The typical image of a child reading includes a comfortable chair, plenty of light to read by, and a colorful book with a riveting tale. If you are looking for a great story for children, the New York Public Library has a list of 100 classic books for children. Or maybe you want to look at what Time Magazine selected for its top 100 children’s books. There is plenty of overlap between the two lists in terms of books. You cannot discuss the best children’s books without having Where the Wild Things Are or something by Dr. Seuss on the list. There is another factor both lists have in common.
There are very few nonfiction books on either list.
Amazing nonfiction books are available for children of all ages. However, most of them are not making it into the hands of students. According to a study performed in 2000, in the first grade only one of ten books on average is nonfiction. Those books were not removed from the shelf often; children were reading them for 3.3 minutes a day in high-income school districts. In low-income districts, that number dropped to 1.9 minutes a day.
Getting children into the habit of reading seems easier with fiction. However, nonfiction stories encourage students to learn different lessons. Most school texts, the ones they will need to succeed, are nonfiction. Preparing them to extract information while they read when they are young improves their ability to do the same with school texts down the road.
One lesson they learn from reading nonfiction is that they do not need to read books in a linear fashion. With the help of the table of contents, they can skip right to the information they need and read from there.
If they do not see it in the table of contents, they can look for information in the index. These are two ways second- and third-grade readers can start to learn how a textbook or other nonfictional tome can be used.
The most obvious benefits of nonfiction reading are the lessons children learn from reading the books! They can learn about Balto, the heroic dog that saved an Alaskan town, or about presidents like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. There may even be some focus on the curious critters we come in contact with in our everyday life! Encouraging children to read about subjects that interest them at a young age lays a strong foundation for learning about those topics in school. And such reading may lead them to find other topics and books that interest them.
As you build your home library, or looking through the library for new reading material, spend some time with nonfiction. It teaches lessons that fiction cannot, like how to search for information, and exposes them to different vocabulary words. Reading nonfiction can lay a foundation of knowledge that will help them as they go through school. It will be just as comfortable in that reading nook that they love while teaching them skills that help through college and beyond.
When your children get their first books in their hands, it is a good bet they are going to end up in their mouths. Exposing infants to books is an important step on their journey to becoming lifelong readers. They become familiar with the books, exploring them by turning pages, looking at the bright pictures and, yes, even biting them.
At each age, there are certain milestones in reading they should be hitting. These include starting by interacting with the book as a physical object to discussing the broader themes and details of the story they just read. Paying attention to their growth as readers keep them on track to hit that third-grade goal of going from learning to read to reading to learn.
Here is a basic outline of what to expect at each age and grade level:
Up to twelve months:
- Learn to communicate through gestures
- Understand over fifty (50) words
- Respond to books when read to
- Enjoy the tactile aspects of books, like turning the pages and holding the books
One to three years:
- Answer basic questions
- Identify images of simple vocabulary words (cow, green, girl, etc.)
- Encourage them to talk and listen during reading time
- Learn vocabulary and language concepts through repetition of their favorite stories
Preschool (three to four years old):
- Name and recognize most of the letters of the alphabet (up to 18 of them)
- Recognize the sounds associated with individual letters
- Understand how print is read (left to right, top to bottom)
- Explore books independently
- Know the difference between pictures and letters
- Imitate reading a book aloud
- Start to recognize logos and other symbols
- Acknowledge their own names in writing, as well as other commonly seen words
- Start to match spoken and written words
- Recognize basic grammar structures
- Read basic words and understand how they work in a sentence
- Write out letters, numbers, and basic words
- Use pictures and other clues to understand basic words they do not know
- Understand basic story structures (who, what, where, when, why, and how) as well as story organization
- Create basic stories on their own
First and Second Grade:
- Take big leaps in reading starting in first grade
- Read their favorite stories for pleasure
- Recognize an increasing number of sight words
- Start to recognize when they make reading errors and can self-correct
- Figure out unfamiliar words using context and images
- A good time to listen to them read and start correcting them as they do
Second and Third Grade:
- Understand how pronunciation and emphasis affects the story
- Use correct punctuation
- Use correct spelling
- Learn new words through story context
- Organize their writing into paragraphs
- Apply new vocabulary and phrases appropriately
- Read more complex books independently
- Recognize deeper themes and engage reading as a learning tool
- Hold discussions about the stories they are reading
One thing to remember about these milestones in reading: all children learn at their speed. These are all basic guidelines as to what can be expected, but by no means carved in stone. Your child may be more advanced in some stages while behind in others. Teachers and parents working together establish the best way to help each student. The most important part is to stay engaged with students’ efforts and keep encouraging them to read!
