How and Why 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 reading at a rate 20-30% faster than individual student’s fluency rate with 95% accuracy. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies does just that with three different reading speeds for each expository article.
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 YouTube fluency passages. 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 modeled readings, each group practices within its own zone of promixal development. 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.
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, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube (Check these fluency passages out!), 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.
Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.
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 students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.