Your kid loved reading books until he hit fourth grade. Now it’s a royal pain getting him to pick up a book or magazine at all. He says reading is boring. He says school is too hard. If that rings true, join the club.
Forty percent of kids between the ages of five and eight read every day, but by fourth grade, that drops to twenty-nine percent.
It’s called the “fourth-grade slump,” a term coined by Jeanne S. Chall, a Harvard Graduate School of Education psychologist, writer and literacy researcher for more than fifty years.
There are many reasons why a child might start resisting reading around the age of nine (actually, anywhere from the end of second to the middle of fifth grade), but here’s the simplest explanation: That’s when schools expect children to go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Suddenly, it’s not good enough to simply sound out words. The child has to make sense of the context in ever more difficult textbooks. Whether or not he has the motivation, maturity, or physical capacity (including brain development) to do that, teachers will now throw more and more sophisticated reading materials at him, along with expectations that he’ll do plenty of reading outside of school hours.
In other words, children struggling with reading prior to fourth grade will be left in the dust unless they receive help, understanding, and encouragement, especially at home. They’ll have increasing trouble keeping up. They’ll get ever more frustrated. They’ll read less and less. And eventually they’ll decide reading isn’t important and develop attitude about everything connected with reading.
How to counteract that? It may be as simple as parents reading up on the topic of reluctant readers or arranging a reading buddy for him. Or it may involve testing for anything from eye to hearing problems.
The point is that failure to intervene at an early stage means a less-than-keen reader will suffer academically, which impacts his self-confidence (even if he hides it well) and potentially puts him at a disadvantage for life.
Somewhere around fourth grade, too, smart reluctant readers learn to “fake read,” which means neither parents nor teachers may catch on that there’s a problem. (If you’ve ever read a foreign language
phrase aloud without actually knowing what the words
mean, you get the idea.)
Cris Tovani, author of I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers, has two terms for fakers: “resistive readers” (they can but choose not to read) and “word callers” (they can read aloud by sounding out words;they just haven’t learned to “get” what they’re reading yet). Fake readers survive by listening to the teacher, copying the work of others, and laying low when someone wants them to read. They cope temporarily, sometimes even right through high school, but it
drags down their academic self-confidence and eventually catches up with them.
Tovani’s book can be a helpful resource for dedicated parents who want to identify and turn around a fake reader of any age. Other options are literacy coaches and reading specialists (twenty percent of U.S. schools have the former and sixty percent the latter) and more effort on the part of parents to role model reading and designate family reading time. Nip it in the bud and gift him with a tool he needs for life.