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How and Why to Teach Fluency

How to Teach Fluency

First of all, let’s get on the same page about what we are trying to teach when we talk about fluency.

What Fluency Is Not

Fluency is not the ability to read fast. A fluency score does not determine grade level reading. A high fluency score is not a guarantee of good reading comprehension. Fluency practice does not consist of a read-around or popcorn reading.

What Fluency Is

Fluency is a measure of the reader’s competence at decoding and recognizing sight words with automaticity at a specified reading level. Fluency is also a measure of how well the reader attends to punctuation and the inflection of words in the manner that the author intended. Students need both oral and silent fluency instruction until mastery has been achieved.

Why Should We Teach It and How Much Time Should We Spend On It?

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

The amount of time spent on direct fluency instruction and practice should correspond to the diagnostic fluency levels of the readers. In short, students with higher fluency levels should have less fluency practice than those with lower fluency levels. I suggest three days a week of 15-20 minutes fluency practice for elementary school readers and the same amount for middle school and high school remedial readers.

A good guideline that is widely used for acceptable fluency rates by the end of the school year follows.

2nd Grade Text            80 words per minute with 95% accuracy

3rd Grade Text            95 words per minute with 95% accuracy

4th Grade Text            110 words per minute with 95% accuracy

5th Grade Text             125 words per minute with 95% accuracy

6th Grade Text            140 words per minute with 95% accuracy

Instructional Fluency Strategies

1. Modeled Repeated Readings- Repeated readings of high-interest passages at diagnosed student reading levels, along with modeled readings. Ideally, the modeled reading would be a teacher or instructional assistant, reading at a rate 20-30% faster than the students’ fluency rate with 95% accuracy. A second choice, and usually more practical alternative, would be modeled readings on tapes or CDs.

Program Materials

Read Naturally® is the largest publisher of fluency passages and accompanying modeled readings. The program’s Brief Oral Reading Screening does a good job of quickly assessing student reading levels and the teacher can certainly adjust levels of difficulty with the graded reading passages. The passages do come with a few comprehension questions; however, comprehension is not the focus of these reading intervention materials. The passages are high interest and only one page in length. The program comes with fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. Gimmicky, but motivating, although the students always inflate their timings unless directly supervised.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides another affordable option for fluency practice. A diagnostic fluency assessment gives the teacher a baseline for each student. Each high-interest passage is an expository article on an animal-its habitat, description, role in the food cycle, family characteristics, and endangered species status. Uniquely, each article begins with two paragraphs at the third grade reading level, followed by two paragraphs at the fifth grade reading level, and concluding with two paragraphs at the seventh grade reading level. This organization helps readers “push through” to higher reading levels through repeated practice. Another unique feature of this program is the accompanying CDs. Each passage is read at 90, 120, and 150 words per minute. These levels provide optimal reading practice for the challenge rate of 20-30% higher than the baseline rates. Lastly, a comprehensive reading comprehension program for expository reading is tied into and uses the same fluency passages. Using the SCRIP comprehension strategies, students learn to internally monitor and improve reading comprehension. Three vocabulary words per passage are also featured with context clue strategy sentence practice. Three levels of fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. The price of the Teaching Reading Strategies Program is certainly more affordable to that of the Read Naturally® program.

2. Choral Reading with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students feel comfortable reading along with their peers. Led by the teacher, choral reading can be an effective means of fluency practice if student fluency rates are roughly the same. Plays, poetry, literature, and readers theater are all good sources for choral reading.

3. Fluency Groups with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students are divided into, say, four groups based upon similar fluency baselines. Along to tapes or CDs, the teacher, parent, instruction aide, tutor, or fluent peer leads repeated readings. Timings are taken whole class and students chart their progress. See the complete article on differentiated fluency instruction for complete details and the behavioral management plan.

4. White Noise Read Alouds- John Sheffelbine, professor at California State University at Sacramento, advocates having the whole class read individually and out loud with six inch voices, each at his/her own pace. This produces a “white noise,” which permits individual concentration. Repeated readings could certainly be added to this fluency practice.

5. Silent Reading Fluency- A number of techniques to support better silent reading fluency are found at these articles: Eye Movement Read-Study Method Poor Silent Reading Habits Silent Reading Speed

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 to adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. With multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games (364 pages), even novice reading teachers and para-professionals will be able to use these user-friendly resources to effectively differentiate reading instruction with minimal preparation.

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