How Is My Fourth Grader Doing in School?: What to Expect and How to Help

How Is My Fourth Grader Doing in School?: What to Expect and How to Help

by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, Dottie Raymer


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How Is My Fourth Grader Doing in School?: What to Expect and How to Help by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, Dottie Raymer

As the parent of a fourth-grader, you may be asking yourself:

How can I stop the battles over doing math homework?

My child used to love to read. Now I have to force her to pick up a book. Help!

What can I do to make sure my child is prepared for the pressures of middle school?

You may have breathed a sigh of relief when your child entered fourth grade, thinking that you no longer needed to coach your child in basic reading and math skills. But parental involvement is more important than ever for the fourth grader. Academics are getting tougher. Expectations are higher. Children who have glided through school up until now may run into unexpected difficulties. Don't worry. How Is My Fourth Grader Doing in School? will help you find out what your child knows, what your child needs to know, and how to work with your child to ensure success in school.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684857190
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 02/28/2000
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

How Is My Fourth Grader Doing in School?

What to Expect and How to Help
By Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Fireside Books

Copyright © 2000 Jennifer Richard Jacobson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0684857197

Developmental Overview

by Nancy Richard

All children are individuals. They have their own personalities and grow at different rates. They have different genes and are influenced by different environments. Yet children at the same developmental stage are surprisingly alike. This is true of almost every stage and grade except fourth grade, when nature highlights the individuality of children, emphasizing their personal interests, talents, and learning styles. Fourth grade, perhaps more than any other, might give you a peek at the potential and future direction of your child. Here are some of the traits you might see in your child.

From Fear to Competence

When teachers are asked about the traits of fourth graders, the first trait mentioned is often their need for perfection and their fear of looking bad. Because fourth graders want to be considered competent by their teacher, but especially by their classmates, they usually won't take risks unless a climate of mutual respect and caring has been established in the classroom. Coupled with this need to look good is a competitiveness that can get out of hand inside the classroom as well asoutside if it isn't checked. Children should be encouraged to compete against themselves and not with each other. In some fourth grade classrooms where being kind and respectful is a priority, teachers report that children encourage and support each other, even cheer each other on.

Fear of not being competent also shows up in the introduction of new material or skills. Nine-to-ten-year-olds are often reluctant to try anything new, fearing they won't be able to do it. However, once this reluctance is overridden, and once they have the skills, they will work tirelessly on perfecting them. Then, feeling confident and competent, they will branch out in all directions, probing into the depths of material, delightedly experimenting and creating.

Probing Minds

If you listen carefully to the language of children, you can get a real sense of how they think. If you listen to almost any discussion on any subject with fourth graders, you will hear them express a version of "and then what -- and then what?" Most fourth graders want to think in depth. They would rather take one subject and explore it thoroughly than cover many subjects superficially

For this reason, some fourth grade teachers will take a thematic approach, in which perhaps three or more themes are explored for several weeks to several months. Some examples might be the constellations, community conservation, or state history. There are endless possibilities for themes, and teachers choose them to incorporate the greatest number of appropriate skills. The children then study the chosen theme through field trips, reading, and research. They plan their projects and how they will present them, whether through art, writing, drama, or maybe by needlework or construction of a model.

This method meets many of the needs of the nine-to-ten-year-old for indepth study Moreover, it provides for another characteristic seen in many nine-to-ten-year-old children: their almost fanatic affinity for detail.

Attention to Detail

This affinity for detail often leads fourth grade teachers to introduce their children to the tools of research. The whole class might be researching one subject, but more often each child might be researching a different subject, all learning to use the same research tools. Children at this stage are ripe for extended uses of the dictionary, encyclopedia, and thesaurus. The thesaurus captivates many. Atlases are another favorite.

The love of detail, which is fairly general in fourth graders, will show itself in the individual interests and talents of children. Some children want to embellish their handwriting and aspire to the skill of calligraphy. Others are attracted to drafting, with its precision and beautiful tools. Children who are mechanical might draw machines with intricate detail.

Fourth graders' interest in detail often shows up in their artwork. A drawing of a tree, for instance, might contain spiders, spiderwebs, butterflies, and cocoons. The bark as well as the leaves and fruit might be elaborately defined. Many children who are artistically inclined will use sketching or shading techniques, and they often like to use pencil, pencil crayons, or pen, which all show detail better than markers or crayons. They love using new media such as Sharpie pens that allow them to make very intricate strokes. Craypas, another favorite, allow them to do blending and to copy the style of the French impressionists. New media also extend the number of possibilities for becoming competent.

