April 5, 2008

The third grading turning point and other myths

A few weeks ago, Sara Mead wrote about Combatting The Third Grade Slump in the Early Ed Watch blog, and she repeated a phrase that always bewilders me a bit:

We know that third grade is a major transition point in children's education. It's when they make the switch from learning to read, to reading to learn. [emphasis added]
Mead's link is to an article for teachers coauthored by Jeanne Chall, which reiterates the common adage. While there is a nugget of truth in it (if you can read complex text fluently, you're more likely to understand or at least wade through poorly-written textbooks), there's a developmental reasoning there which surprises and disappoints me. It surprises me because Chall is definitely not a developmentalist in the classic sense, and it disappoints me because it implies some significant divide between early childhood education and the "real" curriculum.

Wrong isn't quite the word for it. Maybe distracted is the better word. Or maybe my ear is too sensitive to cute phrasing and pat edubabble formulae. Is there any evidence that the curriculum suddenly changes in third grade? Or that there are accelerated demands on reading in the best reading materials that one could choose? if there is a "third grade slump," it's that third grade is where many struggling readers are identified with learning disabilities. I haven't checked the stats recently, but my guess is that you could infer that from the grade distribution of students receiving special education services.

So is third grade where the curriculum changes or where school systems finally intervene with children?

Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy on April 5, 2008 11:26 AM |