Homework was not always a staple of a student’s’ life. Until the 1950s, homework felt to be an unnecessary burden on school children. When they left school, it was time for chores on the farm or around the home. It was not until the Cold War, when there was a fear of falling behind the Russians, that a fresh emphasis on homework reignited. We needed to keep our educational edge.
Over the last decade, educators have been examining the wisdom of giving students hours worth of homework every night. A rule developed suggesting ten minutes of homework for every grade the student was in. So a second grader would have twenty minutes of homework, while middle school students would have over an hour of work to do when they got home. This “10-Minute Rule”, while not an exact science, is a rule of thumb that many schools and school districts have adopted.
Homework at a young age can be a critical step in turning your child into a lifelong learner, but homework amounts can cause negative results. Too much homework can be intimidating to a new learner, driving them away from school and learning. Too little and they are not stimulated enough to want to learn outside of school. The National Education Association (NEA) goes by guidelines suggested by Harris Cooper: ten to twenty minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional ten minutes per grade. This research is where the 10-Minute Rule developed.
This rule works in multiple ways. The first way is keeping a definite time for children to explore. Studies show that the further children get in their school careers, the more homework becomes a benefit to them. Before third grade, most children cannot learn outside lessons from their homework. They can do it and understand what they do, but they cannot fully apply it. As students start to read to learn, a love of reading becomes essential. Younger students, however, do most of their learning by playing and exploring the world around them. Small amounts of homework benefit students at this age, as long as it does not interfere with their exploration of the world.
Homework at a younger age puts stress on parents as well. Older students that have developed more critical thinking skills can answer the questions on their own. Younger students do not always have that ability, and may struggle with assignments. This puts some of the onus for educating them on the parents. This can add stress to the parents, especially if they have busy lives.
Younger students’ benefits from homework are much different than older students. The repetition and reinforcement of the lessons they are learning in school are the primary reasons for elementary school students’ homework. Homework for younger students is a way to allow parents to see what they are learning in school. As parents help their young children, they can look at the lessons and can reinforce them at home. The children also are starting to understand the necessity of doing schoolwork at home. This is a valuable lesson as they move through their education.
Though the pendulum of how much homework to give students will always swing, we have discovered that homework is an essential tool for students’ growth. It teaches them more than what it is on the paper. It helps them with discipline, reinforces what they are learning in school, and builds them into better learners.
There are, on average, 180 days in an elementary school year in the United States. Each day is roughly seven hours. That time does not include weekends for students. Months of school and hours of homework are not always enough to cover every topic. Fortunately, there are many more hours in the day that can be utilized for a wide range of lessons. This trend of “expanded learning” has become popular with parents and teachers alike in many school districts.
Expanded learning gives parents the chance to supplement what students are learning in the classroom. It can be more information about subjects they are learning in school, or about topics that they find interesting and want to explore on their own. It can also be a way to keep their minds active over a long break, like winter or summer.
To assist with educational growth, as well as personal growth, here are some resources and suggestions that can help:
Community Partnerships: Schools and parents can partner with community organizations to help students. These partnerships can support the students’ education, as well as help with their other needs such as clothing, meals, or medical services. While the schools themselves may not offer such additional services, they may have lists of organizations that do.
