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Expository Reading Fluency

Much of the reading wars dust has settled in the last decade. By now we have some consensus about what makes a good reader and some levels of understanding about what limitations or deficits a struggling reader does face. One of these areas of consensus involves reading fluency. Reading fluency includes rate, accuracy, and prosody (the music of oral language; the expression of voice; the attention to syntax and punctuation). The reading research conclusion that improving expository reading fluency is highly correlated with higher reading comprehension (Benson, 2008; Flood, Lapp, & Fisher, 2005; Klauda & Guthrie, 2008; M. R. Kuhn et al., 2006; Rasinski et al., 2009) is now largely uncontested.

Several reading strategies have been found to be effective in improving expository reading fluency in the past decade. Modeled and repeated readings have proven helpful for many primary and intermediate readers—especially when these strategies have been coupled with systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, and spelling. But these same strategies seem to have fallen short for older remedial readers. Still, only one in six remedial readers reading two or more grade levels below their age ever catch up to grade level reading.

Why is reading so difficult to remediate in older, struggling readers?

“One of the consistent findings in our remedial research for children who begin the intervention with moderate or serious impairments in word reading ability is that the interventions have not been sufficient to close the gap in reading fluency. Although the students increase in fluency in an absolute sense (they become more fluent within passages of the same level of difficulty), the interventions do not bring the students to average levels of fluency for students their age, nor are students’ percentile or standard scores for fluency nearly as high as they are for accuracy.”

So the rich get richer and the poor get richer, but at nowhere near the same relative rates or levels.

“…Thus, it is not easy for these students to become “fluent readers” if the standard of
reading fluency is based on the ability to fluently identify almost all of the words in text
appropriate for their age.”

from Joseph K. Torgesen and Roxanne F. Hudson, Florida Center for Reading Research at
Florida State University http://learningovations.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Fluency_chapter-TorgesenHudson.pdf

So, Torgesen and Hudson are arguing that increasing reading fluency remains a key to reading remediation, but only when coupled with the ability to access complex text.

When we talk about more difficult text, we are not only talking about lexile reading levels. We are also talking about types of text and levels of text complexity. Most would agree that expository text is qualitatively more difficult to read than narrative (with the possible exception of our favorite Russian authors).

The Shift from Narrative to Expository Text

In the introductory pages of the Common Core State Standards, the authors cite the Distribution of Literary and Informational Passages by Grade in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP framework to set the following distributions of text: 50% literary/50% information (4th grade); 45% literary/55% information (8th grade); 30% literary/70% information (12th grade).

With the shift from narrative to expository reading in the Common Core State Standards, it would certainly seem to make sense that we abandon past reading intervention practice of using primarily narrative passages to help students practice reading fluency. This would especially be true for upper elementary, middle, and high school remedial readers. It would also make sense that practice with expository passages would particularly benefit these students as they read social studies and science texts while concurrently taking a remedial reading course or English class with an RtI tiered intervention model.

The problem has been finding short expository passages that will help students push through their current reading levels to higher reading levels. Too often with leveled reading passages, students are assigned texts at their Lexile levels and continue to practice at these levels. This does makes sense if our purpose is to help students independently access content at that level of text complexity; however, if our goal is to improve reading ability, then reading exclusively at the same diagnostic level will not produce growth in reading fluency, nor the ability to comprehend more complex text.

It’s a bit like getting into shape. If you pay your dues to join the local fitness club with the expectation that you will improve both cardiovascular ability (reading fluency) and strength (academic language and more complex syntactical structures), your personal trainer will probably suggest a weightlifting component to your personal fitness plan.

The trainer may diagnostically assess your ability to complete a certain number of reps on 20 pound free weights in a minute and determine that you can complete 15 curls.

If the trainer establishes a personal goal for you to improve to 20 reps per minute on the same 20 pound weights after a month of practice and you meet your goal, you will have achieved some cardiovascular benefit. However, you will not have measurably increased your strength.

To increase strength, your trainer would need to increase the weight, to say 25 pound free weights, then 30 pound weights, etc. If you just increased weight without increasing reps per minute you would not improve cardiovascular ability.

Of course, you need both increased reps plus progressively heavier free weights to accomplish both of your personal fitness goals. Likewise, struggling remedial readers need both practice in expository reading fluency and practice in reading increasingly difficult text. Older readers need to both “catch up” and “keep up” with grade level text.

Teaching Reading Strategies Provides Expository Fluency Practice for Reading Intervention

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.


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