Showing posts with label Oral Reading Fluency. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oral Reading Fluency. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Of Carts and Horses: Where Fluency Teaching Fits in the Learning to Read

Our preK-5 school has a number of struggling readers, and we were told yesterday that we should focus only on fluency and accuracy, not comprehension or vocabulary. We were also told that we really shouldn't be using our grade level reading materials or complex texts in the classroom until students are fluent and accurate. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what we do when we have large numbers of struggling readers.

I get lots of questions about the sequence of instruction. In this case the issue is fluency versus comprehension; more often it is about phonics, both about the sequence of phonics elements, or like this question, whether decoding proficiency is prerequisite to any other literacy teaching?  

Let’s face it… in life there are times when sequence… definitely put your car in gear before you step on the gas, and my grandchildren love knowing that you have to put your socks on before your shoes if you want things to work out right.

But there are also lots of times when order doesn’t really matter (unless you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, but that’s another topic altogether).

For example, when you’re eating your dinner, no one is likely to care much whether you take a bite of potatoes first or a bite of the green beans. It usually doesn’t matter whether you read the sports section first or the news. And, who cares whether you put on your right or left earring first? It makes no difference so such orderings are left to one’s discretion, comfort, or habit.

So what’s the right answer concerning whether teachers should focus only on “fluency and accuracy” before comprehension and vocabulary?

I think whoever is telling teachers that they need to accomplish oral reading fluency before comprehension is wrong. This notion shows a weak understanding of the oral reading fluency concept and what it contributes to literacy learning.

Fluency is not a single skill as much as an amalgamation of skills. It has three dimensions, not two (it is more than just accuracy and speed, but also includes making the oral reading sound meaningful—expression or prosody). Students both develop decoding and comprehension skills through fluency practice, but they also learn to incorporate those skills within their oral reading (how would one know what to do with the homographs—like minute, digest, resent if comprehension isn’t part of it?).

Of course, if contextual information isn’t entering the system, then students’ fluency development will lag. If it is lagging in the first place (which sounds like the case here), then extra fluency practice is sensible… but if decoding and comprehension instruction is being delayed until fluency is developed, then where do they get the skills and knowledge that is part of what makes fluency go?

If the question had been about whether one should wait to work on fluency and comprehension until decoding was accomplished up to some criterion, I would be giving a similar answer. Decoding is central to beginning reading instruction and I don’t believe that we should stint on it. However, that doesn’t mean teachers shouldn’t, alongside, be emphasizing comprehension (initially listening, eventually reading), oral reading fluency, and vocabulary, too.

And, no, there is no particular sequence of phonics that needs to be taught—though a planful sequence is important (it just doesn’t matter whether you teach a “d” first or an “m”). Similarly, though the line of development in fluency tends to go from accuracy to speed to prosody, you still should emphasize all of them throughout (that, "read this as fast as you can" is foolishness).

I suspect some of the confusion over this comes from a misunderstanding of how the research is done on these literacy components. People get it in their heads that the phonics studies must have only taught phonics. That tends not to be the way these studies are done. In fact, the most typical experimental design has been that the experimental and control subjects both get a fairly comprehensive instructional program, but the experimental group gets an enhanced, special, super-duper version of whatever the component of interest may be (e.g., vocabulary, phonics, fluency, comprehension strategies). That often means that both groups receive some phonics or some fluency work depending on the individual teachers, but that the experimental ones would be more likely to teach these skills more thoroughly or extensively.

We may be thinking that this is the design:
      Experimental Group                                 Control Group                                                 
         Fluency Instruction                                     No Fluency Instruction

But it is more likely to like this:
 Experimental Group                                         Control Group
   Daily XYZ Reading Program Instruction          Daily XYZ Reading Program Instruction
         +Fluency Instruction                                       + Nothing

And what that means is that it wasn’t the additional fluency or phonics that was raising reading achievement, but that additional instruction was effective when added to an ongoing comprehensive program of teaching. 

One of the things that may be making fluency instruction work is that kids are daily learning about letters, sounds, and spelling patterns—and without that information, the fluency teaching on its own might not help as much. Similarly, the work being done to build students’ knowledge of language, content, and comprehension may also be contributing to children’s fluency growth.

As proposed here, cutting kids off from such simultaneous opportunities to learn may both slow their progress in developing fluency and may make fluency more of a parlor trick than a dynamic part of the reading process involving the coordination of high speed decoding with the context of language and ideas.                  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What Texts to Use to Teach Fluency?

What are the most appropriate types of texts to use for fluency practice both for young new readers and even older, struggling readers?

With beginning readers what we strive for in “fluency” is different than what we usually think about when speak about fluency (e.g., accuracy, speed, prosody). For beginning readers we are interested in accuracy, but speed is not a goal at all, and if anything we aim at “anti-prosodic reading”. In other words, we want to hear choppy reading.

At first, students are just trying to figure out how reading works… how the words they speak match up with the words that are printed on the page, how the spaces between words work, the differences between syllables and words, etc.

Because of that we initially want to stress things like “finger point reading” in which children try to figure out which words to point to during reading— engaging in choral reading, memorizing texts and trying to “read” them aloud, etc.
At this point, pretty much all texts will be beyond the youngsters’ reading levels, since basically these children aren’t actually reading yet in any conventional sense. It really doesn’t matter which texts are used for this in terms of the language level, readability, or spelling patterns, though it is obviously helpful to have sufficiently large print, decent amounts of spacing between words, sentences, lines, and a scheme that presents entire sentences on single lines initially, but eventually breaks sentences across lines.

Most important at this stage is to have texts that are easy to remember or follow. Texts that are predictable (Brown Bear, Brown Bear), or easy to memorize (Happy Birthday) are particularly useful, because they allow kids to figure out how reading works.

