Conquer the "Fourth Grade Slump" in Reading!

By Victoria Jasztal on December 9, 2009


Nationally, there has been a baffling trend that has concerned educators and researchers called the "fourth grade slump." This realization came to my mind today when I was talking to a parent. Her daughter, exceptionally bright and quite motivated, possesses interests in a great deal of areas, yet her mom is slightly concerned about her general enthusiasm for reading. Very understandable. Quite interesting, in my opinion, is that there are several parents across the country who share the same exact woes. We as intermediate teachers need to help parents to understand this issue and find ways to overcome it in our classrooms.

I have noticed over the years on social networks where former students have profiles that they write statements on their page such as "I don't read" and "I hate reading", though reading was seemingly an engaging activity for them when they were in my class. It is heartbreaking.

The "fourth-grade slump" is research-based. At this website, Scholastic included a graph that shows "desired growth" and "actual growth" from fourth grade onward based on data from NAEP.

Graph_slump

From a teacher's viewpoint, I do a lot to motivate my fourth grade students to embrace reading. Sometimes, it takes the entire year to encourage my students to delve into literature because at first, they are not sure which genre of books they prefer. From there, they spent the first four years of school "learning to read," and now the gears are shifting because they are "reading to learn." Theories have also been tossed around claiming some intermediate students spend a great deal of time playing video games and they are burdened with after-school activities that may hinder them from reading at home on a regular basis. Most importantly, it has been stated that No Child Left Behind has pushed students almost "too far" and the pressure of testing is forced on third-grade students.

Glancing back at six years of data, I have discovered that third-grade students have typically performed higher on standardized testing measures at our school than their fourth- and fifth-grade counterparts. Is it because the third-grade test is a great deal easier than the fourth- and fifth-grade tests? (I wonder because the third-grade Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test is entirely multiple choice while the fourth-grade test offers a number of short and extended response questions.)

However, I discovered last year that nearly every student in my class performed higher on the fourth-grade assessment than they had the prior year. A few students increased dramatically in their DSS level. The question is: How can we as educators encourage our students to gain enthusiasm about reading?

  • Expose our students to a variety of reading genres:
    fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, poetry, science non-fiction, historical non-fiction, and reference materials. A professor I had at Flagler College, Dr. Fran Farrell, always informed her students how important it was to build a classroom library. I recall her telling us that it is a "general rule of thumb" to have at least twenty books per student in your classroom. Angela Bunyi, last year's grades 3-5 advisor, wrote that she could not mention teaching in a "literary desert", and neither could I! 
  • Utliizing books as "read alouds" increases student interest dramatically:
    Every year, I read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, No Talking by Andrew Clements, and The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin because they come from differing genres. Currently, I am starting The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements because my students were tickled by Clements' humorous tone at the beginning of the year. Several of my students have developed an interest in specific authors and series this year.
  • Science and social studies should NEVER be pushed aside:
    Complete experiments and have your students build dioramas. Perform reader's theater scripts and put on plays. Have your students write historical fiction stories. From a reading viewpoint, I make certain that my students focus on either of these subjects daily in their centers. Our classroom includes a variety of magazines and newspapers. If you glance in magazines like National Geographic Kids and TIME for Kids, the vast majority of the articles have to do with either science or social studies.
  • Do not underestimate the power of graphic novels (as I have mentioned this year):
    Though to some teachers glancing at a graphic novel is not "conventional reading," these stories still have a developing plot and characters.
  • Students are living in a digital world, expose them to the Internet:
    Show them podcasts, webcasts, videos, articles, and general searches at Google.com. Students are still "reading" if they are doing it online. They do not have hold a conventional book in their hands to be comprehending words.
  • Expose your students to a variety of "million dollar words":
    During writing class, I introduce my students to a variety of words so they can enhance their descriptions. Recently, I created lists of ornament and cookie related words. I have also had students develop lists of fall-related words in October and words that pertain to constructing a home when they wrote about their dream homes in September. Besides that, I teach my students about idioms, similes and metaphors so they recognize them when they read and focus on them when they write.
  • Use games and sorting activities to practice reading skills:
    Though you cannot use games in every center, every day, they are helpful because students often do not realize they are practicing the skills you have taught them. Lakeshore offers a variety of elaborate board games, and websites like FCRR Reading Activities for Grades 4-5 provide quality resources for free.

