As caregivers, it can be very challenging to ascertain exactly what goals your child needs to meet at any given age or grade. To help, we’ve compiled a list of the most common reading developmental milestones for elementary, middle, and high school learners to serve as a reference as you work your way through each phase of your learner’s academic journey.
Orthographic processing is the brain’s ability to recognize and retrieve sight words and spelling patterns with automaticity. Instantly recalling sight words and spelling patterns does not always come easy for learners, especially those with weak working memory skills or in the emerging stages of reading development. Typically, learners are required to acquire at least 100 sight words per school year; we have attached the two more common word lists (Dolche and Frys) to reference below. Spelling expectations vary by school and district, but there are some resources that you can reference in our guide as well. To learn more on the sight words and spelling patterns your learner is expected to master, please contact us!
Here is a list of the most common reading developmental milestones for you to reference as your child grows. Please note that language processing, expressive language (oral and written), critical thinking, and executive functioning skills that impact reading go beyond what is listed here, and will be covered in an upcoming blog.
Reading Developmental Milestones
Pair sounds to the symbol(s) they represent
Identify the beginning (initial), middle (medial), and ending (final) sounds in spoken words like cat or hip
Say new words by changing the beginning sound, like changing rat to sat
Start matching words they hear to words and images they see on the page
Sound out simple words (2-3 sounds like sit and pal)
Start to recognize a few words by sight instantly without having to sound them out (see our sight word lists above)
Ask and answer questions such as who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about a narrative
Retell a story in order, using words or pictures
Predict what happens next in a story
Start reading or asking to be read books for information and for fun
Make connections from stories to imaginative play
Start to learn basic spelling rules (see our spelling resources above)
Increase the number of words they recognize by sight
Start to read with more fluidity, even if still choppy
Use context clues to sound out and understand unfamiliar words
Go back and re-read a word or sentence that doesn’t makes sense (self-monitoring)
Connect what they’re reading to personal experiences, other books they’ve read, and world events
In third grade, start to move from learning to read to reading to learn
Accurately read words with two or more syllables
Continue to increase the number of words they recognize by sight
Learn about affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and root words like those in kindness, unkind.
Read for different purposes (for fun, to learn, to problem solve, etc.)
Explore different genres (fiction, nonfiction, mystery, humor, drama, etc.)
Describe the setting, characters, problem/solution, and plot of a story
Identify and summarize the sequence of events in a story
Identify the main idea and supporting details independently
Determine the main theme of a story and some minor themes
Make inferences by using context clues and by activating prior knowledge
Compare and contrast information from different texts
Refer to evidence when answering questions about it
Understand similes, metaphors, and other descriptive devices
Keep expanding vocabulary and reading more complex texts
Analyze how characters develop, interact with each other, and advance the plot
Determine themes and analyze how they develop over the course of the text
Use evidence from the text to support analysis of the text
Identify imagery and symbolism in the text
Analyze, synthesize, and evaluate ideas from the text
Understand satire, sarcasm, irony, and understatement
Motivation problems—we’ve all been there. Did you order take out for dinner when you already had a meal planned for the evening? Check! And then you ditched that much-needed exercise class because you just weren’t feeling it? Double-check! To top it off, you had to stay up late to finish that project you had plenty of time to work on earlier in the day. Yep—everyone can pinpoint a time (or several) in their lives when they felt sluggish or couldn’t get started on a task. As adults, then, we can relate to our learners who feel a similar lack of motivation. The difference is that adults have the experience and capacity to acknowledge when they need intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (external) support to help them launch when they feel unmotivated. Learners, particularly neurodivergent learners, see a lack of motivation as something that is wrong with them, which causes a cascade of negative emotions about their self-worth and capabilities. Therefore it is imperative that we discover the cause of a learner’s inability to motivate, then help find strategies for initiating and maintaining their motivation. Let’s explore what motivation is and how we can spark motivation in our learners to help them kick-start and remain on their path to potential.
What is Motivation?
