Fluency is the ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression, either silently or orally.
Immediate identification of the letters and their associated sounds, phonemic awareness, and mastery of basic phonics skills are all necessary for automaticity to develop.
To be considered fluent in reading passages, students must be able to decode nearly all the words in the text automatically. When reading with automaticity, the brain effortlessly recognizes words and pronunciation. In fact, research done on the eyes during the process of reading shows us that all readers focus on individual words in text; however, fluent readers are able to spend less time focusing on function words (i.e., of, the, to, etc.) because they are able to register the words when they are at the edge of their visual field. This allows the eyes to read the word as they are also processing context words adjacent to the function words.
Becoming a fluent reader is vital to the success of students not only because it saves time but also by lightening the cognitive load on the brain during the process of reading. Reading with automaticity frees the brain from having to focus on decoding and analyzing words and allows the student to concentrate on many other elements of a text. If the brain's energy is taken up by decoding, students cannot access and comprehend the text because the brain will become fatigued. Furthermore, without fluency, the reader's attention to punctuation weakens. Punctuation is needed to support the reader's ability to comprehend the text and tone.
Building fluency is not as easy as giving students ample time for free reading. In fact, studies show that encouraging students to read to themselves through activities like DEAR (drop everything and read) or other non-explicit, free-reading activities, displays no measurable impact on student speed and accuracy rates. This could be due to the fact that with these programs it is difficult to measure if a student is actually reading, or it could be because this approach takes away from students getting teacher-led skill instruction that would help them become strong, natural readers.
Decoding skills need to be taught explicitly and practiced repeatedly in order for words to be stored in a reader’s fluent vocabulary. For most readers, in order for a word to be read automatically, the word must be decoded at least four times using accurate phonological processing (sounding out of a word). After this practice, a quick look at the word will activate a stored neural model that allows for fast reading as well as correct pronunciation and understanding of the word.
Fluency strategies are important because they facilitate student comprehension of text. The following teaching strategies help students develop fluent reading. Click on each to learn more.
Guided Reading Practice
Through the National Reading Panel's meta-analysis, it is confirmed that repeated reading procedures, such as guided reading practice, have a strong correlation on a student’s fluency for both impaired readers and non-impaired readers. Guided reading is when a group of students work together in small groups (six or less) to all read the same common text. The teacher focuses on different skills throughout the lesson, and the group meets periodically with the same book for several sessions.
In guided reading instruction, children are grouped based on their reading level or by a common strategy need that will allow each individual to move forward as a reader. The teacher works closely with the students to guide them through pre-reading activities, support them while reading, and challenge them with post-reading activities.
Reading aloud to beginning or struggling readers provides a chance for them to hear and internalize what fluent reading should sound like. Because most students have a higher level of listening comprehension than reading comprehension, reading aloud also exposes learners to texts that stretch their current reading ability. When explicitly shown how to follow along and notice how the teacher emphasizes different words, pauses at commas and periods, and pronounces difficult words, students can increase their own reading fluency and vocabulary.
Repeated Reading Practice
Reading fluently does not simply mean being able to recognize words rapidly; readers must master intonation and expression. Allotting students time to reread passages aloud, either quietly to themselves or during choral reading activities, allows them to practice appropriate intonation. It is important that readers have instruction on grammar and punctuation as it will inform intonation and fluency, and it will allow the reader to better comprehend the tone of the text.
Decoding + Directionality Practice
Teaching a student to segment and blend sounds to read and pronounce words correctly pays off over time. If a student can work through the decoding process, then when the word is encountered again the student will have an easier time figuring out the word and move toward fluent recollection. When starting the decoding process, it is important to start with directional tracking, moving the eyes from left to right. Most reading programs start decoding practice with consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words. The best practice is to have the students start by blending the initial consonant and the vowel, or as Reading Horizons calls it, the slide. Once the slide is blended, the final sound can be rolled on. The more students work with slides, the more internalized that tracking habit becomes.
Once students start creating words from slides, moving from left to right, they will be able to decode words automatically and read them accurately and quickly—and the tracking habit will have become second nature.
The following tips will also help students develop directional tracking:
Use a pointer, such as a pencil or an index finger, and move it along the line that is being read. Instruct the students to keep the pointer moving steadily, without stopping or hesitating.
In reading practice, ask students to read aloud. Reading aloud helps learners become more aware of the sound and spelling patterns and ties multiple modalities together as words and pronunciations are stored in memory.
Choose a page or two from a novel or an article from a newspaper, and have a fluent reader record the audio of them reading the passage. Next, replay the recording, and have a struggling reader read the same passage aloud while trying to emulate the same speed and intonation as the advanced reader. Draw attention to pace, pronunciation, punctuation, intonation, emphasis, pauses, etc.
Readings Theaters is a chance for students to practice and perform oral reading from scripts. Many Readers Theater scripts can be found online and are organized by reading level. Each student is provided with their own script and character. However, costumes, sets, and props are not required. Readers Theater is simply a chance for students to practice fluency and expression while reading. The students can study the author’s purpose and the character’s motivation and use it to inform the tone of their reading. Because the students are repeatedly practicing their lines, the reader has ample time to practice fluency.