If you were asked to name a pivotal year in school, one that influenced future academic success for years, what would you say? Junior high, senior year of high school, the first year of college? While these are all important landmarks in an individual’s education, I would argue one of the most critical years is third grade.
Yep, you heard that right, third grade. The third grade represents a major shift in what students learn and how they are taught, especially when it comes to reading. The focus shifts from learning to read – decoding text and sight words – to reading to learn. Instead of simple sentences and predictable spelling patterns, students are now being asked to read about a topic and learn from a text.
There is also a shift from reading primarily fiction text to reading mostly nonfiction. Students are asked to read, absorb, and use information. This is a pivot point for many readers, especially those who struggle. If children are not fluent readers by the time they enter third grade, they are likely to fall behind, and the gap will continue to grow if appropriate reading intervention is not implemented. This has major effects on a child’s academic future. A study conducted in 2011 by Donald J. Hernandez and released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who lacked proficiency in third-grade reading were four times as likely as their on grade level peers to drop out of high school.
Research shows that students with a range of reading disabilities who receive appropriate intervention focused on accuracy and fluency by the end of 2nd – 3rd grade will usually catch up (Torgesen et al., 2003). Unfortunately, students who get appropriate intervention after 3rd grade do not catch up in terms of reading fluency. This group of students may get close to their peers in accuracy; however, fluency, while it improves over time, remains behind peers and presents a significant reading impediment.
If your child is behind in reading as they approach or enter third grade, it is imperative that they get the reading intervention they need. Here are a few ways that you can help support your child with reading at home.
- Focus on reading a variety of texts. Even if your child hasn’t even started school yet, make sure that you are reading both fiction and non-fiction to them. Read functional texts as well, like the back of the cereal box, graphs, signs, and directions. Point out different text types and what their purpose is (to inform, to entertain, to teach how to do something).
- Work on phonological awareness skills. From preschool, children need to be working on manipulating the sounds in words and syllables. Ask your child to stretch out the sounds in words, blend them together, break words into syllables and generate rhyming words. For a more complete list of ways to practice phonological awareness skills, check out our blog dedicated to the subject.
- Make sure your child is still getting explicit phonics instruction. Children who struggle with reading need direct and explicit instruction in letter sounds. Check out our blog for some ideas to practice phonics skills. If your child shows significant deficits in phonics, you may want to think about signing them up for our online reading tutoring program.
- Have your child read out loud. Parents can often feel a bit blindsided because they think their child is doing fine. Starting in about third grade, we tend to stop asking students to read out loud. This makes it difficult to know if your child is struggling. You can make reading out loud fun and even trick your child into thinking it is a game. One activity to encourage reading out loud is to trade off. You start reading a text and point to your child when you want them to take over. Go back and forth until you finish the text. You can also have your child record themselves reading a story and play it back so they can hear how they sounded. Some children love to read to their pet. Particularly older children, as they are not self-conscious while reading to their furry friend. This may be the only time an older child will willingly read aloud. Encourage them to use appropriate expression and even voices for different characters. Also, like with other texts, make sure that you are reading a variety of fiction and non-fiction text.
- Ask your child about what they are reading. If your child is reading a fiction text, a few good go-to questions are: Who are the characters? What is the problem in the story? What is the solution? Would you have done anything differently? Why do you think he/she/they did that? How is the character feeling right now? Make sure to always ask for justification from the text. For example, if your child says a character is sad, make them prove it using examples from the story. If your child is reading a non-fiction text you can ask things like: What is the author’s purpose? What is the text mostly about? How do you know? What type of text is this? Why did the author write the text? Is there anything you would like to know more about?
- Encourage your child to monitor their own comprehension. Often, children who struggle don’t know when they don’t understand what they are reading. Encourage your child to identify when they are having difficulty and go back and reread. You can also have them take notes and ask questions as they read. Sticky notes or a reader’s notebook are a great way to get kids excited about this task.
While these are all great ways to help your child who struggles to read, the best and most important thing you can do as a parent is getting your child the reading intervention they need. For children with reading difficulties, our online reading tutoring provides a Structured Literacy approach that has been proven time and time again to be effective.
Our reading clinicians are skilled at identifying areas for growth, and our program is tailored to fit your child. Plus, since it is all online there are no commutes or time wasted sitting in a waiting room. We also provide you will tools and skills to help your child at home.
If you suspect your child has trouble with reading, don’t wait for them to get further behind. Contact us today to get them the help they need.
Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.