Fluency


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What is it?

Fluency is generally defined as the rate (words per minute), accuracy (number of words correctly identified), and expression with which students read. Fluency is not a stage of development; rather, it changes depending on what students are reading. Readers who normally read at an adequate speed may slow down or re-read text when sentence structure or vocabulary becomes increasingly difficult to understand.

Fluent readers recognize words automatically, read aloud effortlessly and with expression, divide the text into meaningful chunks, change emphasis and tone appropriately, and pause within and at the ends of sentences.

Fluent reading is the culmination of all those discreet skills we acquired as we learned to read. The following figure (Eden & Moats, 2002) shows the skills that are necessary if students are to become fluent readers:

Letter Recognition Instant Word Recognition
==> Sound-Symbol Correspondence==> Chunk Recognition==> Vocabulary and Language Processing==> Fluency
Phonological Awareness Sound Blending

Two major components of reading fluency are automaticity and prosody. Automaticity (performance without conscious attention) occurs when students are able to automatically identify words (word recognition).

Once students achieve automaticity, they are able to focus on comprehending text rather than trying to decode words. It’s difficult to remember what you’ve read and to relate the ideas to your own background knowledge if the act of reading itself is laborious.

Prosody is comprised of features such as pitch, tone, expression, stress, and rhythm. This component is what brings joy to reading aloud: It includes using different voices for different characters, whispering scary stories, emphasizing groups of funny words, and creating moods with tone and cadence. Reading with expression brings texts to life because these texts begin to sound more like natural speech or storytelling. Students who read with prosody are motivated to read more often and enjoy reading aloud. As a result, these students increase their fluency.

Why Is It Important?

According to a report from the National Reading Panel (NICHHD 2000), repeatedly reading a text and monitoring a students’ oral reading supports increased fluency.

Word recognition fluency, while not the goal of reading instruction, is necessary for good comprehension (Carnine, 1977).

Research shows that students need intentional reading fluency instruction. Fluent readers are able to recognize words automatically, group individual words into meaningful phrases, and quickly apply the skills needed to identify unknown words. Reading fluency is a skill students need to have to comprehend any text they are reading—the major objective of reading instruction.

How Can You Make It Happen?

To become fluent readers, students need to gain automaticity in letter identification, letter/sound identification, and word identification. To establish these early literacy skills, it is important to give students repeated exposure to letters, letter combinations, and words by practicing with flash cards, games, and activities that strengthen the connection between visual and auditory representations. Using multisensory activities, such as tracing, copying, and writing words, helps students see letter patterns in their minds.

There are many techniques to use with students to improve their reading fluency. Students can begin to become more automatic in identifying words by reading texts that are familiar, predictable, and decodable.

Difficulty with fluency indicates a variety of underlying problems. If students are not able to automatically recognize words, they may need additional instruction in phonics and sight word recognition. If they are not able to group words to gain meaning, they may need instruction in fluency—but the difficulty may also reflect a deficit in vocabulary and reading comprehension. If students are not able to read aloud effortlessly and with expression, divide text into meaningful chunks, pause appropriately, or change emphasis and tone, they may need instruction in fluency, comprehension, or punctuation.


Determining Fluency Rates

Fluency rates are typically given as “words correct per minute” (wcpm). An average fluent adult reads at approximately 200 wcpm. By the end of first grade, students should be reading at least 40 wcpm in connected text. By the end of second grade, students should read 60-90 wcpm, and by the end of third grade, 70–110 wcpm.

It is important to identify struggling readers quickly because the later they are identified as dysfluent readers, the more difficulty they will have becoming fluent readers.

To determine your students’ present reading fluency levels:

  1. Find a grade-appropriate text that they have not yet read, such as a basal reader, and ask individual students to read a passage aloud for one minute.

  2. Calculate the words correct per minute (wcpm) by counting the number of words a student reads, and then subtract the number of errors from the total words read. For example, if a student read 60 words per minute but she read seven words incorrectly, then her wcpm for the passage is 53.

  3. Have students read the same passage three times, and record the wcpm each time. The final wcpm score should be an average of these three scores.

  4. Find where your students fall using the following range of fluency standards (Hasbrouck and Tindal, 1992). This can help you provide students with appropriate reading materials as well as set reasonable goals:

Fall Winter Spring
Grade 1 20 40
Grade 2 44 - 82 68 - 106 90 - 124
Grade 3 77 - 107 92 - 123 110 - 142

Choosing Appropriate Texts

When choosing texts for students to read, it is important that they be at students’ individual independent reading levels.

  • Independent Reading Level: The level at which students can read without assistance with more than 95 percent accuracy. Choose materials at this level for independent reading or fluency practice.

  • Instructional Reading Level: The level at which students can read with assistance from the teacher with 90-95 percent accuracy. Choose materials at this level for reading instruction.

  • Frustration Reading Level: The level at which students read with less than 90 percent accuracy and without adequate comprehension.

To determine texts that are appropriate, you may want to conduct an informal reading inventory or a running record, assessments that can be conducted individually and completed quickly and frequently. For more information, go to Running Records.



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