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Spy_on_the_Inside
10-18-2012, 07:45 AM
I have a character who's a teenage drug addict who stopped going to school in the fourth grade. I want to use a very stylized approach to show her struggles in trying to read, but first I need to get a good idea of what a fourth grade reading level is.

I would love for any teachers, moms, dads, or kids at heart to help give me a better mental image.

Dryad
10-18-2012, 11:18 AM
I've taught Reading (pre-K through 12) for eight years now. I've got a classroom library and personal reading lists for individual students, but I find Amazon Listmania super handy for recommending additional books by grade level. In fact, you can often find very specialized lists, like books for a first grader who reads at a fourth grade level. Your teenager would prefer books with more mature concepts, yet simpler writing, so you could look for the reverse. But just looking through the lists for fourth grade will give you a handy and diverse book list that answers your question. Also, I know my public library keeps book lists by various subject (e.g. classics, popular) divided into school reading level, so parents and kids can more easily find appropriate books. Read up on 4th grade books and you'll find what you're looking for.

Katrina S. Forest
10-18-2012, 11:47 AM
I've subbed as a reading teacher a couple times, so not nearly as much experience here, but I'll add what I can.

There actually are specific series aimed at older students who are behind on their reading level. Some are written as comic books, so you get a lower word count without the image of reading a kiddie book. Also consider that your character, while she might have been in fourth grade, may or may not have been at a fourth grade reading level at the time, and has had a lot of time away from learning. So she may need to start out lower than that.

Another big factor -- how much does your character want to improve her reading skills? If she flat-out doesn't care, her teachers might be more focused on trying to find material that sparks her interest first.

I remember being told in one of my college classes that any reading material in which the students understood less than 95% of the words was likely to cause frustration, even with guidance. It seems like such a high percentage, until you consider that just this little post is around 150 words. Imagine how annoyed you'd be if you couldn't decipher seven or eight of them.

Hope this helps. :)

StormChord
10-18-2012, 03:23 PM
From what I remember about fourth grade, reading the words wasn't the problem at that point; the real issue was understanding the story and having the attention span to get through it. About the only long books that could hold my attention were the earlier Harry Potter novels; beyond that, there were large numbers of fairly generic action-adventure stories in the school library. Also, at that age, anything in the form of a comic was infinitely more entertaining than a book.
Her struggles with reading might manifest themselves as her fighting the urge to drop the book and do something more interesting.

heyjude
10-18-2012, 04:04 PM
I'm guessing it depends on the character. My kiddo is in 4th grade. Plenty of kids in her class struggle to get through basic books. My kid can read just about anything put in front of her, but that's just her personality. She's passionate about reading.

quicklime
10-18-2012, 04:50 PM
ditto Jude; by fourth grade my son had read all the Potter books. my daughter had read the first 3 Twilight books, as well as a shit-ton of Warriors books and the Fox and the Hound.

if she's struggling it may be easier to simply portray her frustration and hostility than try to have her sounding out words, etc. Besides, what is she reading? IIRC, most newspapers, etc. are written for about a sixth-grade level here in the US.

scarecrow
10-18-2012, 05:54 PM
Fourth grade is a very transitional year in Reading, for some.
Many fourth graders have read Harry Potter. Others are more reluctant and cling to picture books, but by the middle of fourth hopefully they have been pushed into chapter books.

A lot depends on your characters background. Without parents who emphasize education, and good schooling her reading level may not be fourth grade even though she was in fourth grade. I have seen a lot of kids who are capable but just haven't been expected to read. Others in the same situation excel. It depends on the character.

The other thing to consider is how they read at this age. The well read have higher vocabulary and can read a word in context and grab its meaning. The slower ones stumble over big words and have problems grasping their meaning.

If the character was on track in the fourth grade she should be able to read most things as quicklime wrote.The truth is in day to day living you don't come across many written big words. If she is trying to progress her education again, she would.

Most fourth graders I know read Diary of a Wimpy kid. I know of few who were struggling with Magic Tree House. By now Daisy Meadows Fairy Books should be an easy read.

DSA
10-18-2012, 07:05 PM
I have a character who's a teenage drug addict who stopped going to school in the fourth grade. I want to use a very stylized approach to show her struggles in trying to read, but first I need to get a good idea of what a fourth grade reading level is.