Visual Strength

Most fourth grade children have a heightened visual sense. These children are readily drawn to pictures, diagrams, and maps in all areas of study. Introducing them to a subject through a visual medium often cuts down on their beginning anxiety.

For example, a resourceful fourth grade teacher uses the visual strength and love of detail of the fourth grader to teach writing. The children in her class choose a picture they like from a picture book. They discuss such details as perspective, distance, and proportion. They talk about style and the kinds of media the artist used. Through this process, the children begin to internalize the criteria for good art. They then re-create a portion of the picture or the whole picture. Later, they will describe the picture using nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They will develop topic sentences and main ideas, and eventually they will write an original story from all of their detailed information.

Fourth graders are ripe for introduction to fine art -- through a museum, if one is available, or through books if not. The different styles and techniques of different artists fascinate them. There is also an interest in and an aptitude for handiwork with both girls and boys in the fourth grade. Many are drawn to quilt making, embroidery, weaving, or even simple sewing techniques. If the children are given the time to practice and to become proficient, they will choose these activities over and over again.

Time, Independence, and Choice

Because fourth graders are very detail-oriented and because they are perfectionists, they require a good deal of time to do their work. However, a common fourth grade problem is lack of time. Often scheduling and the requirements of the fourth grade curriculum demand that work be hurried, which ultimately frustrates the children. If they're reading or being read to, they don't want to stop or go on to something else before they are satisfied. In their writing, also, they need lots of time: time to get started, time to get absorbed in the writing, time to try out ideas.

The sheer number of things the fourth grader wants to do in a day can create a problem with time. She wants to go to Girl Scouts, take flute lessons, play soccer, and play with her friends as well as go to school, do homework, and watch her favorite shows on television.

Most fourth graders like to do things their own way. They like to plan and to think things through to have an idea of what their finished project will be like. They want to help plan the school day and their time at home. They want choices built into their lives: a choice of what they'll work on in school; a choice of what they'll do after school; a choice of organized activity or free play. However, because there are so many things that they want to accomplish, fourth graders often have difficulty with time management and organizational skills. They need help structuring both their time and their activity.


Fourth graders learn from the specific to the general. For example, learning the skills involved with the use of the protractor and compass lead to the making of pie graphs and exploration of design. Like their younger counterparts from kindergarten through third grade, they learn best through the handling of materials and tools: from the concrete to the abstract.

Most fourth graders like to write and want the feedback that will help them improve both the vitality and voice of their writing and the appearance of their work. But they need to be given the time to write, to edit, and even to embellish their work a bit to satisfy their need for a good product. Editing still is not easy for them, although it is much easier for them to delete material than it was in third grade. They are more willing to edit if they can work on short pieces or those that are less complicated.

In their writing they now display the correct use of the comma, dash, apostrophe, and italics. They especially like quotation marks. Their choice of words usually meets the standards of good grammar. Many know the basic conventions of writing letters and like to write to friends or pen pals. Some children like to write business letters to order things from catalogs. Others send away for things they can get for free. More than one fourth grade child has done this as a hobby.

In math, fourth graders like to analyze the processes involved both in doing calculations and in solving problems. They especially want to analyze their mistakes. Since ways of finding solutions will be different for different children, it is important that your child understand his own processes. Ask him to show you how he figured out a problem. Respect the fact that he might think about the problem differently from you and work it out in a different way. In fact, encourage him to figure problems out in different ways. Most children of this stage appreciate the fact that there are a lot of ways of doing things.

This year the children will be mastering the times tables that were started in third grade. They will be working on fractions and decimals; measurement, percentages, and word problems; and most will be doing division using onedigit divisors. An aspect of division that is apt to give fourth graders a problem is the remainder. It's hard for them to understand that all things in math don't come out equal.

Fourth graders need lots of math practice. They are now able to memorize the math facts they need for quick calculation: addition and subtraction combinations; the times tables; and common measurement standards, such as the number of feet in a yard.

It is important that you encourage risk taking in all subjects, but especially in math. Children who don't take risks limit their thinking to the known and/or someone else's answers. It is in the unknown that new potential lies. Encourage estimation. it is often in the act of approximating that the mind is doing its heaviest thinking. It's also important for children to look at mistakes positively, as a way to help them extend their learning.

