Recently, I read a book which mentions the psychological phenomena that is the fourth grade slump. The book only mentions it in passing, but as an afterschool leader and tutor for a class of fourth graders, I immediately looked it up. What I found was interesting, and aligned with many experiences I’ve had.
What is the Slump?
The fourth grade slump occurs right around 9 years old, and this slump is usually connected to the point when children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”. Going from understanding words and sentences, to understanding more complex paragraphs and ideas, making inferences, and so on. Studies have found that possible causes are connected to vocabulary and prediction skills, especially as school texts begin to involve more literary and abstract words.
Children who experience the fourth grade slump don’t usually begin to show this lag in comprehension immediately, but the affect builds until it becomes insurmountable in sixth or seventh grade. Those who had only been having mild trouble reading suddenly find comprehension issues ballooning, and ultimately will get left behind unless something is done.
When they don’t receive additional help, most children become “fake readers”. These kids will continue to be successful at school simply by faking it; they may do this by listening to the teacher carefully in order to avoid reading instructions, copying others’ work, and generally laying low. I have a child in my class that fits this description exactly. It’s particularly frustrating as well, because not only is this child behind, he’s oppositional to any help.
So what can you do about it? This varies by the relationship you have with your child, as well as the resources available to you.
- Find a book (or series of books) that get your child interested in reading. Kids who experience the fourth grade slump generally lose interest in reading book for enjoyment, and doing activities that encourage recreational reading will improve their overall reading in the long run. If your child isn’t interested in books at all, try comic books or graphic novels as a start.
- Improve vocabulary skills by talking about how words are structured. Teach them about prefixes and suffixes, where words originate from, and so on. If you don’t know these things, then it’s a great opportunity for you to learn together.
- Use audiobooks to increase vocabulary; while it won’t provide the same practice as reading, it will still serve to build vocabulary, especially if challenging books are chosen. If you don’t have any audiobooks, try the local library.