If she stopped going to school in fourth grade, she may very well not be reading up to a fourth grade level. Students who have to contend with home or life chaos or learning disabilities fail to make good progress and by fourth grade are way behind. If she is struggling to decode words, she's probably still at a second grade level or even below. If she can't understand what she's reading this won't show up in her just decoding the words in front of her. Our local library has copies of the graded textbooks used in local schools.

mreilly19
10-19-2012, 01:15 AM
As a Dad who has kids in 3rd/5th grade, I think I can estimate the fourth grade reading level for you. Naturally, it depends on the kid - my son always liked to read (says his writer Dad proudly :-) and so was reading young adult books in the 4th grade. My daughter is in the 3rd grade and also loves reading and so both have gone through Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Hardy Boys, Magic Treehouse, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc. Books with 8-12 chapters and 100-125 pages or so, in other words.

Your character will be able to read sufficiently, but she may not have the reading attention span for longer or more complex works, and figuring out elements like themes, symbolism, allegories, metaphors, etc. would probably be too advanced for her. She wouldn't be able to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and see it as more than a story about a kid and a runaway slave going down the river on a raft, for instance - the arguments against slavery and depictions of rural life wouldn't gain a foothold on her outlook.

Her vocabulary would also be somewhat basic, at least in terms of what she's read. I'm not sure she would be "sounding out words" in the sense of slowly pronouncing them to figure their meaning; that seems more like a first or second grade level. She might read the word then simply not understand the meaning or context.

Hope this helps; if you need more info just let me know!


I have a character who's a teenage drug addict who stopped going to school in the fourth grade. I want to use a very stylized approach to show her struggles in trying to read, but first I need to get a good idea of what a fourth grade reading level is.

I would love for any teachers, moms, dads, or kids at heart to help give me a better mental image.

cornflake
10-19-2012, 07:06 AM
I have a character who's a teenage drug addict who stopped going to school in the fourth grade. I want to use a very stylized approach to show her struggles in trying to read, but first I need to get a good idea of what a fourth grade reading level is.

I would love for any teachers, moms, dads, or kids at heart to help give me a better mental image.

It's not clear from this exactly why she has struggles in trying to read, which makes a difference.

In general, a fourth grader can read just fine. Their choice of material certainly varies, as does anyones, and there are some kids who may be behind or have issues but your average fourth-grade kid can read anything. He or she may not understand all the vocabulary, depending on what's being read, obviously, but can read and get a lot from context wrt unknown words.

Spy_on_the_Inside
10-19-2012, 08:45 AM
I'll give a little more background. The reason she stopped going to school in the fourth grade is just because she didn't have to. No one in her family made her, and it was a school in a small village, so no one went after her to go. Also, this is sort of a sci-fi/low fantasy book, so it may be a little bit harder to apply modern context.

What I have her reading through the book are maps, political posters, newspapers, a legal contract at one point, and some works of classic literature. She's more or less indifferent to reading. She knows enough to get by in the world (in a very loose sense), so she doesn't see any reason to learn anymore.

frimble3
10-19-2012, 10:28 AM
I'll give a little more background. The reason she stopped going to school in the fourth grade is just because she didn't have to. No one in her family made her, and it was a school in a small village, so no one went after her to go. Also, this is sort of a sci-fi/low fantasy book, so it may be a little bit harder to apply modern context.

What I have her reading through the book are maps, political posters, newspapers, a legal contract at one point, and some works of classic literature. She's more or less indifferent to reading. She knows enough to get by in the world (in a very loose sense), so she doesn't see any reason to learn anymore.
So, if she's reading newspapers, a legal contract, and some works of classic literature - what more are you expecting from her? That's better than most people do.
Or do you mean that she attempts, but is unable to, read these things?
Usually maps are just names, she might have context for them that a fourth-grader probably wouldn't. Usually political posters don't have much writing, the idea is a quick visual idea, again, as an adult she probably understands the concepts on the posters, even if she has to puzzle out words she's only heard.

Spy_on_the_Inside
10-19-2012, 11:28 AM
I mean she attempts to read them - the contract and classic literature - but is unable to.

So she'd be able to read the words on the map and use it, depending her skill with using a map in the first place, and you're correct in saying political posters don't require a lot of thought.

Something else that occured to be is athat after she left school, her vocabulary likely would have grown, but she wouldn't be able to spell any of these new words or recognize them in writing. Not knowing the meaning covers a lot of things, but is there a level of words that four grader just flat out can't read.

cornflake
10-19-2012, 01:08 PM
I mean she attempts to read them - the contract and classic literature - but is unable to.

