All grades are important, but the end of 3rd grade is a pivotal and critical time in young learners’ lives because basic reading skills are expected to be completed by 4th grade. Children entering 4th grade are expected to read to learn rather than learn to read, and to have sufficient vocabulary and reading skills to read and understand 4th grade work.
The list of language skills that a fourth grader should know includes:
• working knowledge of phonetics and know how to analyze and decode words.
• understand all representations of letters and sounds,
• syllable rules, how to divide age-appropriate words into syllables and word patterns,
• structure and word formation (morphology) roots and affixes
• read with enough fluency for comprehension
• ability to read with comprehension and purpose
• read grade-appropriate poetry and prose
• read grade-appropriate poetry and prose demonstrating accuracy, expression, and speed of reading
• ability to self-correct when decoding words phonetically or reading high-frequency words, and rereading if necessary
However, in 2015, the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that two out of three 4th graders were not reading at acceptable levels, and 65% of 4th graders were reading at 4th grade level or less.
Cognitive Abilities and Intelligence
Intelligence does not always translate into performance and the skills needed to read and learn. A child can be smart, but have a number of learning problems and not perform optimally in school. If a child is weak in any of the following skills, job performance will suffer:
• poor long-term memory,
• short-term memory,
• Processing speed
• visual memory,
• logic and reasoning
• Simultaneous and sequential processing skills Children with fully developed skills
Think of your child or a child you know who is very smart but:
• avoid reading,
• forget recently learned information,
• work slowly,
• works hard but still underperforms
• does not understand the instructions,
• cannot perform two or three tasks in order,
• makes careless mistakes,
• or takes too long to finish the job.
A student may have sufficient short-term memory, but processing is slow because he or she rarely completes a test or assignment on time. Whereas, another student may not be able to remember the steps of a word math problem because short-term memory and simultaneous and sequential processing are slow. In fact, in the classroom, many accommodations for children with learning disabilities could be reduced or eliminated if training in cognitive development was required in the early grades. Mental tools allow a child to learn, understand and comprehend any type of instruction, information or topic.
Response to Intervention (RTI)
In most cases, remediation does not include systematic cognitive training in the process. RTI is the most practiced remediation or intervention program in the public school system. RTI, in the primary grades, focuses on instruction, extra help, and progress monitoring. Unfortunately, children will have a hard time processing instruction or making progress if they have deficits in cognitive skills. Therefore, children in the primary grades will fall rapidly behind in reading if attention and concentration are poor, information processing is slow, or memory is poor despite extra help. If a child enters Tier I without sufficient cognitive skills, they are likely to spiral into Tier 2 and Tier 3. Once a child enters the RTI process without the necessary skills to learn, valuable time has been wasted trying and failing. At a minimum, cognitive skills should be assessed upon entry or during Level 1, saving the child years of frustration and failure. Cognitive skills tests are not always available in public schools and parents may need to request them. If a child has not been evaluated for Level 2 or 3, it is imperative that the child be evaluated, especially if a child is on an Individualized Education Program (IEP). If a child needs vocational cognitive training and the parents request it, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires a public school to provide this service.
How the training works
Cognitive skills training develops an individual’s learning ability by training the brain to learn faster and more easily through the use of specific exercises and activities. Cognitive skills include:
• mental and visual processing,
• short and long term memory
• visual memory
• divided attention,
• simultaneous and sequential processing,
In cognitive training, a child reaches a goal, but quickly moves past that goal toward their level of challenge. The level of challenge is slightly beyond the child’s ability to accomplish without prompting or assistance. As each goal of the exercise is achieved, the child moves on to the next goal or objective. This intense training brings more information into the unconscious or automatic realm of learning. A child gains confidence to continue learning, as he begins to accomplish tasks previously thought impossible. Processing speed increases, memory improves, and learning begins to become easier and faster with less strain and effort.