Family Engagement: Parents are a wealth of knowledge! A growing amount of research shows that the single biggest factor in determining student success is parental engagement. Working at home can be facilitated by community partners and schools. Supporting students outside of school is an important part of a child’s education.
A Disparate Team of Educators: To stretch the learning experience as far as it can go, multiple perspectives should be taken into account. The more people that can offer input on educational activities, the better the end results for the students. With a group of teachers, parents, community leaders, and professionals that communicate well, student experiences can greatly enhance lessons.
Here are some things to consider when involving students in these activities:
Programming Supporting Lessons: Any activities outside of school hours should reinforce what is going on in class. These do not have to be lessons that come from a lesson plan. They could be social skills, playing games, or anything else that would be a benefit in class. These offer possibilities to reinforce soft skills that help social interaction and emotional intelligence.
Voluntary Participation: Self-selected lessons are the best lessons, because the students are more engaged. Their natural curiosity takes over when presented with something they want to know. This is an excellent opportunity to engage them in topics they want to know that are not part of their school lessons. It can be a chance for them to dive into topics they showed interest in during class, but ones that did not fully fit into their schedules.
Assessing the Results: Every time you work with another organization, you want to make the experience better the next time. After you have completed an expanded lesson, take time to review the experience. Were your children engaged or distracted? Did they jump into certain parts of the lesson and avoid others? How did they react when they came home?
Programs like Kids Read Now provide ways to support and encourage student learning outside the class. To find more programs like ours, start by asking your school what activities they offer for expanded learning. If they do not have what you need, they can often recommend organizations you can contact. Your local library is a great place to start looking for after-school activities for students as well. It often has programs geared to many interests or can point you to places that offer them.
When you bring learning outside of the classroom, it enhances and reinforces what is going on in the classroom. Creating lifelong learners means teaching them early that discovering new information can happen anywhere, at any time…even outside of a class.
When children first begin to explore reading, it is not a solitary activity. Parents spend time with their children teaching them to read.
The lessons can be as straightforward as sitting down and reading with your children or as subtle as getting them to read recipes or books about characters in other media. It can even be modeling the behavior, like reading after dinner or while on vacation.
Children absorb the actions of the people that are close to them. The more activities a parent or other family member can model for them, the better off they are when they begin school.
The involvement of parents in education is critical and often underestimated. The more involved parents are in the education of their children, the better their outcomes as students. When parents get involved, it lowers the barriers to where learning happens. Children start to see that discovering new information is an activity that can occur anywhere, from watching a teacher at a chalkboard to a parent reading with them at the kitchen table.
Lowering barriers is not only something to do for children. Encouraging parental interaction is essential. Many parents, especially ones from low-income families, do not have the best memories of their time at school. That makes them very reluctant to engage with teachers, even if it is in the best interest of their children. Teachers will always be intimidating to some parents, so building relationships with them are crucial.
Even parents that enjoyed their time at school may be hesitant to approach teachers. They want to make a good impression on their children’s teachers as well. Making sure they know the goals of any meetings or interactions allows them to prepare, putting them at greater ease.
Interactions between parents and teachers, like open houses or parent-teacher meetings, are occasional opportunities to exchange information. Offering a weekly email, Facebook page, or website where parents can see what their children are doing provides a much more constant stream of feedback. This open communications channel keeps parents informed about what their children do in school. This channel becomes an open invitation to interact. Information about classroom events, whether positive ones or warnings, school activities, and homework students bring home becomes part of the communication. Sharing events happening with the family, providing the teacher with the ability to prepare for possible behavioral issues or acting out.
Research consistently shows that two of the greatest indicators of student success involves the socioeconomic status of the parents and parental involvement with their education. Parents who offer support at home for students give them a better chance to succeed later in life. Teachers support this effort by helping parents understand what they can do at home to reinforce their lessons. Anything from showing how the lessons apply to the real world to go over the assigned homework. Involving the parents in education creates another layer that brings students that much closer to becoming lifelong learners.