Verywellmind.com defines motivation as, “…the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. It is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge. Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate behavior. In everyday usage, the term “motivation” is frequently used to describe why a person does something. It is the driving force behind human actions.” After re-reading that definition a few times, it’s clear how complex motivation truly is. If a learner struggles with social-emotional health, executive functioning or learning in general, you can imagine how challenging it is for them to find the motivation deep inside, sumon their courage, and push through hardships (both perceived and real). It’s been proven many times over that we typically reference an experience when we felt successful (or a time we witnessed someone else achieving success) to inspire us to work hard and rise above adversity. That feeling of success is a driving force for future task activation as it helps learners see themselves as capable of success. The combination of a learner not personally experiencing this level of success with a biological, social, emotional or cognitive deficit of any kind makes for a perfect storm of negative reinforcement. They immediately lose their ability to pump themselves up to try, try again.
With a better understanding of motivation, you can see how important it is to find out why a learner feels the way that they do so that you can counteract these feelings. Motivation is personal. A learner’s ecosystem must dig deeper into a variety of approaches to kindle the motivation needed to thrive in a learning environment and beyond. For example, sometimes a goal is too large and may seem out of reach; chunking, or breaking it down, into successive approximations (baby steps), can help facilitate progress to the larger goal. On occasion, goals are unrealistic and it helps to step back and reevaluate them. The learner may not be engaged, perhaps because they don’t find meaning or see the purpose in the task. Working with a peer, group, or trained professional can provide a different environment that is more appealing to them. They could also just be flat-out bored. Try sprinkling their interests into the task in a way that helps them better relate to the goal, recall these interests when asked to target the same (or similar) goal in the future. Help them envision their success one step at a time, while validating their anxiety and fatigue. Help them understand that everyone experiences a lack of motivation, but that this challenge can be overcome with the correct strategies and support in place.
How to Motivate Learners
1. Start with one step at a time.
2. Keep the goals small and attainable, use the SMART acronym when developing goals.
3. Incorporate interests to make tasks more engaging, meaningful and inspiring.
4. Initiate coaching and instructional support when/if needed.
With proper goals established in a measured, intentional way, next comes the challenge to maintain motivation through the duration of a task. When we focus on one individual, micro goal at a time, we help equip learners with a new mindset by showing them how rewarding reaching a goal can be. By incorporating their interests, making tasks fun, and creating realistic goals within reach, we not only help a learner get started, but we also encourage them to complete their work. Additionally, verbalizing positive praise, reinforcing the importance of self-affirmations, and commending their effort with internal or external incentives can gently nudge learners towards achieving their goals, small or large.
If a learner follows these steps and does not succeed, tapping into Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset (as explained further in our blog, “Mindset Matters”) can reap invaluable benefits. Most people will not naturally find the motivation needed to propel through a task, and subsequently endure the many pains a formidable task can create. Developing a plan that involves explicit coaching from their support system (the learner’s ecosystem) is key to not only initiating, but sustaining motivation. There are many stories (personal orations and story books) that simulate how mistakes are learning opportunities and are meant to teach us how to approach a situation differently in the future. Training our learners to see challenges as obstacles to overcome, and as opportunities to reach their potential, helps them sustain motivation to work through the goal.
How to Sustain Motivation in Learners
1. Start by praising your learner for what they do well and model the use of self-affirmations.
2. Treat every mistake as a learning opportunity.
3. Validate hardships as obstacles and help learners feel successful by overcoming them.
4. Incorporate layers of support using your learner’s ecosystem.
Motivation is only one piece of the puzzle in unlocking a neurodivergent learner’s overall independence and confidence. Without motivation, learners can feel inadequate, incapable, and insufficient. There is nothing “wrong” with unmotivated individuals; they are either being asked to execute a task that is not manageable, is too boring, or is too lofty. They likely haven’t found a strategy or system that works best to help them initiate, persevere, and sustain their motivation.