Fourth grade is the grade when almost all of the children will be reading to learn rather than learning to read. Those fourth graders who can read well often gobble up books. Detective stories, mysteries, and biographies are often favorites. They love a period of silent reading each day with the book of their choice. This choice is important for two reasons: they will choose a book that has high interest; and they will choose one at their own reading level.

This is the stage when they often want to read every book in a series or every book by the same author. Because children can and do read on their own, parents often stop reading to them. It's still important to read together. Share your favorite prose or poetry.

Relationships and Emotions

Fourth graders center their relationships around "doing." With friends, their sense of camaraderie is high; it is what they do together that counts. An activity or goal is important. With family members, also, relationships often revolve around a shared interest or activity they do together, especially one that involves the learning or the perfecting of skills, such as golf, cooking, or woodworking. Even on a family excursion, nine-to-ten-year-olds like to have time alone with a parent to work on a skill.

In their emotional expression, as in the rest of their nature, fourth graders show much individuality. In general, they feel things deeply and are often worriers. Sometimes this apprehension appears as competitiveness and aggression; at other times, empathy and loyalty. For their best side to show, they must feel competent. Highly selfcritical, and sometimes critical of others, the fourth grader is fiercely afraid of being criticized.

It's important for parents and teachers to realize how crucial it is for fourth graders to look good in the eyes of their peers. This doesn't have to take a competitive form. Looking good does not have to be at the expense of others. They can look good together: performing in a play, writing a book, working as a team. They can learn to laugh together. In fact, one of the ripening traits seen in nine-to-ten-year-olds is a developing and delightful sense of humor.

In fourth grade, many children are in a stage of marked mood swings. They have good days and bad days: days when they behave like adults; others, like children. Although they are usually loyal to their friends, there are days when even a best friend becomes an archenemy. For the most part, however, these flare-ups are short-lived. Some children go to extremes: they "love" something or they "hate it"; they're "good" at something or "terrible" at it.

This moodiness might take the form of complaining, especially about the body. Headaches and stomachaches are commonplace. Your child might complain about specific bodily distress, particularly if you ask him to do something he doesn't want to do. If you ask him to practice the piano, his hands might hurt. If you ask him to empty the trash, he might have a backache. These kinds of complaints are also heard at school, especially if things aren't going well or if he perceives schoolwork to be too difficult.


Fourth graders are moving away from parents and teachers. "I'd rather do it myself and in my own way" sums up their attitude. This is often hard for parents, especially mothers, after the closeness of the third grade year. Fourth graders often seem more interested in friends than in family. Actually, they like to check things out with you, but they are very conscious of their peer group and want to live up to the standards of the group.

In most cases, these standards are good. Nine-to-ten-year-olds want to be responsible. They're working on establishing ethical guidelines and have a good sense of right and wrong. They try to do what's right, and they're critical of others who aren't doing right -- according to their standards. They talk about honesty and the importance of being truthful.

Fourth graders get indignant when they sense injustice. "It's not fair!" is a refrain that rings out in the classroom and at home alike. It is very important to them that their parents and teachers be both fair and reasonable. They are aware of inequality in life and the unfairness of it. They feel deeply. Man's inhumanity to man is an issue with which they identify. They are now ready to struggle with some rather sophisticated social and ethical issues.


Techniques of discipline that worked for younger children might no longer work with your fourth grader. Giving too many direct commands or insistence on total conformity can lead to outright rebellion or simply a deaf ear. "Choose your battles carefully" is an old and wise saying. Fourth graders want you to remember and respect their new maturity and their new independence. You might, however, be able to appeal to reason and logic. Humor (not sarcasm!) can also work wonders.

Some fourth graders love bartering. These children will readily negotiate. So you might trade a room cleanup for one of your child's jobs, such as cleaning off the table or emptying the garbage. The possibilities are endless. In fact, if you are good at the skill of negotiation yourself, you might offer to teach it to your child. Try for solutions where both you and your child are happy. Some fourth graders, however, are very good not only at negotiation but also at manipulation. It's not helpful to let them get away with it.

Your child also needs to take the consequences for the choices she makes. If she makes a good choice, the consequences will be good; if she makes a poor choice, the consequences will not be good. It will not be helpful to her in the long run for you to bail her out or to "rescue" her from these learning opportunities.

