Third Grade Reluctant Reader Blues

How third grade can make reading a real drag!

A portrait of the blogger as a young reader? Pretty close!

A portrait of the blogger as a young reader? Pretty close!

In an article posted at Time: Ideas, education journalist and author Anne Murphy Paul has identified one of the root causes of a condition that inevitably becomes the scourge of middle schoolers’ parents and teachers – reluctant reading.

Would you believe it starts in third grade?

Paul points out that this is the pivotal time in education when reading materials shift from easy subject matter pieces designed to help kids learn to read to more complex materials developed with the expectation of reading aptitude – read to learn. While Paul’s article brings to light the overall academic difficulties in later grades for kids who struggle with third grade reading comprehension, the following line grabbed my attention:

“While their more skilled classmates are amassing knowledge and learning new words from context, poor readers may begin to avoid reading out of frustration.”

This makes a lot of sense to me. As a childhood reluctant reader myself, I didn’t lack the innate intelligence and curiosity needed for learning. Somehow, though, I must have failed to make the transition from “learning to read to reading to learn.” My frustration with increasingly complex reading material and my slow reading speed, combined with the self-esteem drop from falling behind my classmates, no doubt turned me off to reading for learning and entertainment and soured me on education in general.

By the way, my fourth-grade self didn’t use those words to describe my reading difficulties. He was saying things like: “Reading is dumb”; “Reading is boring”; “Let’s go watch ‘The Six-million Dollar Man’ on TV instead!”  (I hear the same sentiment from teens – especially boys – when I have book-based events with them.)

Why is this third grade reading transition so hugely important? Because, as Paul’s article says, “A study … released last year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, found that third-graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times more likely to become high school dropouts.” I added the emphasis there because … FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY TO DROP OUT! WHAT?! Does this go beyond alarming and into crisis territory?

In our society, basic education becomes more important all the time. Minimum-wage, entry-level jobs nowadays often require a high school diploma or GED – even the military, which when I was a kid was always a viable option for dropouts. But a kid who can’t read well – or doesn’t want to – bears the greatest disadvantage in school and is much more likely to give up and leave without even the most basic employment qualification.

I was one of those kids who fell behind, hated reading, and went into a dropout spiral. In tenth grade a dedicated teacher inspired me to pull myself out of it and I managed to clear the challenges of senior high. Most reluctant readers don’t recover the way I did and the ripples into the rest of their lives can be devastating.

While some well-intentioned states are trying to legislate reading comprehension by holding laggard readers back a grade, personalized intervention and encouragement seems to be the best remedy. One of the R’s in my R.E.A.D.E.R. tips is “(be a) Reading role model: Get caught reading – to, with, and by your kids.” Nothing seems more effective in helping kids develop good reading habits and enjoyment as reading to them and with them. (Coincidentally, that teacher who inspired me to rescue my education had a lot of reading aloud and follow-along group reading in his classes.)

Personally, I hate to see any kid miss the chance to enrich their lives through education. I credit most of my personal development to my ability and willingness to read, a skill and love that has allowed me to connect with the very kids who I was like – reluctant and struggling readers – by writing books for them!

[for some great articles on education, check out Anne Murphy Paul’s site. She has a gift for making these issues easy to understand, plus she shares a lot of great resources.]

Now, here’s the cheese on this Brain Burger.

3 other ways to make it through third grade:

  1. Practice saying “TAG-YOU’RE-IT-NO-BACKS!” faster than anyone else.
  2. For bullies: Anger management; for their victims: Karate lessons
  3. Two words – Cootie Repellent
Chris Everheart is author of the YA thriller described as “unputdownable” and “will draw in even the most reluctant readers”:
THE LEAGUE OF DELPHI: Book I of the thrilling Delphi Trilogy

A lone teen. A suspicious death. An ancient conspiracy.

Read it now – before the October 2013 release of

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Categories: Books, Libraries, Readers, Reluctant Readers, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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