Supporting our students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) can be fun and a great bonding experience! Did you know that when we support our kids with SEL, we are also working on our own emotional intelligence (also known as emotional quotient or EQ)? That’s because SEL skills are the tools we use to develop our EQ. As a child integrates new skills in reading, writing, math, science, and other worldly knowledge, they are also learning how to navigate their social skills from birth. As emotionally intelligent adults, we must constantly reflect on our own social interactions and behaviors in order to create and keep healthy relationships with ourselves and others. It is equally important for young learners to receive mentoring and coaching from adults in order to adequately develop their social and emotional intelligence.
Social-emotional learning and emotional intelligence both begin with a healthy understanding of ourselves. Self-awareness is crucial to understanding our own range of feelings and triggers. Once we have an awareness of a strong feeling we must decide what we are going to do with it. Self-management is the gatekeeper for the second half of the process. When we have a big feeling about someone or something, we also have a choice in how we are going to respond. If we act out, overreact, or even become apathetic, we lose the ability to build relationships and make good decisions. Our social awareness, relationship building, and responsible decision-making are all going to suffer if we do not have strong self-management skills.
Have you ever known someone that always has to be right, or seems oblivious to your feelings? What about someone that blames others for their problems, or has outbursts? Or that friend that always has to one up you and always turns the conversation toward themselves? These people tend to have very poor coping skills and difficulty with relationships. Verywellmind.com shares 9 Signs of Low Emotional Intelligence that are indicators a person needs to work on their self-awareness and self-management skills.
Helping our kiddos with their social-emotional learning strategies can prevent them from becoming an adult with low emotional intelligence! Here are five SEL-building activities that you can do with your child.
1) Create a cozy area in your house for kids to unwind and read. Choose books that have a particular aspect of social-emotional learning and discuss the story together afterwards. Need book ideas? Here is a list of 7 picture books from Move this World.
2) Take a walk in nature. Use this time to talk about mindfulness and how using nature can keep you grounded and calm. While modeling slow, measured breaths, have them describe what they see, smell, taste, touch, and feel. Talk to them about how they can incorporate these calm feelings when they are struggling with big emotions. Being in tune with nature will support their self awareness and self management.
3) Plant a garden. If you don’t have the space for an entire garden, plant some flowers, herbs, or a tomato in a pot. Teach them how to care for the plant then let them take ownership. Giving them responsibility for something other than themselves will support confidence.
4) Write it down. Help your child express themselves through creative writing stories or journaling. You can provide a prompt and have them write about an adventure, a short story, or a favorite memory. You can even go back to the completed story and come up with an alternate ending—this will support their growth mindset and flexibility! For some, journaling can be an isolating experience so you can mix it up and try an interactive journal where you write back and forth to each other!
5) Develop Family Time Conversations. These can be dinnertime chats or morning meetings. Have the structure in place, but remember to have fun at the same time! Modeling for your child is essential to their success in navigating SEL, so be open and vulnerable as a participant in the dialogue. A great example of this is a Friday night conversation where each family member tells a story about something that went wrong during the week. This type of dialogue will help your child develop their problem solving and empathy skills.
We understand how overwhelming the amount of available information about social-emotional health is for caregivers and educators, so we’ve compiled a list of our top resource picks that both raise SEL awareness and provide strategies to support learners in need of SEL development.
By 2013, I had been teaching in mainstream schools for 12 years. I loved the relationship I had with my students, but I was frustrated and overwhelmed by all the paperwork and red tape that came with the job—the confined curriculum stifled my creativity. I knew something had to change. A friend of mine worked at Radford House, the only official school for gifted children in the country. As soon as they had an opening, she put my name forward. I was terrified when it came time to interview. What on earth did I know about gifted children? I didn’t feel smart enough to teach kids who were so bright and talented.
As it turned out, I had some hidden strengths that helped me sail through the interview. I was able to sell myself to the school by largely speaking about my experience as a mom. Without knowing it, I was raising a twice-exceptional (2e) child. The National Center for Gifted Children defines 2e as children who “have the characteristics of gifted students with the potential for high achievement and give evidence of one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria.” My son, who was nine, is dyslexic and on the autistic spectrum. While I knew he was exceptionally bright, the world led me to believe that reading, writing, and arithmetic were the only way of proving it. Speaking to my journey with him made the interviewers realize I had all the empathy that was needed. As I’ve since learned, empathy is critical to meeting the needs of gifted children—empathy, and someone willing to think out of the box.
