Stories from a (Third and) Fourth Grade Reader

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By Kathryn Coulibaly

Sparking a love of reading at any age is valuable, but navigating a pandemic, technological issues, economic disadvantage and a return to in-person instruction that has left students struggling, the third-grade teacher from Barnegat Kerinn Ruthven and fourth-grade teacher Kimberly Cote knew they needed to be creative, innovative, and consistent if they wanted to put their students on the right page.

“When students aren’t fluent in reading, they quit,” Cote said. “They doubt their abilities and think they are not as smart as other students. Often this results in behavioral issues or simply disconnection from the rest of the class. It affects their self-esteem.

Ruthven accepted.

“When students can read but don’t do as well in math, it doesn’t affect their confidence in the same way,” Ruthven said. “We know that reading is the key to everything. If we can unlock that, we can tackle all the other areas.

Kerinn Ruthven has one of the many books she recommends to students.

Strategies for Developing Reading Skills

Both Cote and Ruthven are veteran teachers, currently teaching at Joseph T. Donahue Elementary School in Barnegat. Ruthven has been teaching for 24 years and Cote is in her 16th year of teaching. In the 2020-2021 school year, Ruthven’s third-grade class experienced the strongest growth in English Language Arts (ELA) and math of any third-grade class in the district. Together, Cote and Ruthven worked to develop strategies to help their students develop their reading skills knowing that every day was critical.

“We start with reading aloud every day,” Ruthven said. “We go over focus skills and theme, generally discussing what theme means, how to find what theme is, and what the main idea is. We read a little then we stop and we talk about it with the whole group. It keeps everyone engaged. We might not read the entire book in one sitting. Sometimes we’ll split the book over a few days and leave them in a cliffhanger and talk about it. What do they think will happen? What do they think of the choices the characters make? Have they ever been in a similar situation? Does it remind them of another book we’ve read or they’ve read? We really want students to connect with what we read.

“We try to hit multiple skills at the same time,” Côté said. “We go back and forth between fiction and non-fiction and talk about – ‘this is fantasy, this is real.’ We talk about reading as a writer, and I encourage students to copy the style of writers they like.

Côté also uses writers’ notebooks and has them write verbs and other parts of speech.

Hands-on projects are one of the most popular ways for students to engage in reading. The two teachers enjoy getting students to do arts and crafts projects related to the texts they are reading.

“This stuff is very important,” Ruthven said. “We make interactive notebooks, flip books, foldables, collapsible vocabularies, task cards and more.”

“When we read a story about snowy owls, we make snowy owls out of cotton balls,” Cote said. “It gives students a sense of accomplishment and leads them to follow instructions. It’s creative and something they can show their parents and get them involved at home talking about the book and the lesson. We want parents to be involved and interested in what we do in the classroom.

Another popular activity is book tasting. Teachers organize new books like menu selections. Students can watch book advertisements and read small sections of each title. The goal is to explore many new titles to spark student interest.

“We also like to do ‘character walks,'” Côté said. “We pretend we are specific characters and use character trait skills to speak, think and act like that character. When we finish books, we often write an extra chapter or add ideas for how the book would turn out if it were a series.

Students are encouraged to read where they feel comfortable in the classroom.

Learning to be together again

The two teachers also incorporate many group activities that give students the opportunity to interact with each other. “Our kids really need to relearn how to be with each other, especially in the school setting,” Ruthven said.

“We look carefully at each student as an individual and try to determine what they need,” Cote said. “We determine where the gaps are in their learning. One of the areas we wanted to work on with some students is phonemic awareness, so we used Rhyme Magic, and it made a big difference. We piloted this with some students and then tried it the following year with higher level students.

Each teacher has created a classroom full of color and art and with an abundance of books and plenty of space to read them. Reading happens everywhere – at the front of the room on a carpet in groups, individually at their desks, in small groups at tables working with teachers or helpers, if available, and in small groups of two or three.

When teachers read to the class, they are animated and rely heavily on audience participation.

