The Reading Slump: What Happens in Fourth Grade?

reading-slumpWhat happens in the intermediate grades that causes a downward spiral in reading development?  For some students, the change is dramatic.  In the early grades, such children exhibit few, if any, struggles and appear happy to read.  Then, by third grade, it slowly starts to change, and by fourth grade, these same children begin failing subjects that were not problems before.  Is it simply the age of the child, the influence of peers, or a lack of interest in books that causes this unrecognized problem?  It could be, but more than likely it is not pre-adolescence.

An obvious cause is a shift in the type of reading that is expected in fourth grade.  Children begin to read to learn, and this type of reading is much more sophisticated on many levels.  First, the font size becomes smaller, and the pages are denser with more content.  Second, there are fewer pictures. In the earlier grades, some children relied on the pictures as a cueing system that now fails them.  Third, they need more extensive background knowledge to understand what they are reading to make connections.  Vocabulary is a close cousin of background knowledge, and it becomes increasingly important to know the meanings of words when trying to comprehend a complex passage. 

But there is a less apparent cause that seems to be pervasive, yet rarely accounted for.  The words have more syllables, and many children have difficulty reading multisyllabic words.  There are children who can decode fairly well at the one syllable level but do not know how to read words accurately and fluently when they must read through longer words.  Since most decoding instruction stops by second grade at the latest, children are not being directly taught how to read a multi-syllable word just at the point when these words begin to become more prevalent.  Furthermore, fluency is expected by the intermediate grades and not knowing how to read multi-syllable words negatively affects their ability to read smoothly.  This is sometimes tricky to detect.  Since they can read the shorter words and connector words well, their struggles in multisyllabic word recognition is not noticeable.  Some children can read quickly, and some teachers, and even some evaluators, will not recognize a fluency problem.  Children will use the context and sometimes even come up with a meaningful substitution for a word.  But if they do this often enough, either skipping over words or misreading them, comprehension will be compromised, and the downward spiral will continue through the upper grades.  Subsequently, spelling and writing will also be affected, as they are more frequently expected to provide written responses in all content areas.

Faith Borkowsky, Owner and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is a Certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner, is Orton-Gillingham trained, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties.

High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching is located in Plainview, Long Island. Read about what we can offer you and your child: http://highfiveliteracy.com.

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