Even when our youngest readers come out of the gates strong—when they start to put sounds and letters together quickly and accurately, and then move easily from Hop on Pop to The Magic Treehouse in a short time—there is no guarantee that this means long-term success with reading. In fact, it’s risky to think that the hard work of learning to read, and learning to read well, is over—that the job is done.
Why? Because even when children are meeting all their reading benchmarks, there are at least three key reasons why every parent, in partnership with schools, should be keeping tabs on a child’s progress.
- The reading game changes over time. “Reading” at age 5 is not the same as reading for a 7 year-old, which is the not the same as reading for a 9 year-old. And none of those reading experiences looks similar to skilled reading for a high schooler. At each age, children have to be able to read and understand the increasingly difficult content and language they encounter in books. They also have to be able to learn from the information they read and complete the book-related tasks that are demanded in schools (which also change and get more demanding over time). As a result, even those children who start out strong often struggle when the language in books gets complex.
- Example: The books children read in grade 2 are filled with the kind of language that we use when we speak – conversational or colloquial language, and in school, they are maybe asked to answer a few basic questions and talk about the story. By 5th grade, that same reader is challenged to read books filled with more academic words and language, and the kinds of complex ideas that are part of learning about science and social studies. They also need to work much more independently with text—answer questions about the chapter, write a report, etc.
- The bottom line: As a parent, it’s important to monitor progress to be sure that your child’s game is keeping up with the always-changing reading game—and if there isn’t sufficient progress, to help your child build this kind of language and knowledge at home, and partner with educators to get additional support.
- Many readers lack the stamina to take on and fully understand challenging texts. As books get longer and more difficult, not only does a reader need a strong grasp of skills in the Letters & Sounds category (i.e., reading individual words quickly and automatically) and Vocabulary & Knowledge (e.g., understanding a lot of words and diverse word types, and having a lot of background knowledge), they also really need the types of Awareness & Regulation skills (e.g., being able to control their minds and bodies to pay attention and persevere when things become challenging) required to stay with it until they fully understand a passage. To build this kind of reading stamina, children need to have practice reading texts independently for longer and longer periods of time, and get good at ignoring distractions going on around them. This demands regular practice reading, all through the years. But many children don’t read as much or as often as they need to read to build up the kinds of skills necessary for long-term reading demands.
- Example: A strong first grade reader can read a first grade book at about 100 words per minute. By the time a child finishes grade 3, a strong reader can read a grade-level book at roughly 140 words per minute, and should be able to read for about 40 minutes independently. Children become more fluent and independent as readers when they practice reading and their skills improve. When children read well and read often, they enjoy reading more, build reading stamina, and then are able to persist through difficult texts or reading tasks.
- The bottom line: If parents are keeping on top of a child’s reading skill growth, they will pick up on the lack of practice and be able to work with the teacher or the librarian to try and find the kinds of books that will compel the child to want to read – and as a result, help the child build reading stamina.
- Many of today’s readers are not equipped for the new workplace. Recent data shows us that many of our high scorers do not do as well as the high scoring students in other countries. And at the same time, society and the economy have changed dramatically in the last two decades—in this information age and when many jobs are being eliminated because of technology, what counts as literate is on the rise. To be academically and personally successful every student needs to develop advanced reading skills. Policymakers, business leaders and others focused on economic growth and innovation are calling for the education system to develop more “knowledge workers.”
- Example: Today’s fastest-growing jobs involve two key skills: the ability to work with new information and the ability to solve unstructured problems. This means, for example, being able to research a topic by looking through many resources, thinking critically to find the key information, writing the memo, making the presentation to a team and/or pitching the solution—and all of this means strong reading, communication and collaboration skills.
- The bottom line. For parents, it makes sense to keep tabs on children’s progress as readers and critical thinkers all through the years, to be sure they are set up to succeed personally and professionally in today’s new information age and economy.