Hitting “The Wall” as a 3rd or 4th Grader
We hear the expression that some students “hit the wall” around 3rd or 4th grade when it comes to reading. Why is it, that these students are hitting this infamous wall? Well, up until 3rd grade, students are receiving reading instruction in class, their words are pretty predictable, and the teachers often read directions from worksheets or textbooks aloud. However, usually within the first or second month of 3rd grade, the shift from “learning to reading” to “reading to learn” comes as a rude awakening to struggling readers. The content of the subjects they are learning about become much less predictable. Let’s face it, most of these students are quite intelligent and they’ve been reading primarily about animals, friends, and family members (dog, cat, frog, friend, mom, dad, brother) to this point. All of a sudden, the words they’ve stored in their memory bank are not being used as often, or if they are, they now have added prefixes and suffixes bombarding their text (happy vs. happiness). They may recognize happy, but where’s the “y”? The shape, length and the endings are nowhere near the same. They may take a shot at the word “happiness” and say “happy” or “happiest” with quite a bit of uncertainty.
Most reading struggles show up in kindergarten or first grade. Difficulty with sound/letter recognition, blending consonants, vowel confusion, and sight word recognition may have been brought to the attention of teachers and parents early on in their academic career. In this case, hopefully, the child will have received (or is in the process of receiving) the proper intervention by 3rd grade. However, if the struggles were not quite that pronounced early on, a child may have gone unnoticed and therefore wouldn’t have received the necessary help. Parents may have had a sense that reading wasn’t coming quite as easily as they had hoped, but eventually the student seemed to be doing okay. These parents (and sometimes teachers) tend to play the wait and see game. Surely it will click if they just keep reading. These are the kids that, all of a sudden, BAMP… hit that wall!!! They are bright kids. They are so bright that they use context clues, and their visual memory to get by – often making parents feel, at times, that they’ll be alright.
More times than not, we encourage our children to improve their reading skills by simply making them read more often. However, making your child check out tons of library books and forcing him to read is just encouraging him to guess and form horrible reading habits. Let me back up here. If a child possesses proper decoding skills, then ABSOLUTELY encourage him to read often. This will increase vocabulary, and fluency. However, without the proper intervention needed for a STRUGGLING reader to succeed, simply making your child read will not improve his reading skills. It will improve his guessing skills. I see this all the time. Often parents will receive a report that their child (who no longer is receiving reading instruction in school) performed poorly in reading comprehension after being administered a standardized test. The panic begins and the school’s focus will be on teaching comprehension strategies.
Here’s a typical scenario. A fourth grader will sit down with me, and try to read as fast as he can while guessing at most of the words along the way. He relies on the guessing game with very little attempt to decode unknown words. After asking him to explain what he read, it is evident that his poor reading comprehension skills have nothing to do with his ability to comprehend. He has just read a passage with 50-60% accuracy. He read the words wrong! How can he know what the passage was about, when half the words he read were incorrect? I then read the passage to him. Can he tell me, then, what the story was about? You bet he can. A child’s reading comprehension is exactly that…READING comprehension. Now, if after I read this passage aloud and the child STILL cannot sum up the story and answer some questions accurately, I would then question his ability to actually comprehend what he is hearing. Many times poor comprehension skills ARE caused by a number of issues, in which appropriate comprehension strategies should be immediately taught. But let’s not ignore the obvious and let’s questions if this child’s main comprehension issue is simply because of his ineffective ability to read.
As a parent, you can easily find out for yourself if your child is truly struggling to read and if his poor comprehension skills are mainly due to his poor reading skills. As your child grows older, we tend to not listen to him read. If he is struggling to read, he certainly does not want to read aloud to you. With our busy schedules, and sometimes our longing to assume everything is okay, listening to our child read is not on the top of our list, especially when we know it will come with some coaxing. On a day when your child is fully rested, just sit down and ask him to read to you (preferably something he is reading for school). Look at the words as he reads. Is he skipping or changing the prepositions or “little” words (on, it, at, in, a, for, from, and, the)? Is he guessing at words based on shape, beginning/ending letters (sheep-sleep), or letters in the wrong sequence (saw-was)? Is he confused with vowels, or vowel teams (butter-better, clammed-claimed)? Does he try to sound out a word, but it’s so tedious that you end up telling him the word? Is he basically skipping or guessing at the “big” words? First, start out by asking him to tell you everything he remembers from the text. Then ask him specific questions. Later, read a passage of ANYTHING to him. Then ask him to tell you everything he remembers from your reading, followed by a few specific questions. It will be pretty obvious as to what type of issue you are dealing with. Your child may very well be experiencing a reading problem, not necessarily a comprehension problem.
Okay, so what’s the solution? The quicker this child receives effective tutoring in a research proven Orton-Gillingham program, the more successful and confident your child will become academically. A struggling reader eventually struggles to comprehend simply because he isn’t reading the words correctly. Additionally, as time progresses, his comprehension skills may deteriorate in middle school and high school because his vocabulary is behind. When we are younger we learn new words (vocabulary) by the exposure to language from people in our lives (parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc.). When we enter middle school, and especially high school, we increase our vocabulary primarily from the literature we read. If these students aren’t reading accurately at grade level or they aren’t picking up books to read because they hate reading, their vocabulary will suffer due to the lack of exposure which will, in turn, also ultimately affect their comprehension. One way to ensure your child increases his vocabulary and comprehension skills is to provide him with audiobooks. With audiobooks your child will be exposed to the words and content that is relative to his intelligence level. I have seen, first hand, children thrive with audiobooks. One of my favorite non-profit organizations is Learning Ally. For a yearly fee, students with reading disabilities have access to unlimited downloadable audiobooks with an extensive library of core-curriculum textbooks.
If your child is progressively becoming more and more unwilling to read, or teachers are telling you that he struggles with reading comprehension, please don’t hesitate to provide him with the tools he needs to become a confident reader. The years go by entirely too fast. Before you know it, you blink and your child is in middle school or high school trying to survive each subject while fearing that his inadequacies in reading and spelling will cause people to judge his intelligence. You and I know that just isn’t true and your intelligent child should never be made to feel that he is being judged that way. However, sadly these children usual do feel this way about themselves. An individual’s intelligence should never be measured by his ability to read or spell. In fact, people with dyslexia usually have average to above average intelligence. Just talk to someone with dyslexia. It is clear that they are extremely intelligent individuals. They are logical, intuitive, and creative human beings with excellent “people” skills. They are the ones that “get the joke”. They are the problem solvers, and the “think outside the box” people. These individuals are successful entrepreneurs, salespeople, engineers, architects, film makers, actors, authors…the list goes on. Don’t wait for READING to “click”. Of course, receiving reading intervention as a 1st or 2nd grader will prevent lots of struggles and self-esteem insecurities. However, it is definitely NEVER too late to receive intervention. These kids are bright, and most of them can overcome their reading challenges if they are taught in a way that is tailored to their learning style. There’s no wall that should stop your child from reaching his full potential. Let’s climb that wall and see the unlimited possibilities lurking on the other side.