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Grade 4 and Grade 5

Your child could be at the beginning of Grade 4 in literacy skills, or well into Grade 5. Nevertheless, the principles of teaching reading and encouraging writing are still the same. That is, the child must be extended beyond the level he or she is presently at. Children’s abilities cover a wide range in the Middle Primary School.

Consolidation of early knowledge is important, and at the same time the content of the reading tasks should extend then child’s general knowledge, and therefore include a lot of new vocabulary. Sentence structure becomes more complex and words with four syllables are more common.

If we are to extend children’s reading level we cannot expect them to read with fluency and expression, especially on the first reading. There is much emphasis in the classrooms today on reading quickly, fluently and with expression, however, if children are reading in this way, they are doing so without a challenge – that is, the reading material is equal to, or below, what they really need to be reading to be extended.

This is why I recommend two readings of texts. The first reading is to decode the words; identify who is doing the action; what action is being done, and to what or to whom the action is being done. This requires some unconscious analysis of English sentence structure. The second reading is to confirm comprehension and bring the parts of the story into a whole picture.

These lessons are designed to reinforce earlier learning in respect of diphones (eg ‘ur’) and digraphs (eg ‘lk’). Secondly, they are designed to extend the reader’s vocabulary. Thirdly, the texts extend the reader’s improving understanding of the grammar of English text. There are some grammar activities in the writing tasks that follow the text. There are also free-standing lessons on English grammar that can be downloaded to reinforce a child’s grasp of English grammar.

In light of what I have said here, here are some further hints on how to help your child with the lessons. Try not to prompt your child when he or she comes to a stop in the middle of a sentence. Your child needs time to decipher the word. So allow time. If your child makes a mistake, again, allow a little time and he may well self-correct. Self-correcting is a positive sign of reading progress. If he is still not sure, then help him to ‘sound out’ the parts of the word.

Some children read the first two or three letters and guess the rest. This strategy that children use is due to what teachers often say in the classroom. There is still a residue of the whole language theory in primary school classrooms where children are encouraged to “anticipate” what the word will be. Seriously, this has limited usefulness because what they “anticipate” is often quite wrong. The habit of guessing or anticipating is also encouraged by the idea of reading fast. Good readers in the minds of many children, are fast readers. This is communicated to children when they are encouraged to read “with expression” before they have even decoded the text.

To counter these strategies we need to undo them. We need to change the vocabulary we use when teaching children to read. For reasons of improving expression, primary school teachers discourage children from pointing to the words as they read. So readers often lose track of the line they are on. They also skip words and even insert words. With what is called “close reading” that challenges their standard, I see no reason to stop a reader keeping track by pointing to the words. If you adopt this approach, make sure the reader points under the word, not over it, or on top of it. Alternatively, use a wooden ruler so the reader can keep track of the line. A plastic ruler can confuse your child because it is transparent.

Then, say “Read across the word”. Show the child, using your index finder, how to read ACROSS the word. Some readers have never been introduced to these specific methods designed to help them read. They seem to think that reading is something that just happens. Often, they can’t work out why reading is not ‘just happening’ to them. You may need to even pick up your child’s right index finger and show him or her how to use it to help ‘read across the word, all the way to the end of the word’. You need to spell it out and demonstrate.

A further reinforcement is to draw a pencil line through a word to separate the syllables. Say, “Let’s listen to how the sounds are put together”.

The writing tasks in these lessons are based around the text. There is a Word Study that follows each text. This reinforces the child’s experience of new vocabulary. It supports the child’s comprehension of word meanings and spelling. The Text Study encourages comprehension of the content of the text. Further, the Word Study paves the way for the Text Study. The tasks are logically sequenced and any parent can use the lessons because you will be prompted along the way. There is often an explanation as well as instructions. Encourage your child to read explanations and instructions aloud and then discuss them. It is important not to skip any activities because each one is important. What the child did in No. 4 could depend on how he handles No. 5. And they are often of progressive difficulty. If your child finds the written work too much for one sitting, it is best to cut the lesson short and do the writing tasks over two or three half-hour sessions.

There is no marking scheme. Your child will benefit from your knowledge of what is right or wrong in his answers. Children benefit more from immediate marking and feedback. So correct the work together as you go along. It’s important to appreciate that you, as a parent, can’t make mistakes using these learning materials and your child can only benefit.