Reading Fluency, the Key Skill You Should Be Teaching

Growing up, it was a requirement in my house to take piano lessons. I started lessons in first grade and continued well into high school. 

Every week, my teacher assigned me 3-4 songs to practice at home. For the first few years, there was some yelling and a lot of tears about practicing the piano. Playing the same songs over and over again every day was so BORING! 

I remember the first time a song “clicked.”  It was “Habenero” from the opera, Carmen. It’s the famous one, you’ve probably heard it before. For the first time, I loved the song and I was able to play it well enough that it sounded good! 

I wasn’t just plucking the notes. I could play the correct rhythms. I was able to add in the dynamics to make it build and make it louder or back off to be softer. It was like I understood the music for the first time.

It wasn’t an instantaneous thing where all of a sudden I loved the piano. But over time it did happen! 

Reading fluency is just like that. There are lots of parts of it, that when they come together reading can click! Students will gain confidence and hopefully develop a love of reading! 

stack of books, kids reading together, reading fluency the key skill you should be teaching

What is reading fluency?

Reading fluency is a bridge between recognizing words and comprehending them in the context. The Jerry L. John Literacy Center at Northern Illinois University states, “The human brain is amazing, but it can only handle a limited number of tasks at the same time. If a child is struggling to identify words, the child’s brain must focus all of its energy on figuring out words rather than understanding what is read. When the child is able to combine accuracy, rate, expression, and comprehension, that is reading fluency.” 

Reading fluency consists of 4 components. The first is accuracy the ability to read words correctly. Students need to be able to read while making a minimal number of errors. 

The second component is speed, students should read at an efficient rate. How do we determine if someone is reading at an efficient rate? This is usually calculated by the number of words a person can read per minute. The reading rate is different for each grade level. 

Expression is the third component. This is the ability to read with the right timing, intonation, phrasing, and emphasis. It is simple things like a reader makes their voice go up at the beginning of the sentence and down at the end. Or they slow down or speed up to add emphasis to what they are reading. A fluent reader can read something and make it sound like speaking. 

The final piece of reading fluency is comprehension. This is a HUGE part of fluency because if you can’t understand what you read, the rest of it doesn’t matter. We need our students to be able to decode what they read and then be able to make connections between what they read and their own world. 

Why does reading fluency matter? 

A focus on reading fluency can help with decoding skills. As students become more fluent with reading, they will increase their ability to decipher new words without having to sound them out. Thus allowing them to read without having to stop often. 

Reading fluency can also help increase reader motivation. Simply put, a person who can easily read will want to read more. A person who struggles will find ways to avoid it. 

Does independent reading help with reading fluency?

You probably have seen this happen in your classroom, a struggling reader grabs a book during silent reading time and at a brief glance looks like they are reading. But, when you look closer you can see that they have just gotten good at giving the appearance of reading but they are not actually doing it. Just encouraging students to read on their own is not effective. 

The National Reading Panel, reports that research has shown very little correlation between silent, independent reading, and improvement in reading fluency.

Just encouraging students to read on their own is not effective. They do need to read more, but they need more guidance. 

Ways to improve reading fluency

Modeling

Modeled reading is when students listen to a text being read to them, usually by their teacher. As the teacher reads, they demonstrate the four components of reading fluency. The teacher models the skills they want their students to learn. 

Modeling works best when students are engaged 100% in what is being read to them, not just simply listening to someone else read.

Most often, the teacher models for the students, and then the student practices but there are a couple of other ways to practice modeling. If you need a break from reading you can play a recorded test, like an audiobook, for your students to follow.

You can do partner reading, where students read along with each other, or choral reading, where everyone reads aloud together. 

Doing a Readers Theatre is always fun! Students read a script and act as characters in a play. It’s an active way to get students to practice their oral reading skills. You want to choose a script that has lots of dialogue to keep kids engaged. Give them some time to practice and be familiar with their lines but you don’t want them to memorize them. They need to read their part.

Repeated Reading

This is as simple as it sounds, it’s reading the same thing, repeatedly. The National Reading Panel says this is the most powerful way to improve reading fluency. They analyzed 14 studies on the effectiveness of repeated reading. All 14 studies found demonstrable improvements from the first reading to the final reading.

One of the reasons that repeated reading is effective is because it helps with reading motivation. As students feel more comfortable with what they are reading, they see improvement in what they read, and that improvement in confidence translates into confidence in other passages.

Progress monitoring

Set goals with your students with their reading, then monitor their progress toward achieving the goal with them  The combination of having a goal and receiving feedback on the goal can be motivating! 

There are 3 parts to progress monitoring. First, clearly communicate the goal to your student. Tell them what the goal is and then how will you know you’ve reached the goal. Second, show students how it will be measured. Don’t just do all the measuring yourself, give them the means to measure it! This way they have even more ownership over the goal. Finally, make it simple. This way they know when they’ve reached their goal, maybe even before you do! 

Wife Teacher Mommy’s Reading Passages are perfect for progress monitoring. Our reading passages make it easy to count words per minute (WPM) or words correct per minute (WCPM) which is WPM-errors. In addition, our reading passages come with Student Recording Graphs and Teacher Recording Graphs for you and your students to track their progress towards their goals! 

Or you can grab our 36 Weeks of Reading Comprehension. Our 36 Weeks of Reading Comprehension Strategies will help keep kids’ skills fresh by reviewing one each week! They should take no longer than a few minutes, so they are easy to fit into your schedule while packing a powerful punch.

Citations:

Fluency. Read Naturally, Inc. (n.d.). https://www.readnaturally.com/research/5-components-of-reading/fluency. 

Fluency. Reading Rockets. (2016, April 14). https://www.readingrockets.org/helping/target/fluency. 

Hoffman, B. (2021, April 18). Approaching new words: Decoding with syllable types. My Learning Springboard. https://mylearningspringboard.com/decoding-with-syllable-types/. 

Hoffman, B. (2021, April 18). What is reading fluency and why is it important? My Learning Springboard. https://mylearningspringboard.com/what-is-reading-fluency-and-why-is-it-important/#:~:text=Fluency%20is%20important%20because%20it,able%20to%20concentrate%20on%20comprehension. 

National Reading Panel. (n.d.). Teaching Children To Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature On Reading and It’s Implications for Reading Instruction. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf. 

Northern Illinois University Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic. (n.d.). What Is Fluency? Raising Readers: Tips for Parents. https://www.cedu.niu.edu/literacy-clinic/resources/raising-readers/fluency.pdf. 

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