Reading and writing are skills that go hand in hand. As children develop, they learn to speak first. Reading follows, and then the ability to write in their language. Writing is a great way to reinforce the lessons they learn from reading. They start to mimic writing the words they see, much like they mimic hearing the words they hear on a daily basis. Introducing children to writing is a task that should occur early. It can start with items as simple as crayons and some paper.
Providing the opportunity to draw at an early age is one way of encouraging writing. Much like ancient cultures drew images that morphed into letters, the pictures that young children draw are their way of communicating. Getting them to put markers and crayons to paper is a way to encourage early writing skills. When they complete their drawings, you can have them tell you stories about them. As they get older, you can teach them that writing is very similar to drawing.
This playful approach to writing can be the perfect introduction to associating letters with sounds. Children can start practicing associating letterforms with sounds and words as early as the preschool years. During that time, they begin putting sounds together with the words they hear. They are starting to understand the connection between the letters they see and the sounds or ideas they represent. Picture books emphasize this connection as well, helping children to associate the images of the words with pictures.
As they become more familiar with what letters look like, those letters may start to emerge in their drawings. The letters will be random at first. Mostly they will be working on consonants and a few vowels. Each time they write down letters spend some time talking about them. What sounds do the letters make? What words are they part of? When the letterforms start to develop, they will eventually mimic the words they see in books. This is an opportune time to continue to teach them more about the words they are seeing as they begin to write them out.
Another way that young children are encouraged to write is by seeing their parents write. Children like to repeat what their parents are doing. Before computers became such powerful communication devices, there was more writing done at kitchen tables around the country. With fewer letters and checks written, it is essential to take time out of the day to show your children that you write. This is also a chance to teach them the importance of things like thank you letters, as well as their own creative works. When children tell stories about their drawings, write them down for them. Then have them read the stories back to you. They have created their own stories to share with your help!
Developing writing is a way to reinforce what they are learning when they read. They are learning the building blocks of reading, letters, and words, while they connect what a letter looks like to how it sounds. It starts with something as simple as drawing pictures, eventually turning those pictures into full-blown stories.
Finland has long been one of the top countries in the world regarding reading scores. The last time that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores, Finland was ranked fourth in the world. The Finnish school system has always enjoyed a place at the top of these measurements of academic prowess.
But to what do the Finns attribute their fantastic literacy abilities? What are they doing that builds such strong readers?
They are watching television.
The Finns do not make most of their programs. A family sitting down to watch a show are more likely to be reading captions as they watch foreign programs. This study was one of the first ones done by researchers on how closed captioning can affect readers.
The results they found were surprising. Reading the captions with videos improves many aspects of understanding language, from better vocabulary to increased reading comprehension. Captioning foreign programs made reading a requirement to enjoy them, not an option.
Researchers found similar results during a study in India. As an experiment to help raise the literacy rate in that country, the government added subtitles to popular Bollywood films. Researchers came up with the phrase “what fires together, wires together.”
They discovered that, as the adults and children watched the films and sang, they picked up necessary literacy words and concepts. The combination of visual and audio cues motivated to learn the words. This method helped to build essential vocabulary and gave some boost to overall reading levels, but it is not a cure-all for illiteracy.
Understanding the power of combining visual and audio is in its infancy, but the applications for it have piqued the curiosity of literacy advocates all over the world. The internet allows people to broadcast video to anywhere there is a connection.
This means even people in rural areas of the world see and experience these videos, as well as specific populations who are forbidden from being educated. Providing these populations with internet access can be a way to give them an opportunity for an education they may not otherwise have.
A major advantage of closed captioning when it comes to reading and language comprehension is how natural it is. Sitting for a student, whether they are six or sixty, can be a difficult task.
Students are at a table with a book of symbols they do not yet grasp, struggling to make sense of them. Presenting that same information in a video, studies find, lowers the barriers to learning. It also lowers the resistance to learn.
