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How to Differentiate Reading Fluency Practice

How to Differentiate Reading Fluency Practice

Differentiate Reading Fluency Practice

Educators value the importance of reading fluency practice. High fluency scores are positively correlated with high reading comprehension scores. The converse is true as well. Repeated reading practice and reading along with modeled readings have shown to increase accuracy, speed, intonation, expression, and attention to punctuation. Additionally, practicing along with modeled readings at a slightly faster pace than students’ assessed word counts per minute seems to help students push through habituated reading speeds to read faster with greater automaticity.

As a reading specialist with significant experience in using a myriad of publisher-produced reading fluency resources, as well experience in using different instructional fluency procedures and assessments, a few been there, done that remarks may prove helpful to fellow reading specialists and teachers who are looking into differentiating reading fluency practice.

Avoid These Types of Reading Passages for Differentiated Reading Fluency Practice

Reading specialists, teachers, and publishers make two mistakes regarding using fluency passages for modeled, repeated fluency practice.

1. Using Grade-level Passages

Some teachers use grade-level only reading passages. Our students are not all cookie-cutter, grade-level readers. You wouldn’t be reading this article on differentiated reading fluency practice if you thought they were. Using grade-level passages provides challenge-level fluency practice for only a narrow group of any teacher’s classroom.

2. Using Diagnostically-determined Passages at the Reader’s Instructional Reading Level

Expensive publisher programs with software peg student reading levels at precise figures and assign 20 or so stories and/or articles at that level for practice. This is a waste of time and money. Publishers provide more product than most students need to increase profit margins. Reading intervention should always be about hurried and dynamic instruction. Students improve their reading fluencies at vastly different and unpredictable rates. A day of unnecessary fluency practice at a specific level that the student has already mastered is another day of below grade-level reading. 

Furthermore, too much practice at any one reading level habituates students to that level, and is, therefore, counterproductive. Plus, as an aside… these leveled passages vary greatly in their reading difficulty from paragraph to paragraph. Despite lexiles, reading level is still somewhat of an arbitrary misnomer. Real and natural reading has a far greater range of reading difficulty than passages with controlled vocabulary and content.

Choose These Types of Reading Passages for Differentiated Reading Fluency Practice

1. Select reading passages with a variety of reading levels, preferably within the passages themselves. Expository articles usually accomplish this end better than do narrative passages. Besides, struggling readers have far more difficulty reading social studies and science textbooks than short stories or novels.

2. Choose reading passages which provide embedded vocabulary and comprehension questions. Although not part of targeted fluency practice, these components are at the heart of reading instruction and shouldn’t be divorced from isolated fluency practice. Why waste instructional time and money with two different passages–one for fluency practice and another for comprehension and vocabulary

How to Differentiate Fluency Practice 

Assess

Although students implicitly practice fluency when they learn phonics (especially blending), spelling, syllabication, vocabulary, sight words, rimes (word families), and reading (oral and silent), explicit fluency practice necessitates diagnostic assessment. Teachers and students need to know levels of fluency competency to determine if targeted practice is advisable and how to best remediate reading fluency deficiencies. Jan Hasbrouk, co-researcher on grade-level fluency norms also argues that diagnostic reading fluency assessment can serve as a “canary in a coal mine” to identify potential struggling readers and to continue with other diagnostic reading assessments to identify sub-skill deficits which adversely impact fluency (and comprehension). As a cautionary note, I (and many other teachers) do have problems with the time, cost, teachability, and evaluative nature of many reading fluency assessments. Click HERE for my article on these problems.

I recommend using my own two-minute diagnostic fluency assessment. The two minute reading provides much more accurate timings and affords a much better “canary” to guide further assessment. Plus the assessment is leveled in a unique pyramid design, beginning at first grade reading level and proceeding to seventh grade reading level at the end. Teachers learn a tremendous amount about instructional reading levels, degree of vocabulary acquisition, etc. from this design. Download my Pets Fluency Assessment absolutely FREE at the end of this article.

Assign Groups with Printed Copies of the Fluency Passages

Assign one of three reading fluency groups (A, B, or C) to each of your students based upon their fluency scores on the “Pets” Individual Fluency Assessment. Each group has “challenge level” modeled readings to “push” readers to read more quickly and more accurately. Keep these groups flexible, as some students will progress rapidly and may need to be reassigned to reflect their improved reading fluency scores. Also, separate students who do not work well together.

