4th Grade Slump

You have probably heard the term “4th grade slump” when referring to the decline in progress in our readers when they become 4th graders.  Pam Withers reports, a 12  percent drop in daily reading by students when they become 4th graders.  There are many theories as to why we have this decline including the following:

  • Video game distraction
  • Organized sports and afterschool activities
  • Lack of interest due to the high push in 3rd grade with Read to Achieve requirements
  • Stress put on students in lower grades to learn to read causing dislike or disinterest

 

My theory is that all of these factors are important and play into the decline mystery.  I believe one HUGE factor is forgotten, but crucial, to this puzzle.

As fourth graders, students are being stretched from learning to read (decoding) to reading to learn (gaining meaning) which is exposing them to both increasing rigor and vocabulary. Students are being immersed in text with more multisyllabic words and unknown vocabulary than in years past with little to no support. We expect our upper grade students to read longer periods of time with little support and lack of background building.     

 

With this “gap” our students often become fake readers who pretend to read and apply strategies or word callers that are unable to gain meaning from lack of comprehension.  Cris Tovani, author of “I Read it, But I Don’t Get it,” classifies our fake readers into two categories:  resistive readers and word callers. Resistive readers have the ability to read but make the choice not to read due to apathy.  Word callers can simply decode with little to no comprehension.

 

I believe there is a third classification of students.  Students who have just enough ability to read predictable and decodable text but when you take away scaffolding–crumble under the inability to apply strategies.  I believe these students become word callers or just plain rebellious to reading because it becomes too difficult for them to keep up. These students join in fake reading out of survival because they do not want to appear “stupid” by their peers but have a desire to understand when they attempt to read.

 

So, what can we do?

 

More short and complex text at early grades.  

Using more complex but short reads helps to immerse students into text that requires them to apply strategies they are learning in a structured way.  We think of the “Close Read” for students in upper grades but exposing students to rigorous text that makes them stretch at early ages helps them to learn “fix it” strategies when they are “reading over their heads.”

 

Spending time TEACHING students how to read silently.

Teaching silent reading does not happen in an explicit manner for most students. We ask them to read silently but do we show them what that means?  Teaching students to read aloud and then slowly weaning them to silent reading with frequent checks on comprehension and decoding helps students build stamina for reading difficult text. In addition, holding students accountable for silent reading ensures they are applying context clues to unknown words or paraphrasing text periodically for understanding. Without frequent discussions, modeling and questioning–do we really know what they are doing when reading silently?

 

Accountability with multisyllabic decoding and applying context clues.

Being able to decode 3 and 4 syllable words is crucial for reading fourth grade level text which is 800 lexile or above. Having students recognize when they do not know how to pronounce or define a word is crucial for their comprehension. Hold students accountable in guided reading by asking them to define certain words based on the text. Ask how they pronounced them. These mini lessons ensure that students know how to decode and how to use and apply context clues when needed.

 

The “4th grade slump” is a phenomenon that research continues to study. For me, I believe we must attack the problem from all angles. Increase volume reading and continue to motivate our students but most importantly to stop the fake reading.  Fake reading only compounds the problem because the student gap continues to get bigger the longer they sit back passively.  So, get students involved and making mistake so you can help them fix them–that is true LEARNING. Teach students and help them become comfortable with making mistakes, trying new things and being wrong. It is only in that environment–our fake readers will take the risk to try!

 

Resources used in this Blog:

Pam Withers article entitled The fourth grade slump syndrome published on the web on April 9, 2015

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