Fourth grade is a special year. Perhaps at no other stage is your child more ready to soak up skills, to become proficient. Mom and Dad, big sister or brother, even Grandma and Grandpa can be heroes in the life of the nine-to-ten-year-old if they are willing to share their skills. It doesn't really matter what the skill is. Perhaps it's hitting a baseball, making bread, or sharpening tools. Your reward will be your child's joy at having another talent to add to his repertoire. If you listen carefully, you might even hear the refrain of the fourth grader: "and then what -- and then what?"

Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and Dottie Raymer


Welcome to fourth grade. Your child is one of the big kids now. How does it feel?

Your answer might depend upon how your school system is set up. If your fourth grader still has a year or two to go in elementary school, you may be feeling fairly comfortable. If, on the other hand, your child is moving on to the middle school next year, you may be feeling apprehensive. Will your child be ready for the academic and emotional demands? You wonder how your child is really doing.

For your child, too, life is different. Academics are getting tougher. Expectations are more rigorous. The schedule is jam-packed. Children who have glided through school up until now may run into unexpected difficulties. A good reader becomes reluctant. A fine math student dissolves into tears over a sheet of division problems. Yes, things have definitely changed.

What's a parent to do? Luckily, you can be the one thing that hasn't changed in your child's academic life. Your involvement in your child's education this year is more important than ever. Research has shown that parent participation in a child's education is the leading factor in academic success. Children from all socioeconomic backgrounds are happier, more motivated, and get better grades when their parents take an active role in their learning. Contrary to popular belief, or even your own instincts, this involvement becomes even more important as your child gets older. You know your child better than anyone else. You know that she likes to read lying upside down on her bed. You know that she can do a math problem twice as fast if she narrates her way through it. You know what interests her, what motivates her, and how she has always learned best. You were your child's first teacher. Even as she moves out into the world of friends and sports and school activities, you are still her most important teacher.

That's all very well, you might say, but where can we find the time? Middle graders are busy people. Lessons and sports events and all sorts of social events with very important friends leave little time for homework, let alone extra study time. Being involved in your child's learning, however, need not take extra time. And it certainly should not take the form of "extra study time." All you really have to do is use the time that you already have -- those five minutes on the way to the soccer field, that restless time just before dinner -- as "teachable moments," informal, creative moments that can help your child grow and flourish. As you begin to notice these moments and the opportunities they provide, you will find that your time with your child feels not busier, but more connected and high-spirited.

This book is intended to help you use those precious moments to their fullest extent. It comes with an observational assessment that will help you determine what in the traditional fourth grade curriculum your child knows and what might be helpful to introduce to her next. This assessment is not a standardized test. It is not an 10 test. In this assessment, you will not find any quantifiable scores or percentiles. instead, you will find ways for you to observe how your child approaches learning. if you watch carefully, you might find the results surprising.

As with all the books in this series, the learning activities in How Is My Fourth Grader Doing in School? cover the broad strokes of the fourth grade reading, writing, and math curriculum. Science, social studies, the arts, and physical education are not covered because the content in these subjects varies from school to school and cannot be presented accurately. Nevertheless, they are essential to a sound education, and your child needs to know that you value these subjects as well. Find out what your child is studying in these areas and see if there is a way you can contribute. Explore new knowledge in science and social studies, go to museums, attend concerts and plays. Discover how rewarding learning with your child can be.

Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and Dottie Raymer


Excerpted from How Is My Fourth Grader Doing in School? by Jennifer Richard Jacobson Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Developmental Overview19
Questions and Answers About Fourth Grade26
How to Use This Book30
Parent Observation Pages34
Assessment Guide52
Reading Exercises59
Reading Comprehension59
Word Study89
Study Skills91
Struggling Readers98
Writing Exercises101
Grammar, Capitalization, and Punctuation109
Reading and Writing Enrichment116
Math Exercises120
Problem Solving120
Number Sense135
Playing with Patterns136
Understanding Place Value143
Exploring Numbers and Their Relationships147
Statistics and Probability181
Math Enrichment186
Working with Your Child's Teacher192
Open House193
Parent Conferences193
Student Assessment197
Observing Your Child in the Classroom201
Activitg Pages213
K-W-L Chart215
Idea Web216
Story Map217
Centimeter Square Paper218
Product and Quotient Chart219
Fraction Strips220
Pattern Blocks, Ruler, Protractor221

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