 

  1. Show students a list of the fluency groups on the board or display and place an asterisk by the first Fluency Leader chosen for each group. Inform students that you will rotate Fluency Leaders and that these students have two duties: Collect and return the group materials and ask the teacher when a student in their group needs help or has a question. Ask the Fluency Leaders to get the materials (fluency folders, pencil box, and one fluency passage) for each student in their groups.
  2. Have students each create their own fluency folders (a simple file folder is fine) and put a bar graph inside the folders. A quick web search will bring dozens of fluency bar graphs for your selection. Select a bar graph that best matches the fluency speeds of your students. If in doubt, pick the higher level bar graph, because students tend to “overestimate” their scores on the fluency timings. Collect the fluency folders.
  3. As the Fluency Leaders gather and distribute the materials, show students the location of their fluency group and the desk/tables and chairs configuration on the board or overhead. Tell students that they will move desks/tables and chairs to form their fluency groups as shown. To signal readiness, the students will raise their hands. Inform them that fluency groups will receive participation points and incentives for “quick, quiet, and cooperative” transitions. Tell students to now move into their fluency groups.
  4. When all groups are ready, award participation points for “quick, quiet, and cooperative” transitions. Tell students that they will read the fluency passage out loud, but softly, for a two-minute timed “cold” (unpracticed) timing. Ready the stopwatch or use the second hand of the clock to time. Say– “Point to the first word of the fluency passage. Ready, begin.” As students read, monitor the groups to ensure that students are reading quietly, but above a whisper. All words must be said out loud for effective practice. After two minutes, say “Stop and Record.”
  5. Tell students to tally their words and record their “cold timing” score on the fluency bar graph in pencil. Model how to record the timings on the board or overhead. Inform students that after they finish recording the “cold timing,” they are to continue reading where they left off, then re-read the passage over and over until the teacher visits their group.
  6. Visit the lowest level fluency group and quickly pre-teach a few challenging words from the passage by saying the word and asking students to repeat the word. Briefly define the words, if they are necessary to the meaning of the fluency passage.
  7. Tell students that the Fluency Leader will lead the group at the reading pace set by the teacher and finish choral reading the fluency passage. Have the Fluency Leader say “Ready, begin” and begin reading. When the group is following the direction of the Fluency Leader and is reading at the appropriate rate, move on to the next group. Afterwards, the group is to re-play the YouTube video or chorally re-read the whole passage together one more time.
  8. After the second fluency practice, students are to individually re-read the passage out loud as fast as they feel comfortable until the teacher says, “Stop.”
  9. After the last group visited by the teacher has completed its choral readings, interrupt the class to complete a two-minute “hot” reading of the passage. Have students tally their words per minute and record their score in pen on the fluency bar graph, directly above the “cold” timing.
  10. Tell Fluency Leaders to collect materials, while the groups re-organize the desks/tables. When all students have returned to their seats and all materials have been properly collected, award participation points for “quick, quiet, and cooperative” transitions.

Helpful Hints

Work on attention to punctuation and expression. Students should read softly, but above a whisper. An entire class reading at this level provides a “white noise” that promotes individual concentration. Play the YouTube videos at reasonable volume levels or use headphones.

Assess progress by examining the day to day recorded “cold” readings. Although students may tend to “inflate” their “cold” and “hot” timing differentials, emphasize improvement in the “cold” timings over time.

Use your Fluency Leaders! Only Fluency Leaders get out of their seats during Fluency Remediation to gather materials or ask the teacher questions.

Integrate fluency and comprehension instruction. Teach students to “talk to the text” as they read to improve concentration and understanding. Periodically do a “Think-Aloud” to model interactive, metacognitive reading. Teach comprehension questions that will emphasize reader independence.

Also tie in vocabulary development by having the students write context clue sentences for the vocabulary words that you pre-teach.

With these procedures, your fluency groups will thrive and students will significantly improve their reading fluency.

Mark Pennington 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 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments,  blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies Animal Fluency Articles are high-interest expository articles, designed for remedial readers.

Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies Comprehensive Reading Intervention Program

Each of the 43 articles has from 350−450 words and focuses on one of the animals featured on the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards. Readers learn about the physical characteristics of the animal, the animal’s habitat, what the animal eats, the animal’s family, interesting facts, and the status of the species, whether endangered or not.

The articles are leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first two paragraphs are at an adjusted third grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level (after deleting a few key multi-syllabic words such as carnivores or long animal names such as armadillos); the next two paragraphs are at the fifth-grade reading level; and the last two are at the seventh-grade reading level. The reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language and sentence length.

The print copies of the Animal Fluency Articles include challenge words in the upper right corner for the teacher to pre-teach. Word counts are provided in the left margin for fluency timings. The YouTube videos of each article include a picture of the animal and a modeled reading, but do not include the challenge words or word counts.

