Fourth grade reading is tough. Many students have “unlocked” the key to reading…they can read most of the words and can track ever-increasing storylines. As teachers, we can provide countless texts for them, coach them, model for them, and know that they will continue to become more sophisticated as readers. Unfortunately, there are still some students who haven’t made this jump. It hasn’t happened naturally–and the texts we want and need them to read are simply out of reach.
What makes reading chapter books challenging?
I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on all the different components of reading–and all the barriers that can interfere with student success (more on THAT another day!), and today I wanted to focus on one that I think really holds back a lot of struggling readers.
It goes without saying that when students begin to become readers, we present them with texts that have only a few characters and settings and tend to have one, clear storyline. This can be found in “readers” and even in some short chapter books. Students can usually read these texts in one or two sittings and the story is relatively easy to follow. I have noticed that there isn’t much of a “bridge” between this type of text and chapter books–and that many of my most struggling readers had a hard time making the jump. I have noticed the following stumbling blocks (among many others, of course!)
- Longer sentences in different formats
- More inferential language (figures of speech, and so on)
- More dialogue where important information is conveyed
- More characters who are integral to the story
- Setting changes (both time and place)
- Often more than one storyline
- More words per page–and more embedded vocabulary that cannot be deciphered through context
- More pages which require readers to retain story information over multiple days
- More descriptive language that makes visualization important
- Failure to understand “how chapter books work”
Reading interventions for struggling readers
As a part of this, I really wanted to stress that whole “text evidence” piece, so we kept our books handy and looked back to PROVE our ideas.