5th SAT, how can we intensify the training? A practice test to simulate the exact reading conditions of the test; offering more in-class reading activities that simulate timed 13-minute rounds of reading bursts to prepare for the passage-by-passage experience; full class period reading activities that train focus and endurance and comprehension.

As educators, we know that mindless drilling does not lead to improvement and repetition alone does not lead to learning; however, understanding the actual requirements of an academic task – the timing, attention, endurance required – is necessary to create a learning experience that prepares students thoughtfully to maximize their performances.

So, perhaps it’s time to lay out your reading endurance training program for your students — complete with some extra, intense reading rounds — to build endurance for an April 5th SAT reading rumble that promises a new, important, and extensive reading challenge for your students.

Matthew Pietrafetta

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