My New Path
I began my new job bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It was the beginning of an eight-year adventure that was transformative for me, allowing me to become the teacher I had always wanted to be. It also let me embrace my own giftedness, which had been alluded to all my life but relegated due to intervening circumstances; I was the epitome of a tall poppy.
Over my time at Radford, I was mentored and guided by a profoundly talented person. After tiring of the frustrations in the traditional school system, he founded the gifted school (about 20 years before I joined). He knew that gifted children needed a different kind of education, and he made it his mission to give it to them.
The Many Lessons I’ve Learned
During my eight years at Radford, I connected with some of the most incredible little humans of my lifetime. I also met some amazing parents, who I bonded with over our shared parenting experiences, and who greatly valued my insights (some of them remain my closest friends)! Here are many of the most important lessons I learned while teaching gifted children (and, as I imagine, what they want the world to know about them):
They are likely more intelligent than me. In fact, most are. But they need wisdom to help them harness their superpowers. They are all kids who need a loving adult to set boundaries and coach them.
Giftedness comes in many forms. Not all gifted children walk around with a scientific calculator in their pocket quoting quantum theory.
Many gifted children are not academic. What counts is their insight, how they ask questions and seek answers, their unique ability to problem solve, and their deep sensitivity. That kid who gets straight Ds is often much smarter than the valedictorian. It’s in real life that they show what they are made of.
They just want to be heard. They need to feel safe and know that they can have an opinion, even if it is different from mine. We can agree to disagree or, where possible, investigate together to find the answer.
They want to be actively involved with their learning. They don’t need a teacher to stand in front of the class, spewing meaningless facts. Instead, they want to engage, offer their own theories, consider the ‘what ifs’ and disappear down rabbit holes.
Gifted kids are often overwhelmed by anxiety. Their busy minds mean they extrapolate every possibility to the worst-case scenario. And it keeps them awake at night.
A gifted, super-sensitive brain also leads to heightened sensitivity in other areas. And it can be tough to navigate. Too much noise, too much visual stimulation, strong smells, and a scratchy shirt can render them totally incapacitated.
Make the content matter (it’s only a means to an end anyway). Education should be about learning skills, not facts. So tailor your content around topics that deeply interest students, focusing on skill development as your outcome.
2e is real. And 2e kids go through life questioning themselves. Support their challenges, but don’t make it the focus. See past it and focus on the incredible minds inside them. So much technology exists these days that they will probably never need to pick up a pen in their life once school is behind them. Speech-to-text and text-to-speech assistive devices exist. Audiobooks are a thing. We need to shift what we consider academic success.
Avoid repetition. It numbs their minds. If you teach a new concept and they can do two examples accurately, I guarantee they can do 20. But they won’t bother, and it will look like they don’t get it. Very often, poor performance is based on disinterest.
Let the Light Shine
This is just the beginning. I learned so many more lessons, and there is so much more these kids wish the world could understand about them. I was privileged to learn with them firsthand, and that’s why I chose to make the hard decision to leave the classroom in order to reach my community on a broader scale. I strive to be the voice for these kids and their biggest advocate. Parenting gifted kids can be challenging, especially when dealing with anxiety, overexcitabilities, insomnia, and social challenges. Parents need as much support and understanding as their children do. Gifted kids need to be free to just be. They need programs and support groups that allow them to shine without being cut down or branded as know-it-alls. But they also need to be accepted in society for who they are and not just pulled out to exist in isolation. The world has a duty to make space for them, too.
About the Author
Nicola is mom to James, a 2E 18-year-old, and she lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nicola is a writer who is focused on supporting parents and teachers of children who are “different” according to commonly-held views. Before starting her career as a writer, she specialized in gifted education and taught at Radford House School, a school for gifted children.
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