Students now get to watch a video, not sift through a book. They can see and hear what is going on while reading the words and associating them with the images. Any words they do not understand they can stop, write them down, and then look them up, or they can rewind the video and rewatch it.
Students see the words used in context, giving them a better sense of how they fit into their vocabulary. Teachers can use videos that focus on specific topics, like colors or farms or the kitchen, to take more in-depth looks into what words relate to those spaces.
Closed captioning is an underutilized tool when it comes to educating young readers. It is entertaining, and they grasp it intuitively.
The resources that teachers have at their disposal are vast. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all video media in the country to be closed captioned and synced to the visuals.
Any educational video shown in class can have the captioning turned on to help students who struggle to read. Using captioning will help you build young, eager readers.
For more information on using closed captioning to improve literacy, please visit caption.cool.
No longer required to be in a classroom for hours every day, students spend their summers relaxing and trying to pack all the fun in they can before fall. While they have certainly earned a break after nine months of school, taking a full summer off from learning is dangerous. It can lead to the summer slide and being a month behind their peers when classes resume. As tempting as it is to allow them to take the whole summer off, it is essential for parents to promote summer reading and learning.
Having children sit for an hour or so a day is not going to work. Too many other options beckon, from playing with friends in the neighborhood to playing video games. Integrating reading into summer activities is a fun way for them to learn while they still participate in their favorite pastimes. Parents don’t have to spend hours considering lesson plans or developing special activities. The activities children naturally gravitate to, with little extra planning, can be springboards into secret summer lessons.
Consider the following summer favorites for learning moments:
- Find a favorite recipe and make it – We all have a food we love. It could be anything from a favorite flavor of ice cream to a dinner on a special occasion. During the summer, you can head to the library and find the recipe for the foods your child loves. Making it together helps your child not only with reading, but with math and following instructions. There also is the opportunity to learn about the history of the dish as well in other books!
- Learn about your vacation – Most families are going to travel for vacation. According to the AAA, over one-third of families will travel over 50 miles this summer on a trip. This is an excellent chance for your child to explore the library before you hit the road! Read some books about the place where you will be going or a landmark of some significance. Maybe allow your child to help you plan part of the trip!
- Learn about your home – Not everyone will be traveling. Some people will be busy at home, taking a staycation. There is still plenty to explore in your town! Take a tour of some of the historic buildings associated with famous people who came from the area. You can help your child read the building markers, and then later find some books about those people and their lives.
- Draw a book cover – Part of reading is understanding the story. After your child is finished reading each book, grab some crayons, pencils, and markers and help draw a new cover for the book based on what was read. Talk about the picture as you are both working on it. Being creative makes the story more fun, and helps it come to life in the mind of the child!
- Reading picnic – Get some sandwiches and snacks together, grab some summer reading material, and head out to the nearest park! This is a great event for your family and a group of other families, or just some of your child’s friends. The children can take turns reading from their books, running around the area, and enjoying a day outside. Have other books on hand in case they finish theirs, or they want something different.
- Read the book; see the movie – Summer is the time when the biggest films of the year come out. Many of the books your child loves to read develop into full-length movies or cartoons. Once your child is done reading the book, pop some popcorn and find the movie on a streaming service or rent it from the library and watch it. Discuss what was the same in the film and the book, and what was different. It is an excellent opportunity to show your child how things vary when one changes to the other.
There are many other ideas to promote summer reading, like the 100 place challenge, coupons for the books a child reads, a summer reading bingo sheet, and others all around the web. With a little extra time, you can make what could be considered a homework assignment into a fun way to spend a summer. All it takes is imagination to have your child wanting to reach for a book instead of a game controller or remote!
Lisa Soricone is associate research director for the Building Economic Opportunity Group at Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States. Soricone works to help low-skilled adults advance to careers that can support families, while enabling employers to build and sustain a productive workforce.
Can you describe how the populations you work with end up without literacy or numeracy skills?
