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February 19, 2015

Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti talks about being a site coordinator

The Fourth Grade Shift

When I teach a student to identify and develop the “sequence of events” skill, I often start with a story. I enjoy the chance to make it specific to their interests, talking with a transportation-loving student about my commute or a sports playing child about a soccer game. In all cases, though, I take the opportunity to switch up the steps of the narrative, confusing the beginning, middle, and end. Each example ends the same way: “What’s wrong with this story?” It is a good opportunity to show the child how important it is to putting information in the right order.

Order, after all, is everything. To this end, there is a difference between learning to read and reading to learn. An American fourth grade student is expected to make this transition, a fundamental shift that occurs when a student has mastered the building block of phonics and decoding. Children who are unable to read by the fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate on time. In 2011, one in three students was shown to be reading “below basic” level proficiency, making them functionally illiterate.

Working with Hyde 5th grader Kayla recently, we read the informational book Sharks together. The book contains beautiful pictures of underwater vistas, and shockingly close images of sharks. I had been concerned that Kayla was going to hate the book—she often does not like reading about spooky or scary things—and tried to think of ways to engage her. To my surprise, she seemed to love the experience, flipping through the pages and remarking at the teeth, eyes, and gills. When I asked her about her favorite new information, she looked thoughtful for a moment and then replied, “I learned that sharks are not nearly as dangerous as I thought. Sometimes we make unfair guesses about animals based on not knowing enough about them.” Her extrapolation and recognition that these animals were just as worth learning about as something cuddly and cute struck me as a huge success.

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