Since joining the Section 23 team in 2011, I’ve noticed that many of our students – grade 4 to 12, who struggle with reading, seem to stall at a grade 4 reading level. Why is this?
A variety of Reading Diagnostic assessments indicate that the majority of our struggling readers have acquired foundational literacy competencies that would suggest they should not be struggling:
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Competencies students are demonstrating:
- Alphabet knowledge – LN/LS letter names and letter sounds
- Phonemic awareness – Phonemes are the smallest units that make up spoken language; they combine to form syllables and words.
- Knowledge of high frequency words, “and”, “the”, “as” and “it”.
- Ability to decode commonly used multi-syllabic words such as birthday, beautiful, different, experiment, invented, etc.
Competencies students are lacking:
The following 3 competencies seem to be emerging as contributing factors for the grade 4 stall. *Research has indicated these competencies are essential for reading proficiency as students move through the education system and encounter longer and more complex texts:
- Reading fluency – automaticity in reading unfamiliar, multisyllabic, content-specific vocabulary and complex syntax. “The average fourth grader encounters 10,000 new words each year, and most of these words have two or more syllables (in Toste et al 2017).” Students are reading less and relying more on social media to communicate and get information. As a result, along with reading rates, daily exposure to complex content and vocabulary has declined.
- Prosody– Prosody in reading refers to reading orally with appropriate expression and phrasing that reflects the meaning of text. Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between prosodic oral reading and silent reading comprehension. Proficient readers read with expression; less proficient readers often lack expression in their oral reading (Razinski 2017).
- Reading Stamina – the ability to stay focused while reading and comprehending longer and more complex texts. As students are reading less at home, reading in school may be the only reading they do over the course of a day. Therefore, if students are not given time in school to read and process what they are reading, they may not be able to develop this crucial skill.
HELPING STUDENTS PUSH PAST THE GRADE 4 PLATEAU.
An extensive body of reading research concludes that explicit reading instruction needs to be intentional, intensive and consistent (Razinski 2017) – daily if possible, or several times a week. The following strategies are highly recommended.
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- DEVELOP WORD KNOWLEDGE, FLUENCY AND AUTOMATICITY
- expand vocabulary – daily work with high utility age appropriate words
- teach morphology -common word patterns; high utility roots & affixes – this needs to start in kindergarten
- pre-teach -subject specific terms and vocabulary; create subject specific word walls.
- talk to students as though they’re grad-students – avoid using simple language in daily interactions with your students; make an effort to use complex vocabulary
- DEVELOP PROSODY
- model fluent reading – the reader listens to a text read fluently (preferably audio book or ebook with a professional reader) while following along with their own copy.
- provide opportunities for repeated reading/rehearsal – poetry, plays, reader’s theatre, choir, lyrics and students’ own writing
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- DEVELOP COMPREHENSION
- provide opportunities for students to talk about what they have read with other students, or respond to the reading through meaningful assignments such as art, sketchnotes, music, drama, video, etc.
- DEVELOP READING STAMINA
- wide reading – daily opportunities for uninterrupted independent reading of self-selected texts and also classroom texts.
According to Biancarosa (2012): Without explicit instruction in how to cope with the evolving complexity of texts, too many adolescents fall behind in their reading development and their ability to learn from texts suffers. If reading continues to decline among students, then it is likely that the number of students with reading deficits will continue to increase. If these deficits are not addressed, they will continue to plague students throughout their academic lives and beyond.
*Research Describing Struggling Readers
Over the past two decades, researchers have explored
the nature of students who struggle in reading, using
the framework of the NRP. Valencia and Buly (2004;
Buly & Valencia, 2002) studied 108 fourth-grade students
who had scored at the “below proficiency” level
in reading according to the test thresholds of the
state in which they reside. The students were given
a variety of reading and language assessments to determine
relative strengths and weaknesses in their
reading and language processing. The authors were
able to categorize students by their performance and
found that only about 18% of “below proficiency”
readers exhibited reasonably good levels of word
identification and fluency (word recognition automaticity).
The remaining 82% of “below proficiency”
students manifested difficulty in word identification
and/or reading fluency. (Razinski 2017)
TDSS teachers, please contact me if you would like to receive full text of these articles.
- Biancarosa, Gina. “Adolescent Literacy: More Than Remediation.” Educational Leadership, vol. 69, no. 6, Mar. 2012, pp. 22-27.
- Rasinski, Timothy V. “Readers Who Struggle: Why Many Struggle and a Modest Proposal for Improving Their Reading.” Reading Teacher, vol. 70, no. 5, Mar/Apr2017, pp. 519-524. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/trtr.1533.
- Rasinski, Timothy V. “is Reading Fluency a Key for Successful High School Reading?” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. vol. 48, no. 1, Sept 2005.pp. 22-27.
- Toste, Jessica R. et al. “Reading Big Words: Instructional Practices to
Promote Multisyllabic Word Reading Fluency.” Intervention in School and Clinic 2017, Vol. 52(5) 270–278
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