What Kids Should Already Know
As children enter the fourth grade, most are reasonably confident readers and writers, and they have also learned to use spoken language successfully. They are able to use books for enjoyment and as useful sources of information. They also know how to use a library and are comfortable doing so. They use writing for a variety of purposes; they understand the writing process, including the value of responses from their peers and revisions; and they have a good sense of authorship. They can also use spoken language effectively in a variety of settings -- in discussions, oral reports, plays, explanations, and the like.
What Kids Should Learn in Reading
Where reading is concerned, the teacher's main task in grade four -- and throughout the intermediate grades -- is to keep children reading. This means continually enlarging classroom libraries, making extensive use of school and community libraries, referring the children to new books, talking about books, reading to the children from ever-more-complex works, and working with librarians and other teachers to organize such events as schoolwide book fairs and author visits for the children.
While some schools have organized the language arts curriculum around American literature in fourth and fifth grades, most teachers believe it is more important to keep children reading many different kinds of literature, as their interests guide them, than to concentrate on a particular country, genre, or period. Children need to know that when they become readers, a very large world is available to them. In the best settings, teachers will do everything they can to help children step into that large world -- and stay in it.
What Kids Should Learn About Writing
Writing is closely related to reading. Teachers should make sure that children write every day and that they see themselves as active communicators: writers of journals and letters, authors of poetry, biography, and fiction. Teachers know that writing improves with practice and that writing and thinking are closely intertwined, so they hold daily writing workshops -- periods when children write, revise, and discuss their work. In some schools teachers say that there is not enough time for daily writing workshops. There has to be time!
By the fourth grade each child should have a well-established writing portfolio that contains files of his or her past writing, recently completed works, and writing in progress. Viewing this work over time is important to a child's self-evaluation and growth; in addition, the portfolio helps the teacher determine what kind of guidance and assistance each child needs. In the best schools, portfolios are maintained through the intermediate grades.
Fourth grade children will be writing cursive script rather than printing. They should get a good deal of practice with cursive writing in the course of their studies, although they will also do much of their formal writing -- reports, essays, and the like -- on the computer. Because teachers know that autobiographical and reflective writing is a good means of reinforcing the writing-thinking connection, children are encouraged to keep journals in which they record questions and insights about the various subjects they study as well as personal reflections.
Children will have many chances to practice most writing conventions, including punctuation marks, paragraphing, and verb tenses. They will also learn to write dialogues, explanations, and comparisons, although their skills in these areas will be at the beginner's level.
What Kids Should Learn About Speaking
The oral aspects of language -- especially effective speaking -- are always important. Teachers view both speaking and listening as closely related to reading and writing. Children are given many opportunities to speak in a variety of contexts: telling and retelling stories, participating in focused discussions about particular topics, sharing information with other children, giving formal speeches, appearing in plays and readers' theater, reading published poems or their own writings aloud. They are also encouraged to examine how language is used in the home, the neighborhood, and the media and to develop an understanding of the power of the spoken word.
Reprinted from 101 Educational Conversations with Your 4th Grader by Vito Perrone, published by Chelsea House Publishers.
Copyright Ó 1994 by Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Main Line Book Co. All rights reserved.