Soricone: A lot of them are people who dropped out of school and don’t have a GED, so they never got the education to become fully literate. We also work with immigrants whose education level could range from some primary school to college-level work, who are held back by literacy and/or a language barrier. There are also segments with undiagnosed learning disabilities.
But, there are also folks who have made it through a K-12 system and gotten their high school diploma, but never actually became fully literate. What’s worse is that for many of these people, it’s been such a long time since they engaged in any real literacy activity that the skills they did gain during their education have now deteriorated. So, if they want to go back to community college or train for a technical certificate, they don’t have the skills to complete those programs—even if they have the credentials needed to enter them.
I think there’s starting to be a greater recognition of this problem. In recent years, we’ve seen tighter expectations around high school graduation and efforts to not let folks get promoted to the point where they have a high school credential but still can’t read. States like Massachusetts instituted testing programs to make sure kids are getting these basic literacy skills as they move through the education system.
One thing that’s clear is that the problem of low literacy among adults isn’t just going to go away. Periodic national and international assessments of adult literacy have shown no real change in adult literacy levels over the last ten years. That creates this bimodal economy where you have the well-off, highly-educated on one end, and then this other group of mostly poorer people who lack the reading and math skills they need to access the education and training that could help them get ahead.
What are the consequences you see for people with poor literacy skills?
Soricone: The number one problem is that it limits the kinds of jobs people can attain. Without literacy skills, people are stuck in low-end jobs, which limits the income they can achieve. That’s why such a high percentage of the populations we serve tend to be lower income.
But it hurts employers too. Many companies have trouble filling what we call middle-skills jobs—occupations that require specialized education and training, but not a four-year college degree. There’s a shortage of people with those skills in many areas. But that, in itself, isn’t so bad. I hear plenty of companies say, “We’ll teach the technical stuff. Give me somebody who’s ready to learn, who will show up and work hard.” But the problem is, without the baseline literacy and numeracy skills, adults simply can’t learn the technical skills required for these jobs, even if employers are willing to teach them.
You’ve talked about “contextualized literacy” as a solution to this issue. Can you explain it?
Soricone: The idea of contextualization is that instead of just teaching these abstract literacy skills in a vacuum, you do it in the context of a topic that’s meaningful for folks. That means folding literacy and math lessons into the training required for these middle-skills jobs.
So, if someone with literacy issues wants to train for credentials to become a hospital employee, we’d teach them math skills using health-related examples. We’d develop their language, reading, and critical-thinking skills using information that relates to healthcare. It makes the literacy lessons much more concrete, and lets students work toward their career goals at the same time.
This is nothing new. The state of Washington has had a lot of success using contextualized literacy to teach adult students through its I-BEST program for over ten years. They’ve found that students learning basic skills in the context of, say, an automotive program or a manufacturing program were more likely to earn college credits, obtain occupational certificates, and make basic skills gains than non-I-BEST students.
What’s the best way to deliver this contextualized literacy education?
Soricone: You need a bridge between adult education and occupational training and a big part of that bridge is already built in community colleges. That’s where adult education is already taking place in many states. It’s where Washington’s I-BEST program has thrived, and at Jobs for the Future we’ve brought their model to community colleges in states like Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Georgia with great results through an initiative called Accelerating Opportunity (AO).bIn the classroom itself, AO uses a two-teacher model. There’s a regular adult education teacher attending to literacy development, and a technical instructor who conveys the relevant content around the job skills being taught. The two teachers are able to frame things in a way that is really accessible to those adults, which helps them grasp that material much more quickly. And, at the same time, they’re building their reading, writing, and math skills in the context of that work.
It not only accelerates the process, but it also opens up access to higher education to people who may not have ever entered college because it might have taken them too long, or they would have been discouraged by the difficulty of the material. An integrated approach like that of AO makes college education more accessible.
You can check out the results so far in our implementation report, Accelerating Opportunity. In the seven states where we’ve implemented the model so far, 35 percent of the 10,000-plus students who have enrolled have earned 12 or more college credits, resulting in over 1,400 job placements.
