What Is the 3rd Grade Wall and What Does It Mean for Students With Dyslexia?

What Is the 3rd Grade Wall and What Does It Mean for Students With Dyslexia?

A brick wall representing the 3rd grade wall

Why third grade can make or break a school career 

Key takeaways:

  • Third grade is when students go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”
  • Third-grade students should be reading to learn information and facts
  • The ability to read affects all subjects, including science, math, history, and social studies
  • Students who fail to read by the third grade often struggle in school going forward
  • Students who fall behind in reading may not graduate from high school

Every year matters in a student’s education, but one grade stands apart as the most important. It’s not senior year or any year in high school. It’s not the transition from middle to high school or elementary to middle school, either. 

It’s the third grade. This is the year reading makes its most significant transition where students go from learning to read to reading to learn. For children with learning differences like dyslexia, the third grade can also mean hitting a wall. This wall is known as the 3rd grade wall. This year will spell out how students will perform for the rest of their school careers.

Why is the third grade so crucial in a student’s life, and how does the 3rd grade wall affect children with learning differences like dyslexia? We dive into this essential year and how to help your student that is struggling to read when it comes.

Why third grade matters

Third grade is a seminal year for students who have been learning to read since kindergarten. It’s a time when children take giant leaps with academic requirements, particularly when it comes to reading. Students entering the third grade are expected to switch from “learning to read” mode to “reading to learn” mode, in which they will begin reading more complex texts to learn new information, not simply to learn to read it. 

Third-grade students are expected to reach language milestones by the end of the year, too. Language milestones for 7-8-year-olds include:

  • Move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”
  • Learn new vocabulary through reading 
  • Understand jokes and riddles 
  • Test out “bad” words for shock value 
  • Use all letter sounds correctly 
  • Use writing to express feelings and tell stories
  • Use words to talk through problems

The first bullet point in the above list is essential. In third grade, students should be focused on understanding what they read. They’re transitioning from decoding words (learning to read) to learning information. They can only start learning information if they know how to read. Experts believe that students who finish the third grade without reaching critical reading milestones are likely to struggle in school going forward and are even less likely to graduate. 

Third grade is also when students with learning differences like dyslexia tend to fall way behind their peers. Up until then, these extremely smart students may have been able to fake or hide reading struggles using creative coping methods, but third grade is when those differences become apparent. These students haven’t learned the proper decoding or top apprehension strategies for reading and the façade begins to shatter. The struggles show up in reading comprehension, of course, but they also affect other subjects like social studies and science that require a lot of reading.

Third grade milestones

Upon entering third grade, students are expected to successfully be making the transition to reading to learn. “Rising third graders are expected to know how to collect information about a single topic from a variety of sources and summarize it. They’re also expected to use editing and revising skills in their writing,” according to Understood.org.

Take a look at the typical reading skills for third graders:

  • Read fables and fairytales
  • Read science, social studies, and history books 
  • Answer who, what, where, when, why, and how from a story 
  • Describe how authors use details to back up ideas
  • Gather facts about topics and describe what they learned
  • Write about events with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Write a book report about a story they’ve read

Students with dyslexia that haven’t been taught the proper ways to read by third grade so that they are struggling are generally not able to handle these tasks. This critical difference forms the basis for the 3rd grade wall.

Understanding the 3rd grade wall 

This term is commonly used by teachers for students who struggle with reading in the third grade. Students should be able to read by third grade if they’ve been taught properly throughout their academic careers. They should be mastering complex words and sentences and reading primers and short chapter books. 

The problem for children with dyslexia is they are often not taught to read in a way that they will understand. A majority of classroom teachers aren’t taught how to teach scientifically-based reading methods that those with dyslexia can grasp. In fact, the most common approaches to reading instruction in the U.S. are inconsistent with science on how humans learn to read. In addition, classroom teachers often have their hands too full to give one-on-one instruction to students who are struggling to read. 

A child with dyslexia will have a much harder time reaching these milestones. By this point, children with learning differences should have already been getting specialized help. Teachers and other educators who take a “wait-and-see” approach with these children could end up putting them at a severe disadvantage for the rest of their school careers. 

The problem with the wait-and-see approach  

Some teachers and parents take a wait-and-see approach if a child struggles with reading in kindergarten or first grade. They want to see if the problem will resolve itself. Unfortunately, this approach can severely impact children with dyslexia. These children are often very intelligent and they’re capable of coming up with creative coping strategies to get by in kindergarten and first and second grade. These strategies are no longer enough by third grade, and they will begin to fall behind. 

They might get through the early grades by slipping through the cracks. Then third grade comes around and suddenly they’re expected to know how to read. They’re expected to research and gather information. They should read textbooks or other resources to learn about a given topic. 

So, what happens when they can’t? What happens when they hit that wall?

Find help at The Learning Lab

If your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia – or you suspect they may have it – it’s essential to help them as early as possible. The wait-and-see approach won’t work in these cases because they’re not suddenly going to grow out of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a cognitive condition that affects how the brain processes letters and words. It’s not a problem related to immaturity or laziness. 

I3 Lab

Our I3 Lab provides one-on-one academic remediation in reading, writing, and/or math skills.  We use evidence-based curricula and programs that incorporate a multi-sensory, explicit, sequential, and systematic approach to instruction. 

Our programs include but are not limited to:

  • Barton Reading and Spelling System©
  • Lindamood Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing 
  • Lindamood Bell’s Seeing Stars
  • Foundation in Sounds
  • Touch Math 
  • IEW: Institute for Excellence in Writing 
  • Wilson Just Words®
  • Winston Grammar®
Academic software

Children who struggle with reading typically need help mastering foundational cognitive and language skills. Our Fast ForWord® program provides an intensive intervention that helps build foundational skills and rewires the neural pathways needed for reading and writing skills to be mastered.  

We incorporate scientifically-based reading software. These programs focus on common issues facing children with dyslexia, CAPD, and ADHD, helping them learn critical cognitive and academic skills, including:

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Phonics 
  • Reading comprehension
  • Reading fluency
  • Grammar
  • Semantics and mechanics
  • Vocabulary
  • Morphology (recognition, understanding, and use of word parts)
  • Cognitive Skills: Memory, Attention, Processing, and Sequencing
Homework Lab

Our Homework Lab ensures your student learns the executive functioning skills to consistently get homework done. No more overdue projects lost at the bottom of the backpack! Our homework program breaks the cycle and teaches critical homework management skills. 

We work with you and your child’s teachers to help get homework done and done well. We also teach organizational skills, study skills, and executive functioning skills, such as time management, planning, and problem-solving.

If your child struggles academically because of learning differences such as dyslexia or ADHD, it’s important to get help as early as possible. The Learning Lab in Ft. Lauderdale and Davie offers support for children and teens who need help in reading, writing, and math. Our goal is to prepare your child for a lifetime of learning while helping him/her close academic gaps. 

Contact us today for more information.



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