“We know we have to put on a show every day,” Cote said. “We can’t be boring; we have to be spectacular.

“Previously, it was thought that students had about one minute of attention equal to their age; so for the third year, you had about eight or nine minutes of attention span,” Ruthven said. “In fourth grade, you had nine or 10 minutes. In the era of the pandemic, we find that it is even lower. »

Help students believe in themselves

Both teachers find that breaking up ELA throughout the day helps to integrate it while being realistic about what students are able to tolerate.

“We encourage students to pick up a book that we’ve already read with the class,” Ruthven said. “Because we have already read it together, they know the story. They can re-read it for themselves and be more comfortable with it. Repetition helps them master the words and builds their confidence, and that’s what we need to take them to the next level. We need them to believe they can make that leap.

“People don’t understand what reading does for kids’ confidence,” Cote said. ” That’s all. It helps them with their peers. If they have trouble reading, everyone in the class knows it and they will hear about it in the playground or at the bus stop. We need to edify our students in every way, and we need to help our other students develop empathy. We devote a lot of time to this in our classes. Every child wants to feel like they belong, that they are accepted. They can’t do their best if they’re afraid of making a mistake or looking foolish. So we need to create a class atmosphere that is supportive and benevolent.

Both teachers have invested a lot of time and money in selecting books that will attract and engage students. Students have easy access to many books at their individual reading level in the classroom, although they may not have access to them at home.

“Many of our students are economically disadvantaged,” Ruthven said. “Officially the number is around 35%, but even students who aren’t technically economically disadvantaged might not grow up in homes that value reading.”

Kim Cote reads to students during group story time.

Reading for pleasure in the electronic age

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, this decline in reading has been building for some time. In “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America,” researchers found that less than half of American adults read for pleasure in 2002, preferring electronic media, including television and video games, instead. Knowing the explosion of social media and streaming and the portability of digital entertainment since this survey was conducted, it is likely that few children are exposed to reading as home entertainment, although some certainly are.

In a survey conducted by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in 2019 and 2020, the number of Americans aged 9 and 13 who read daily for pleasure is the lowest since the 1980s. According to the report, 42% of 9-year-old students reported reading for pleasure almost every day. Sixteen percent of 9-year-olds say they never or hardly ever read for pleasure.

There is a huge difference between male and female students on this issue. According to the NAEP, 46% of 9-year-old female students report reading for pleasure almost every day. Thirty-eight percent of 9-year-old male students reported reading for pleasure almost every day.

Of course, NAEP also found a correlation between students who reported reading for pleasure and improved test scores. Although test scores are an important indicator, they are not a goal in themselves. Focusing on testing may also miss a crucial element, one that Cote and Ruthven are eager to see and include in their classrooms: joy.

“After all that our children have been through, after the isolation of the past few years, after the challenges their families have faced, perhaps the loss of a loved one or economic hardship, we want our students to be happy to be back here with us,” said Côté. “We want them to be as happy to be back in person with us as we are to be with them. We want our time together in class to be full of the joy of discovery and learning. It’s about filling them with light and love, not testing and remediation.

Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of NJEA journal and provides content and support for njea.org. She can be reached at [email protected]

Kerinn Ruthven’s favorite books for 3rd graders

  • Maybe: A Story About the Infinite Potential Within All of Us
    by Kobi Yamada and Gabriella Barouch
  • Salt In His Shoes: Michael Jordan chasing a dream
    by Deloris Jordan, Roslyn M. Jordan
  • Animals Nobody Likes by Seymour Simon
  • We are water protectors by Carole Lindström and
    Michaela Goade
  • ten beautiful things by Molly Griffin and Maribel Lechuga

Kim Cote’s favorite books for 4th graders

  • fish in a tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • Tales of Nothing Fourth Grade by Judy Blume
  • The exchange of sandwiches by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah
  • An A from Miss Keller by Patricia Polacco
  • The Boy Who Grown a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Sophia Gholz and Kayla Harren
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