What’s the role of employers in these programs?
Soricone: We need employers to partner with community colleges to infuse these programs with really relevant skills, and ensure that people are learning the skills companies actually need. That can be a challenge in community colleges. The needs of employers change quickly, so they need to communicate with community colleges and help them keep curriculums up to date. While not all AO student sub-groups experienced earnings gains, AO students recruited from adult education in Kentucky and from Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Kansas had strong and sustained positive earnings impacts.
Employers can also help by providing work-based learning opportunities, on-the-job training, internships, that kind of thing. Those programs get students into the career pathways that are already built, more quickly.
What about apprenticeship programs and the like for younger folks? Could high schools be doing more to prepare students to move directly into jobs?
Soricone: I think there’s a lot they could be doing. There are some schools that offer career exploration as early as middle school. I’m not saying every kid should have to go to vocational school, but they need to be exposed to different career choices and have an understanding of what adults do all day. These things wouldn’t be all that hard to put in more classrooms, especially with today’s technology. Things like virtual job shadowing could easily be built into the curriculum and still work toward the traditional education goals of high schools. So I think it would really be great to see this approach at schools across the board, so that kids everywhere can be college and career ready. But I don’t think we’ve figured out how to do that yet.
One simple part of that is helping kids understand, “What kinds of things am I interested in? What do I like to do? And, based on that, what are some different careers that could make sense for me? How are the lifestyles different for different careers?” And the next, more complicated question for educators is, “How is work going to change over the next 20 or 30 years?” We need to figure that out to get kids in the best possible position to succeed.
Excerpted from Reading for Life, published by Kids Read Now. Copyright © 2017 by each contributing author. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
There are milestones that every family looks forward to in the development of their children. The first night they sleep all night. Their first steps. The first words they speak. The first day they attend school (and the last day). Starting that awkward trek from childhood to adulthood. All of these little steps go by quickly and are indicators of children who are developing. If any of these occurrences are delayed, people become concerned. Doctors are consulted, tests are run, and there are efforts made to discover the reason development has been delayed.
Not all milestones in development are scrutinized and celebrated. There is one that normally goes by with little fanfare. It is the transition from third grade to fourth grade. This is a major step in the educational development of a student. Subjects become more involved in fourth grade, which means the texts that go with them become more complex. Students that had difficulty reading and understanding the lessons in third grade start to fall further behind. Falling behind their peers can lead to a variety of issues, from disruptive behavior to avoiding classroom activities.
Poor populations are much more at risk for this drop to occur. A report created by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Learning to Read, Reading to Learn, indicates that over 80% of students that come from low-income areas do not read proficiently by fourth grade. Not reading at grade level by fourth grade makes them four times as likely to drop out of school, impacting their future earning potential. They are also more likely to end up incarcerated at some point in their lives, further impacting their future. Students that drop out of school cost taxpayers roughly $260,000, further straining state and local budgets.
Why not hold them back? This obvious choice would expose them to the material longer and giving them the opportunity to truly learn to read before they make the next step. However, an article by Martin West published in 2012 (Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?) shows that keeping a child back at third grade could have a worse outcome. As children get older, the effect becomes even more pronounced. This effect can be mitigated by having a summer reading program available for those that are held back, similar to the one Florida passed in 2002. It is not only a risky proposition; it is an expensive one.
Building students up during their first years of school is the most affordable option. On average, holding a student back costs a district over $10,000 per student held back. These costs include lost time to the teachers in the year students were held back and the extra year they attend school. Summer reading programs can often be supported by independent grants as well as national Title I funding. These summer programs help prevent the dreaded summer slide, especially those from lower-income homes. Summer slide can cost the school district as well.
The effects of allowing students to fall behind grade reading are far-reaching. The impacts they have on the school and school district are measurable, but the effects on the student can be devastating, perhaps even life-changing for them. As you are getting ready to celebrate that first day of school, make sure you mark their first day of fourth grade on the calendar as well. It could be another milestone with a long-term impact.