So she'd be able to read the words on the map and use it, depending her skill with using a map in the first place, and you're correct in saying political posters don't require a lot of thought.

Something else that occured to be is athat after she left school, her vocabulary likely would have grown, but she wouldn't be able to spell any of these new words or recognize them in writing. Not knowing the meaning covers a lot of things, but is there a level of words that four grader just flat out can't read.

Why is she unable to read them? Do you mean she doesn't get what's going on in them so gives up on reading them?

Why wouldn't she be able to spell or recognize words she knows when they're written? Is she disabled?

A regular fourth-grader? No (well, not more than another person). One may not understand a word, but can read it. A second-grader can read pretty much any word, provided he or she can read. They all may not understand the meaning or all may pronounce (especially if spelled in a non-standard way) oddly, but that's the same as any adult who hasn't seen or heard the word.

Amarie
10-19-2012, 03:37 PM
If she stopped learning to read in fourth grade and was struggling even then, she would have trouble reading many newspapers. And you are right that she wouldn't be able to recognize many newly learned vocabulary words in writing. Some she would try to sound out and then if her attempts came close enough, she might make the connection. Others, if she sounded them out the wrong way, she wouldn't figure out. I've seen this happen even with children over 12.

eta: My kiddo, who is twelve and a pretty good reader, finds reading the New York Times a real struggle. It's the combination of the vocabulary, the dense text and the length of the articles. She's okay with our city newspaper, so it would depend on the type of newspaper. And for struggling readers, length is an issue. They get overwhelmed when faced with a big block of text and have trouble even starting in on it.

Lil
10-19-2012, 06:55 PM
Her problem with the legal contract and the classics is more likely to be a matter of vocabulary than of reading. She can "read" the words, even sound them out, but if she doesn't know the meaning, they might as well be in a foreign language.

ElsaM
10-20-2012, 03:46 PM
I suspect that she's not going to have problems with comprehension, not reading.

When I was in 4th grade I could ready anything, but I wasn't understanding everything I read. A legal contract would have been nothing but gobbledegook, and political propaganda - depending on the terminology - would have been intriguing but incomprehensible. Maps would have been fine, location name wise, but anything about longitude or latitude would have been a mystery.

I was reading a whole lot of classical literature when I was in 4th grade, but in my own time. If she wasn't, then there may be a lot of unfamiliar words in them.

Has she continued reading since leaving school, or did she give it up? My vocabulary comes from independent reading over many years, rather than school, so it'd be pretty limited if my access to books had been restricted.

On the other hand, if she was struggling with her school work before she stopped going, then reading itself may still have been a challenge. I remember many kids in my class still struggling with words in 4th grade.

ArtsyAmy
10-21-2012, 04:45 AM
A different perspective: I don't think a person's reading, comprehension, or vocabulary would necessarily be negatively affected by leaving school in the fourth grade. Those things might instead be more advanced than they would have been if the child had remained in school. I've known many teenagers who either never went to school or stopped going to school during elementary school--because their parents didn't make them. With my own kids, I helped them learn to read, stopped coaching them before the 4th grade level, and they soared on their own afterward. When it was time to do high school work so they could meet the requirements for college admissions and have courses for their high school transcripts, they were in great shape. Giving them the freedom to delve into their interests resulted in lots of reading. Oldest is a college freshman. On her first paper in Honor's English, her prof commented (positively) on her vocabulary. She didn't get it from me--she uses words I don't use/some I don't even know. Second oldest does SAT prep and keeps getting the correct answers. Third is doing great, too... And I've seen the same kinds of things with other kids (not my own kids) who don't go to school.

Of course, your character could be different. I just would caution against any assumption that not going to school, and not having adults giving assignments, would mean not learning. :)

shakeysix
10-21-2012, 05:16 AM
In my years as a high school teacher I have had a few students with fourth grade reading levels. One of my juniors now is reading the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series for his junior book journal. He really enjoys reading the books (and so do I) and he has very good insight into the character's motives, but as his ESL teacher I have to help him on almost every page. I used to think that a kid with a low reading level would just naturally elevate himself when he found something he enjoyed but this is not the case here.

It is a small school so I am a Spanish teacher as well as an English teacher. This boy began school in Mexico but completed first grade and every other grade in our school, in English. He does hear a lot of Spanish at home so I thought that maybe he would be better at Spanish. But no, he struggles with reading the "lecturas" in our Spanish book. He has been screened for dyslexia and that is not the problem but certainly there is a problem. The school has him on an IEP--an individual education plan. His teachers sign off on it so we know how best to teach him.

