What are Late-Emerging Poor Readers?

June 16, 2023

Late-Emerging Poor Readers

Millions of children struggle to read, and children who read at a proficient level are the exception not the rule. Unfortunately, the Nation’s Report Card revealed that only about one out of every three fourth graders read at a proficient level or higher.

To complicate these figures, some children might read proficiently or fluently at a younger age but start to struggle with reading as they reach upper elementary grades or middle school. These ‘late-emerging poor readers’ might fall between the cracks. How do parents identify if their child suddenly struggles with reading and how can they help a late-emerging poor reader?

Identifying the Struggle

Children in public schools participate in yearly achievement tests to gauge their level of proficiency related to core subjects like Language Arts (which includes reading) and math. In middle school, these tests might include assessments for science.

The school districts distribute the results to parents; however, the timing of when these reports are distributed may vary. Some states might embargo test results until the fall.

While achievement tests are merely a snapshot of a child’s ability, patterns could emerge related to skill mastery and proficiency. Parents could notice that their child’s scores dropped from ‘proficient’ to ‘basic.’ This could indicate that the child is falling behind and struggling to master grade-level material.

One falling score, though, is not always indicative of a problem or a reading struggle. Students could be ill, tired, hungry or even distracted when they take the test. There are a number of issues that could impact the child’s test scores and performance.

Many school districts assess reading skills throughout the year. The assessments and tools used to gauge reading proficiency might differ from district to district, but the scores from these tests can help parents better understand their child’s reading ability.  

Parents might look at data related to reading growth and their child’s reading level to determine the child’s mastery of grade-level benchmarks and literacy expectations. Unfortunately, though, some children don’t always focus appropriately or give the necessary effort for these tests to accurately gauge their reading skills. If a child has difficulty focusing on the test, or if they rush through the test, their scores will suffer and parents could assume their child is struggling (even if they read at grade-level).

Teachers can help parents better identify if their child is struggling. Teachers understand the difference between a child who can read at grade level but simply doesn’t care about an assessment versus a child who scores low on an assessment because they do not have mastery of grade-level literacy fundamentals. The teacher can (and will) provide parents with insight about their child and will discuss any classroom concerns.

Late-Emerging Poor Readers

Helping at Home

While teachers will explain reading struggles with parents, they cannot always offer a magic solution for a student’s reading struggle. Reading intervention programs offered by a school district might be available to children who score low enough on state or district assessments; some children who struggle to read might not struggle enough to be eligible for intervention. In these situations, a teacher might be limited in the resources they can offer.

In later elementary grades and middle school, reading expectations change. Reading comprehension evolves from focusing on the basic w/h questions (who, what, where, when, why and how) to making inferences, predicting what will happen next and comparing/contrasting characters, too. In essence, reading becomes more abstract than black and white. Not all students are prepared to handle these expectations; they struggle with the critical thinking skills required to make abstract connections, and, as a result, they fail to demonstrate insightful literary analyses.

Ideally, parents should help children work on these skills before the child falls too far behind. However, identifying a struggle can be challenging for parents. In addition, not all parents know how to help their child better develop the critical thinking skills required to master the more abstract components of literary comprehension.

While options for school intervention could be limited or even ‘off the table,’ there are strategies for parents to help struggling readers at home. Late-emerging poor readers could have difficulty with decoding more difficult words or they might struggle with reading comprehension. Here are five strategies to help late-emerging struggling readers master the abstract expectations of reading comprehension:

  1. Use visual tools.
  2. Teach them that rereading is a fundamental strategy for comprehension.
  3. Encourage note taking.
  4. Allow them to listen to the book as they read.
  5. Teach them to ask questions as they read.

What Visual Tools Help Older Students with Reading Comprehension?

Visual tools help students remember what they need to think about as they read. The most common visual tools for older students to guide reading include reading comprehension bookmarks and graphic organizers.

Older children might scoff at these tools. Why? Both types of tools are used in early elementary grades. However, these tools can be modified to benefit readers in upper elementary grades (and beyond), too.

For example, reading comprehension bookmarks for younger students include the w/h questions. For older readers, these bookmarks can include prompts that make them think deeper about the text. The bookmarks can include reminders to think about the next events in the book, consider the motivation/emotions of a character and even remind them to look for clues in text that could be relevant later in the book.

Graphic organizers can be used by anyone. Creately includes examples of all types of graphic organizers; these worksheets include Venn Diagrams, Sequence Charts, Persuasion Maps and more.  

Teach Rereading

Some children might struggle to infer meaning from stories and books because they aren’t focused as they read. It’s easy to become distracted while reading, but parents can teach children to review earlier pages and reread them as necessary.

It’s ok if a reader needs to go back and reread a chapter or earlier pages. Rereading can help children better understand events of the story and catch details they might have missed. If a child feels confused, teach them to reread to improve understanding.

This strategy also can be partnered with chunking text. Children might reread a section at a time to think about the details and process the information; then they can move on to the next paragraph or page. Chunking and rereading can be reading strategy partners.

Late-Emerging Poor Readers

Encourage Note Taking

As comprehension expectations evolve and become abstract, note taking can help children remember details as they read. Parents can purchase bright sticky notes; these notes can be color-coded for each chapter. As the child reads, parents should encourage them to jot details on a sticky note and place it on the corresponding page.

At the end of each chapter, children can pull off their sticky notes and assess the details they wrote. Then they can use these details to help them make predictions, analyze the characters, etc.

Listen and Read

Not everyone processes information in the same way. Some children learn best through hearing (auditory learners). For these students, listening to an audiobook as they follow along on the page could help them improve their comprehension.

Listening to narrated stories also helps children discern emotions of characters and could help them identify other details, too. While this strategy isn’t ideal for all students, some could find it helpful.

Ask Questions

Reading comprehension requires that children learn how to process the information they read and analyze it to make predictions, infer meaning and make comparisons/contrasts. To help them develop critical thinking skills, parents can encourage them to ask questions as they read. These questions need to delve beyond the basic w/h details, though.

Some questions that children can ask as they read include:

  • How does the character feel? What are their intentions? How would I feel in this situation?
  • When does the story take place and how does this time period impact the story? What other events happened during this time (in history)?
  • How does the actions of the character impact what might happen next? What clues can I use to make predictions on what might happen next?
  • How do the characters differ? How are they alike?
  • How would I handle the situation faced by the character in the book?
  • What narrative voice does the author use to tell the story? Why is this important?

Parents of older elementary students who struggle with reading comprehension or even show struggles with reading fluency also could use a reading app like Readability to help them gain confidence and proficiency. Parents can explore Readability for free; sign up for a free seven-day trial period to explore how it can help a late-emerging poor reader.