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BellaOnline's Reading Editor


Don't Give Up on Struggling Older Readers

Guest Author - Jeanne Rutgers

When it comes to reading education, third grade is the magical year. In most school settings it is the last grade where children are taught to read. By the end of third grade, children are expected to read to learn, i.e. be able to read independently from science or history books and absorb the information.

Reading at grade level by third grade is crucial for future success. “Of children who are diagnosed with reading problems by 3rd grade 74% continue to have problems in the 9th grade.” (Fletcher et al 1994) Because of this grim statistic and many others like it, reading education and remediation is concentrated on the lower grades where remediation has a higher success rate. Almost all efforts at preventing reading failure are focused on the youngest students.

But what if you are the parent of a fourth grade student with a reading problem? Do you just give up because there is a 74% chance that your student will still be a struggling reader in high school? Absolutely not. Instead you have to ask yourself, “What can I do to get this student into the successful 26%?”

Getting a struggling older student into what I call, the successful 26, is hard work but it most definitely can be done.

Recognizing the Problem

First of all parents and teachers need to be willing to admit that the child has a real problem. Poor reading in 4th grade isn’t a “developmental lag” that will vanish in time. The last thing this child needs is more time to wait and see what happens.

Work at the child’s level

If your fourth grader is reading at a first grade level, then you need to have him practice on first grade level books. You cannot continue to work with him on grade level books. They are too far above his skill level. Think of teaching reading like training for a marathon. Let’s say you want to run a marathon, but you are just starting to train. Your first run shouldn’t be for 26 miles. Your first run should be a distance that you can achieve, be it five miles or five blocks. You start the training at your level then you gradually build up. The same is true of teaching reading. Work at the student’s current level then move on to materials that are closer to grade level. That may mean starting all the way back at letters and sounds. If that is what the student needs, then that is where to begin.

Use your resources

First consult with your school’s learning specialist or resource teacher. See if you can get your child on an I.E.P. or 504 program. Let the school know that you are serious about getting help for your child.

For more tips on how to have a great school conference click here

If you can afford a reading tutor, hire one. Look for someone who is experienced with the needs of older students. Many tutors focus only kindergarten and first graders, therefore it is important to find a tutor who is going to remediate and work at the root of the problem. Do not use someone who is going to just help with homework.

If you can’t afford a tutor, talk to your public librarian. She can provide you with a wealth of information about reading skills, remediation programs, and can recommend “high interest-low reading level books.”

Be willing to dedicate considerable time

Your child did not fall one to five years behind overnight. Addressing an older student’s reading problem takes more than a few months. It takes daily practice for an extended amount of time. In my personal experience with struggling older readers, the remediation process takes anywhere from 10 months to two years. I know that this is tall order, and many people will just give up and say, “I don’t have the time or the patience.” When you want to give up think about the fact that, “60% of all prison inmates, and 75% of the unemployed are illiterate.” (Moats and Hall 1999.) According to the Connecticut Longitudinal Study students with milder but chronic difficulties with reading socialize less, engage in fewer extracurricular activities in school, and curtail their education before their career aspirations may be realized.

Don’t give up on those struggling older readers. They can make it to the magic 26%. It just takes a lot of work and the courage to face the problem.

For more information on improving your child's reading skills check out my columns on reading fluency and the benefits of reading aloud
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Content copyright © 2015 by Jeanne Rutgers. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Jeanne Rutgers. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Mistler Davidson for details.


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