Friday, July 20, 2012

Fluency: The Basics


Fluency is the ability to read words effortlessly and accurately with correct prosody (proper rhythm, intonation, expression, etc.).  Fluent reading is an essential step toward building reading comprehension.  If a reader is not fluent, then he will spend too much time and attention on decoding words which will detract from his ability to create meaning from the text. 

Research Findings

The University of Oregon's Center for Teaching and Learning cites Hasbrouck (1998), stating that successful, fluent readers:
  • Rely primarily on the letters in the word rather than context or pictures to identify familiar and unfamiliar words
  • Process virtually every letter
  • Use letter-sound correspondences to identify words
  • Have a reliable strategy for decoding words
  • Read words for a sufficient number of times for words to become automatic 

The National Reading Panel unfortunately found few studies that met their review criteria to be included in their study of fluency research.  However, they did examine fourteen studies.  One interesting finding from this research relates to the widely held belief that independent silent reading increases students' reading abilities.  There are numerous studies to support the claim that the best readers read the most and the poorest readers read the least.  However, this is correlation not causation.  There is not enough research to show that good readers are good at reading simply because they read a lot.  Maybe they read a lot because they possess the skills that allow them to read.

In its review of qualified studies, the NRP found no positive correlation between having children participate in silent, independent reading with little to no instruction or feedback from a teacher and increased reading skills or fluency.  It is important to note that they did not find a negative correlation either.  Simply, there isn't enough research to support the idea that having children read a lot will directly translate into developing better readers.

One approach that the NRP did find effective for increasing fluency (as well as word recognition and comprehension) are using repeated oral reading procedures that are guided by teachers, parents, or peers.  The effectiveness of this strategy was seen across grade levels, in regular and special education classrooms, and it increased reading skills for both good and struggling readers. 

Approaches to Instruction

Through Harcourt, Steck-Vaughn released an analysis of the NRP's findings on fluency as they relate to effective instruction.  A list of these instructional approaches and strategies are listed below:

  • Repeated Oral Reading
  • Teacher Guided Reading
  • Peer Guided Reading
  • Modeling Fluent Reading
  • Previewing Reading
  • Choral Reading
  • Echo Reading
  • Tape-Assisted Reading
  • Paired Reading

Obviously some strategies, like the Tape-Assisted Reading, can be modified for current technology.  A cassette still works well, but so does an iPad, an iPod, a computer, or many other devices.  What you use depends on the resources you have.  Also, all of these strategies can be implemented with any curriculum to help build fluent readers.  These approaches can even be used in other content areas like science or social studies to improve fluency (and with it word recognition and comprehension).

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