He is a good kid, one of my favorites because he works so hard at everything he does. He wants to go to tech school for welding. The shop teacher says he can make it through the safety manuals but it takes him longer than the other kids. His IEP requires that he get extra time for all reading and testing. Once he starts actually welding he does fine.

If an adult has a fourth grade reading level it is probably due to a learning problem and not to missing school. By no means is that person incapable of learning. There are all kinds of strategies to overcome poor reading. It would be interesting to see a character who struggled with reading overcome that problem. All I can think of is "Flowers for Algernon" --s6

Spy_on_the_Inside
10-21-2012, 10:01 AM
So it sounds like I don't have to focus on reading so much as vocabulary level. How can I get an idea of what a fourth grade vocabulary is?

cornflake
10-21-2012, 12:29 PM
So it sounds like I don't have to focus on reading so much as vocabulary level. How can I get an idea of what a fourth grade vocabulary is?

It's kind of entirely dependent - some fourth graders, especially big readers, and/or those with educated parents who themselves have large, varied vocabularies, will have large, varied vocabularies.

Some, especially the opposite of the above demographics, will have much more limited ones.

I've known fourth graders completely capable of reading and comprehending most articles in the NYT, and those who would have trouble doing both or either.

Also, you said her vocabulary has grown as she's interacted with people, read whatever, etc., so I don't know how limited it'd be in that case regardless.

These are words from a random school's fourth grade vocabulary list that I found online.

cubicle
bail
reinforce
expel
abandon
impetuous
dilemma
resolutely

scoff
assail
optimistic
lament
steadfast
decisive
gratifying
resigned

lurch
primp
putrid
rowdy
jovial
outlandish
allure
suave


These are apparently on a national reading vocabulary list (google that and it comes up more than one place), as being among the nearly 1000 words that should be mastered by the end of fourth grade. It says they're the next most common after the 2000+ in the first three grades' curricula -

citizen Germany rust velvet abnormal plantation
knight cancel challenge shin transaction aviation
doubt balance knowledge width taxation vigilante
knob accelerate legislature sniff malfunction


So clearly depends on the school as well. The national list would appear to be the baseline - better schools obviously go beyond the basic requirements.

Captcha
10-21-2012, 03:36 PM
I don't think it's going to be too valuable to look at fourth grade children in order to understand how someone would read after having left school at fourth grade.

Reading is usually divided into two skills - decoding (figuring out the little black squiggles on the page) and comprehension (understanding what the words mean in context).

By grade four, decoding should be taken care of. (Usually this is completely resolved by grade two or three, where I am). It's the easy one. Students recognize certain words and can sound out unfamiliar ones. A student who can decode can look at a page and read it out loud, translating the squiggles into sounds. But the student may not be able to get any meaning from the words s/he's reading. So the next skill is comprehension.

That's where things get more complicated, because a lot of comprehension is going to depend on things that aren't on the page. There is an element of fluency (in which the student can decode but has to put so much effort into it that there's no attention left for trying to figure out meaning) where your character may get hung up. She may read too literally - she may assume that she's extracted all possible meaning just by decoding the words, rather than applying herself to thinking about them.

I'd say that with a grade four reading level, your character's comprehension is going to depend largely on her attitude. If she wants to read something and if she's willing to take the time to think it through, she should be able to handle most texts.

This is why I don't think it's a good comparison to look at grade four students. Your character's intellectual development overall didn't end at grade four - she's been out there living in the world, encountering and thinking about complex ideas, learning words, etc. Right? If she has, she should be fine. If she hasn't - if she's been hanging out with other people who aren't using their brains - she'll have trouble with more than reading.

Try reading something complicated in a field you're not familiar with. The strategies you use - re-reading, trying to classify and reorganize ideas, drawing connections to things you already understand, etc. - are probably the same strategies your character would use.

Lil
10-21-2012, 06:00 PM
The problem for your character isn't going to be "fourth grade vocabulary." The problem is that she is going to have difficulty with the words we learn from reading rather than the words we learn from conversation. The movies she has seen, the radio she listens to, the people she knows—these will determine her vocabulary.

StormChord
10-22-2012, 03:50 PM
My fourth grade vocabulary was fairly advanced, but that was because my parents periodically slipped into old english or legalese. It's more a question of what kind of words she would have picked up in the following years - was she chilling with english majors? Reporters? Mathematicians or magicians? All would have words of the trade she'd probably pick up over the years.