Lakeshore

  • Get your students to write daily:
    On Monday, I assigned homework where students had to write a brief summary about Pearl Harbor. Additionally, I have had students write enhanced descriptions and focus on a strategy from Write from the Beginning called  "slowed down step-by-step replay" where they focus on specific details, sentence-by-sentence. Dairy Queen Writing, used from Write from the Beginning and enhanced with my own descriptions, is an example. Most importantly, I use chapter books and non-fiction selections as "exemplary models" for their writing. 
  • Read literature that discusses strategies for increasing reading motivation:
    How to Get Your Child to Love Reading
    by Esme Raji Codell is one of the greatest resources I can recommend. 

Esme

  • The following book and links focus on vocabulary development:

Vocabday Scholastic's Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day: 180 Reproducible cartoons that Help Kids Build a ROBUST and PRODIGIOUS Vocabulary is a book I have had since my first year of teaching. Teachers can reproduce these pages and put them in vocabulary study folders for centers. Teachers can also record podcasts where they speak about the vocabulary words and encourage students to complete a variety of activities based on the pages.

Teaching Vocabulary to Your Child by Francie Alexander is a website you can recommend to parents that includes a plethora of videos and related links. 

I am also recommending an article called Vocabulary Boosters by Cara Pitterman that offers a number of common-sense strategies for practicing vocabulary.

Last, here are some links that discuss the "Fourth Grade Slump":

What are your thoughts on the "fourth grade slump"? Have you noticed this with students in your classroom? What strategies have you employed to help your students to embrace reading? Please share your thoughts and any ideas here!

Comments

Thank you, Charlene. You always have sensational ideas. I would love to hear more about your specific mini-lessons and how you present them. Just reading the little bit you wrote is helping me to think about the new lessons I will be presenting in January. Since holiday break is just in a few days, I am soon going to be free to think of a lot of fresh new ideas for revitalizing my reading instruction! - Victoria

After the holidays, my second-graders will embark on a unit of study in non-fiction reading and writing...this re-energizes my reading workshop in big ways! I find that kids stop asking me if they can 'change their level' and are instead engrossed in 'topics'...they now ask me if I knew how many miles away the sun is, how many times the human heart beats in an average lifetime...Mini-lessons revolve around 'how' to read non-fiction, the features of non-fiction texts, taking notes, forming 'interest groups' around topics. We write instructional narratives and 'all-about' books and launch into a sub-unit on biographies. By the time we come out of the non-fiction unit, all my students will have 'moveed up' levels simply because they have been SO ENGAGED in their reading...great way to get over that 'post-holiday, winter slump'...try it!

Thank you, Erin. I would love to know what your students enjoyed about Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH; I have actually never read that chapter book before. How did you get your boys excited about reading? Is there anything you would like to see me share here on Scholastic in the near future that you perhaps found helpful from my website?

This week's post- December 17, 2009's post- shares some writer's workshop links. Have you visited Writingfix.com, by the way? Corbett Harrison, the one who runs the website, has SEVERAL sensational lessons on there and is always seeking student examples. Is there something specific you see about your students' writing that is weak, or is it an overall weakness?

Peace, Victoria

Victoria- Thanks so much for putting so much time and effort into this blog. I love it. To help the "fourth grade slump" I have put away the basal reading book and picked out really good literature. We just finished reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and I really got the boys excited about reading. I've also found that if I am reading the books they are reading they get more excited about reading. I've taken many ideas about reading workshop from your personal website. I was wondering if you have any websites or informaiton about writer's workshop. I have them reading more, but their writing is actually very poor. Thanks for your time.

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