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Ask the Experts

My Fourth-Grader Struggles With Reading

By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator


I have been struggling with my 10-year-old son and his reading for years now. I have tried different books, looking for what he likes to read, I've read with him, tried to be enthusiastic, but nothing seems to work.

Now I am trying to give him a monetary incentive to read a chapter book. I've tried the video game/TV incentives, but that still is not enough.
His reading scores were very inconsistent, and every year I hear the same story from his teachers. He rushes through tests and doesn't read the questions carefully, so his test scores are naturally low.

Do you recommend a reading program? I think he will feel like I am punishing him in a way. I don't know what else to do and feel it is going to affect his self-confidence in other areas he was strong in. He started out very strong in math, but that went down at the end of the year, too. I am nervous for him entering fifth grade.


If your son has difficulty with reading comprehension, it will eventually affect all academic areas, as in math, for example, where there are word problems to process.

You first need to identify if he is capable of reading grade-level material and just doesn't like it, or is he struggling to understand the reading. You should be able to make this determination based upon standardized test scores and discussion with the teachers.

If he is a capable fourth-grade reader and needs motivation to read, then an incentive program is a great idea! You should set it up with short attainable goals and daily rewards, then larger goals and weekly rewards. You'll need a monitoring and measuring system, as well, whether it be a chart or stickers. If the issue is indeed motivation, finding the right type and style of reading material will definitely help. Try reading newspapers, magazines or short passages from books daily to find the things he likes to read about. Then introduce the chapter books on similar subjects. Reading lists by grade and subject are available on and are very helpful.

If he is having difficulty with comprehension, now is the time to rectify the problem as reading will get more difficult. Talk to the classroom teacher about tutoring or look into a private reading program. Most students enjoy these programs and do not view them as punishment. Good programs usually have reward systems built in, and most students thrive on the individual attention and instruction that they receive.

Allison Gardenswartz is the founder of a San Diego tutoring center specializing in gifted and remedial learning and test preparation studies. An educator for over 15 years, Allison is an expert in identifying and enhancing the learning abilities of school-age children. Allison now fully devotes her time to parent education, consulting and college counseling. Allison has a teaching credential and has taught for several years in various public school systems. She has three children: Jacob, 11, Sofia, 7, and newly adopted Ryan, who is 3.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"I have a 4th grader who has struggled with reading from kindergarten. All of his teachers have always told me not to worry but that, 'he is a boy and its developmental'. After 5 years of hearing this and seeing his total frustration, anger issues and low self esteem as a result of being in a new'special reading' program' every year, we decided to have him tested by a psychologist specializing in learning disabilities. The result was positive for my son. We learned that he is very intelligent , has a learning disability with sounds and basically does not learn the 'average' way. He is dyslexic, and we have put him through a very intensive one on one reading program called spellread. The results after 5o hours are incredible. The program has taught him how to decode words and relearn phonics, reading and writing are now a lot easier. He has gone up three grade levels. All I can say is these kids that struggle are in no way ignorant, lazy, most are not 'developmenta! l' issues if it continues past third grade, in my opinion, etc but that they all can learn if they are properly diagnosed as to what their problem is. I do believe that constant tutoring will not help unless you know what the underlying issues are. The diagnosis and program were costly but the results in my opinion are priceless He is so much happier now, knowing what his problem is and realizing that he can over come his reading disability."
"My soon-to-be ten year old son is also struggling with reading; and yes, now it is affecting his math grade. Unusually enough, his writing skills are 'at goal' (according to standardized testing) however, his reading was below 'goal'. This may not solve everyone's problem, but we have discovered that my son is an 'auditory learner'; this is usually characterized as having strong language skills and having an ability to articulate ideas clearly - skills that my son posesses. However, he testing poorly (math and reading). He also lacked organizational skills and kept forgetting hw and didn't always accurately record homework assignments. He didn't have behavioral problems, either. His teacher has begun testing him orally and we have begun to see him succeed! He was also assigned a fellow student that helped him with recording his daily homework assignments. He was happy to know that his teacher and I were engaged with discovering his 'learning style'. This is just the ! beginning - but we are hopeful!"
"Again your articles have perfect timing. My third grader had low reading and writing scores and I was having a very difficult time with it. I had my son's eyes checked and discovered that he needed glasses. Hopefully this will resolve some of my issues. In the meantime, I will definetly try Ms. Gardenswartz's advice."