Learning to Read ... Reading to Learn
By Sandy Kauten
As parents, we’ve all become familiar with the literacy goal of reading by third grade. Schools
across the nation carefully orient their curriculum and teaching practices to position each
student to be confident readers at this point and Oregon is no exception. But why third
grade? What’s the significance of this benchmark?
Until third grade, much of a child’s education focuses on learning to read, but at third grade,
it shifts. Content and curriculum become more involved and a child consumes more
information through independent reading. "When a student reaches third grade, the
emphasis shifts from learning to read to reading to learn,” according to Marianne Oakes, a
language arts specialist for Lane Education Service District. “This puts a student who
struggles with foundational reading skills at a serious disadvantage. Comprehending a Social
Studies text is nearly impossible if you can't read the words on the page."
The impact of a child’s inability to read at third grade start piling on, leading to academic,
social and emotional challenges. Ultimately, those who aren’t reading by third grade become
much less likely to graduate from high school –- and that has lifelong consequences.
“In our community, too many kids don’t have the reading skills they need to reach this
milestone, which can have a lasting effect on their ability to close the opportunity gap and
thrive in school,” says Bess Day, United Way’s Director of Education. Specifically, 53% of Lane
County’s students are not reading proficiently by third grade, according to a report by
Connected Lane County.
Because students’ learning styles and needs vary broadly, modern educators are using a
range of techniques and curriculum to help each child read at grade level. Some children
learn phonetically, some sight read, and some are very visual. Many use a combination of
In any case, every child stands to benefit from time spent with books. Lane County educators
and literacy advocates are poised for a community-wide effort that will encourage parents
and community members to help a child learn to read at grade level by improving access to
books, and pairing adults with young readers.
In June, United Way, the Early Learning Alliance and Connected Lane County will hold
"BookFest" to distribute free books to kindergarten, first and second-graders in the Lane
County schools where kids are often furthest from opportunity. BookFest is held right before
students head home for summer in order to help prevent the "summer slide" that occurs
when kids -- especially those who come from families navigating poverty -- often lose the
literacy gains they make over the school year.
Other community reading efforts are also in place. This spring, the Eugene Emeralds’ wellloved
mascot, the hairy, neon green ‘Sluggo’, will visit dozens of Lane County schools to
motivate kids to read and reward those who meet reading goals with free tickets to an Ems
To connect with local literacy programs, reach out directly to the program, or ask your child’s
teacher how you can help support your child’s reading efforts. And in any case and no matter
what your child’s literacy level, educators encourage families to read together every day.
Use Your Library!
Most Lane County public libraries have children’s programs and librarians on hand to help
choose books that will captivate any youngster’s interests. Put these local resources to work
for your child – and for your own reading, too!
Connect with Local Literacy Programs
• United Way: unitedwaylane.org/elementary-school-success
• Sluggo’s Reading Challenge: milb.com/eugene/community/read