2002 Conference Proceedings

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Moving Struggling Readers Beyond Third Grade Material

Bob Keller
Don Johnston Inc.
26799 West Commerce Drive
Volo, IL 60073
fax 847-740-7326

Normally developing first, second, and third graders read narrative and "easy" expository or informational text that generally respects their comprehension vocabulary and syntactic competence for expressive language. That is, these readers encounter the same words in print text that they already know apart from reading. The sentences they read sound like the sentences they speak or hear others speaking: they are "conversational," and less formal.

In fourth grade, a significant shift occurs. By the end of third grade, it is assumed that the reader has basic decoding (word attack) skills and "automatic" word recognition for hundreds, even thousands of words. They can read with enough fluency to derive meaning from text. Therefore, we say they are no longer "learning to read," but "reading to learn." In fourth grade there is a shift toward reading expository text that is written in more formal language with more complex sentence constructions, more variations in word order, more abstract vocabulary, and more idioms and metaphors. Now students will read to acquire new background knowledge and new vocabulary (researchers tell us that the students will acquire some 3,000 new words per year, primarily through reading!).

If you think about the older, struggling reader in middle or high school who is reading at a second grade level, you can appreciate why that student may struggle with grade level text even when it is read aloud by the computer using text-to-speech programs: the text still contains language that may be unfamiliar to the student, making it difficult for that student to read fluently and derive accurate meaning from the text.

[GPV1]Our Gold Level STF books (written at a 2-3 grade level readability) respect the maturity and social sophistication of the older reader, but are written with "conversational" vocabulary and sentence structures. We do not shy away from complex sentences. We use primarily the first six kinds of complex sentences that appear among normally developing native English speakers. Thus, while students are learning the basics of decoding, they do not have to contend with the full burden of comprehending higher level language. In our Gold Level STF books we also measure comprehension by asking literal questions about the text.

In the Blue Level STF books (written at a 4-5-6 grade level readability), we provide important opportunities for growth in decoding, fluency, and comprehension. We know that a middle school student who reads Gold Level STF well may still not be successful making the leap to grade level text in the classroom. In Blue Level STF, we transition the reader toward grade level text written in more formal language. Come hear about the research and technology that take students to the next level in their quest to read grade level text.

Learning Objectives:

Participants will
1. be able to compare and differentiate text for different reading levels.
2. be able to identify five differences between the Gold and Blue Levels for Start to Finish.
Page: 1
[GPV1]I'm afraid that teachers may confuse the use of classic here with our classic titles which appear at both STF levels.

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