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Good Reading Fluency, but Poor Reading Comprehension

Hello all! I have a question for you all. I have had students in the past that were speed readers. They may have read with 99% accuracy, but did not comprehend material. What recommendations do you have for teaching kiddos to slow down? I have thought about having them tape record themselves, but other than that, I am not sure how else to help show them the importance of reading fluently (which doesn’t mean being a speed reader!!). http://www.proteacher.net/discussions/showthread.php?t=345167

I did respond to this teacher, but I reserved the cathartic confession for my own blog. I am well aware that I have become part of the problem described above by this conscientious teacher. As a whole language trained MA reading specialist who converted to a systematic explicit phonics advocate in the early 1990s, I jumped onto the fluency bandwagon. I supervised fluency labs and trained teachers in how to differentiate fluency instruction. I emphasized repeated reading practice at the student’s optimal reading level and helped teachers develop workable formative assessments to monitor fluency progress. These were and are good instructional practices.

Of course, supervising principals love to see progress monitoring charts and fluency timings are easily measured components. It would naturally follow that teachers would teach to these tests. Teachers are motivated by the concrete and gravitate toward the self-validation of seeing a student go from “Point A to Point B.” Parents like to see numbers on charts, as well (especially when the numbers for their child trend upwards). In short, everyone got on the reading fluency bandwagon.

The problem is one of emphasis. While reading fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension, fluency is all too often confused with comprehension itself. True that reading fluency is an important ingredient in reading comprehension, but also true that cream is an important ingredient of ice cream, but it is not ice cream. Additionally, because reading comprehension is not easily or accurately measured, it gets left off of the progress monitoring charts. If a reading comprehension score is used, it is all too often a criterion-referenced, standards-based assessment measurement from the year before that provides questionable data at best. So, teachers teach to the data that makes sense and tend to under-emphasize the non-quantifiable. Students get taught a lot of cream, but not the ice cream they need. Don’t get me wrong; the cream is important, and fluency assessment does make sense.

Now, having confessed to my part of the problem of Good Fluency, but Poor Comprehension, it would seem appropriate to offer penance. What I should have done and strive to do in my trainings and reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, is to emphasize a more balanced instructional approach in which reading fluency is treated as but one of the key ingredients of reading instruction.

Timothy Rasinski shares many of my concerns regarding reading fluency instruction in an important article: Reading Fluency Instruction: Moving Beyond Accuracy, Automaticity, and Prosody. Dr. Rasinski highly recommends balancing repeated reading practice with meaningful oral expression. He suggests Readers Theater and poetry as two venues for this practice and cites validating reading research.

I would add on two concurrent instructional practices: Think-Alouds and my SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies. Each strategy emphasizes internal self-monitoring of text and the latter has some great free bookmarks to download.

One necessary caveat… fluency instruction without systematic explicit phonics instruction is like using low fat cream. It doesn’t make the kind of ice cream we would want in our cones. To mix metaphors, we need to treat the wound (or better yet prevent the injury), not just band-aid it. This is especially important with Tier I and Tier II Response to Intervention.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

 

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  1. August 18th, 2011 at 01:38 | #1

    Aloud or silent reading are different actions. Also, speaking/answering the questions requires other training processes than reading aloud. I agree, for different actions we need different learning strategies and specific ”coaching” in order to improve the abilities of our students. For example,I have a bilingual student that achieved a high level of reading skills, but he has no idea about the meaning for at least 50% words that reads, so I use intensively the dictionary.

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