Research indicates the fourth grade is a critical transitional time for reading and social development. Our experience at the Paraclete Academy mirrors this finding. Beginning later this fall, we will expand our existing core instruction of fifth and sixth grade classes to include this crucial grade.
During the first three years of school, children learn the mechanics of reading with vocabulary words that focus on the familiar – the terminology of family and home. Almost every child feels comfortable with the words they read. Beginning in the fourth grade, reading moves into the wider world and with this transition comes less familiar vocabulary. At this age, children themselves are moving into the world and becoming increasingly influenced by what their peers think over the thoughts and opinions of the adults in their lives. The creation of a positive learning community that provides peer support for working hard in school is an important part of our program.
Simply teaching vocabulary words is not enough. On average children need to acquire 5,000 new words each year to reach the optimum level of 80,000 words academically successful adults know. Individualized, sustained, daily reading is the most proven method for vocabulary expansion. The Paraclete Academy, through its emphasis on daily reading with books tailored to the reading level and interests of each child, is seeing solid results with this approach. Its 14,000 book library is color coded by grade level and organized by various interest levels which makes finding the right book easy for both teacher and child. Our student blog will include a place for books reviews where students and teachers alike may give their views and ratings on what they are reading.
At the same time, reading can not be done in isolation; children need real life exposure to the world around them, experiences that are often taken for granted by middle class communities and families. Exploratory learning – a prominent component of the Paraclete Academy’s curriculum – addresses the limited world experience of many of our students. Through hands-on classes in sciences, gardening, robotics, cooking, art, music and field trips, our children acquire real life knowledge of the world around them and a context to understand the vocabulary that describes it.
Finally, the importance of peer acceptance that begins at this age is taken very seriously by the Paraclete Academy. Fostering a community of learners and mutual peer support is as important as teaching itself. The importance of such a culture can not be minimized; it is often the determining factor in a child’s decision to try to do better in school.
For an excellent summary of research conclusions, check out on-line: “The Transition Years” Educational Leadership: April 2011 | Volume 68 | Number 7: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr11/vol68/num07/toc.aspx