Additionally, the Animal Fluency Articles are available as YouTube videos for individualized fluency instruction. Each article has been recorded at three different reading speeds (Level A at 95-115 words per minute; Level B at 115-135 words per minute; and Level C at 135-155 words per minute) to provide modeled readings at each of your students’ challenge levels. A total of 129 videos!

Get the Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

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Characteristics of High School Learners

Characteristics of High School Students in Reading Intervention

Characteristics of High School Students

High school learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. You certainly can “teach an old dog new tricks” by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of high school learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of high school learners can make all the difference in their success.

I began my teaching career as a high school history and social studies teacher. After a number of years teaching the rich content of world and U.S. history, I grew increasingly interested in students who were not able to access that content independently by reading their textbooks.

I enrolled in the M.A. Reading Specialist program at our state university. In class after class, I was the only secondary teacher in the program. A year into the program, my principal approach me about teaching a remedial freshman and sophomore course “to get these kids to master the reading portion of the high school proficiency exam.” The district was now requiring this proficiency to earn a diploma.

I said, “Yes” and the next fall faced my first group of thirty-some-odd struggling readers. After quickly weeding out a few students who self-admittedly “blew off” the proficiency exam the preceding year, I settled in to apply what I was learning in my master’s program. Big mistake!

The assessments, lessons, accompanying readings, and activities did not translate from primary students to high school students. Yes, several of the high school kids did not have all their phonemic awareness skills. Yes, a few more needed to learn the alphabet. Still more had significant phonics gaps. All had reading fluency issues. However, the “big head” cartoonish and juvenile resources and books that taught these skills were just not going to work on the high schoolers. In fact, whenever I passed out such a resource, the high school kids either completely shut down or began to act out.

It took me six years to finish that masters degree, but during that time I learned a bit about teaching secondary reading intervention.

The RtI (Response to Intervention) Action Network cites the following research-based conclusions regarding reading intervention for older students:

  1. the explicit instruction of reading and writing strategies (See my “Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection”)
  2. a focus on using reading and writing to support motivation and engagement
  3. a focus on developing student knowledge and understanding of essential content information (Torgesen et al., 2007)
  4. ongoing formative and summative assessment of students (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006) (See my FREE ELA/Reading Assessments)
  5. a comprehensive and coordinated literacy program (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006) http://www.rtinetwork.org/essential/assessment/screening/screening-for-reading-problems-in-grades-4-through-12.

High School Cognitive Development

Most high school students have achieved the formal operational stage, as described by Piaget. These students can think abstractly and need fewer concrete examples to understand complex thought patterns. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Need to understand the purpose and relevance of instructional activities
  2. Are both internally and externally motivated
  3. Have self-imposed cognitive barriers due to years of academic failure and lack self-confidence
  4. May have “shut down” in certain cognitive areas and will need to learn how to learn and overcome these barriers to learning
  5. Want to establish immediate and long-term personal goals
  6. Want to assume individual responsibility for learning and progress toward goals

High School Social Development

High school students are experimenting with adult-like relationships. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Interested in co-educational activities
  2. Desire adult leadership roles and autonomy in planning
  3. Want adults to assume a chiefly support role in their education
  4. Developing a community consciousness
  5. Need opportunities for self-expression

High School Instructional Strategies

High school students are still concerned about the labeling that takes place, when one is identified as a remedial reader. Labels and stereotypes are both externally imposed (by other students and, sometimes their parents), but are primarily internally imposed (by the students themselves). Years of academic failure, due to lack of reading proficiency, have damaged students’ self-esteem. Many students have lost confidence in their ability to learn. Students have developed coping mechanisms, such as reading survival skills e.g., audio books or peer/parent readers, or behavioral problems, or the “Whatever… I don’t care attitudes” to avoid the tough work of learning how to read well. High school teachers need to be extremely mindful of student self-perceptions. A few talking points with remedial high school students may prove helpful:

“Unfortunately, some of your past reading instruction was poor; it’s not your fault that you have some skills to work on.” a.k.a. “blame someone else”

“You can learn in this class. If you come to class willing to try everyday, you will significantly improve your reading, I promise.”

“I know you have tried before, but this time is different.”

“You will be able to chart your own progress and see what you are learning in this class.”

“Some of my past students were like some of you. For example, ___________ and he passed the high school exit exam after finishing this class. For example, ___________ got caught up to grade level reading and is college right now.” Personal anecdotes provide role models and hope for high school remedial readers. Any former students who have been successful will provide “street credibility” to the teacher and the class.

“You aren’t in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you are out.”

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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