What you are really trying to accomplish with these kinds of text is a kind of choppy reading, in which students “read” each word, word-by-word. 

But once kids can consistently point to the correct words in the manner described above, then fluency morphs into the concept we usually think about, and text choices become even more important. (Some children accomplish this choppy in kindergarten, but it is probably more characteristic of early first-grade year.)

Joe Torgesen has shown that struggling readers (and probably beginning readers at this choppy reading point) tend to learn words from fluency practice. His research finding matches well with the National Reading Panel findings that fluency practice has a big impact on word reading/decoding outcomes. Thus, it would make sense to focus on texts that contain words that are a bit beyond the students’ reading levels, that include both high frequency words that we hope the students will master and spelling patterns that we are trying to teach. 

Since primary grade readers are likely to learn words from fluency practice, then make sure the texts include words that you want students to learn. And, it can be beneficial for those words to be repeated throughout the texts.

Similarly, since these beginners are likely to pick up decoding insights from this oral reading practice, it makes sense to make sure that the spelling patterns and sound-symbol relationships that we want to teach are apparent in these words (being used repeatedly throughout the texts).

Generally, the texts used for fluency should be at levels that we would traditionally label as frustration level. The students will figure out these texts from the feedback and repetition (such repetition isn’t worth the time if the texts are too easy for the students).

I know it is popular to use poetry for fluency practice and that can be fun. However, the point of fluency training is to help students to read the kinds of materials that they will usually be trying to read. Given that, I would occasionally use poetry and songs for fluency work, but more typically I would use prose texts, consistent with what I want them to learn to comprehend.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Round Robin by Any Other Name... Oral Reading for Older Readers

I am seeking your advice based on the email correspondence below that I have had with my principal.  She noted that I was practicing “round robin reading” on a classroom observation.  Upon asking her to remove it (since it was not what I was doing), I realized that she doesn’t entirely understand what that practice looks like.  I gather from her response that she is only interested in the teacher modeling expert reading and students not reading aloud in the classroom at all.  I personally believe that there is a place in the classroom for students to read aloud. 

During the lesson we are speaking of I read aloud an excerpt of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography.  I chunked the reading with questions and discussion in between parts.  I did ask for volunteers to read some parts and several students did volunteer.  I teach gifted language arts.  The majority of my students are proficient in reading and enjoy reading aloud.  I never force them to read aloud though.

If you would please, could you read the correspondence below and let me know your thoughts about students reading aloud in the classroom.

I agree that oral reading has a place, and perhaps an important place in classrooms even at Middle School. 

Oral reading fluency is important because of the role it plays in reading comprehension. With primary grade readers (grade 2), about 70% of the variation in reading comprehension is due to variance in fluency. That is, if we could take away the variation in fluency by bringing those with lower fluency up to the same levels as the most fluent readers, 70% of the differences in reading comprehension would go away. That’s why studies show that teaching oral fluency effectively improves reading comprehension (NICHD, 2002).

However, the importance of fluency diminishes over time. This isn’t because fluency stops mattering, but that more and more students reach the needed levels of fluency. There is a ceiling on fluency—generally someone who can read 125 wcpm is a better reader than someone who reads at 100 wcpm. However, by the time you get to 150-175wcpm it is difficult to do any better than that (we can only speak so fast), and improving on that doesn’t seem to help. What that means is that by 8th grade, oral reading fluency only explains about 25% of the variance in reading comprehension. That is obviously a much lower payoff than for younger kids, and yet, it is 25%—which is a big deal. 

I would definitely have kids practicing oral reading in the middle school grades, at least if they were below the grade levels norms in fluency because I want them to get that comprehension pay off. The problem in your case is that you indicate these to be advanced readers. There is a very real chance that they can already read fluently, and more practice probably would not benefit them (though I would test them rather than asserting that). One reason for engaging good readers in oral reading is to meet the special demands of historical texts like the one you were working with or Shakespeare. The reason for that is that the language patterns can be so complex and archaic that reading the material aloud can aid in figuring it out (I do that myself). But it doesn’t sound like your lesson was very strategic in that regard.

We do know how to teach oral reading fluency successfully. What works? The various meta-analyses show oral reading practice with challenging text (e.g., frustration level), with feedback (e.g., from a teacher, parent, volunteer, other students, computers), and with rereading improves fluency and comprehension. There are now a couple of studies indicating that it is possible to do this with silent reading too, but those focused on computer-delivered instruction that allowed monitored in a way teachers could do on their own. There are lots of effective methods (e.g., paired reading, repeated reading, echo reading, neurological impress, Radio Reading) as well as various programs that work (e.g., Read Naturally). Modeling helps, such as having someone show the student what oral reading should sound like—which wouldn’t make much sense in your case, or, reading a short portion of the text to the student, and then having then trying to read it themselves—which might make sense, though your description makes me doubt it. In some studies, modeling was a planned part of the intervention, but the way I've usually used it is when a student has attempted a read unsuccessfully... I would then read a portion and have have him/her try again. That almost always helps.

Round robin reading refers to one student reading while everyone else listens. Which is what your letter describes. It is not that the oral reading practice round robin provides is so bad, but that there is so little practice in it. Round robin is terribly inefficient. The person who is learning during round robin is the reader—which means 25 other kids are sitting there waiting for their turn. In a middle school in which classes might last only for 45 minutes or 50 minutes, this would be a terrible waste of time, especially if they were already good readers. While I encourage, and even require, oral reading instruction in the middle school, I would never countenance round robin. If you have your students engaged in an activity like paired reading, students would get much more reading time for the same amount of class time. However, if the point was trying to make sense of the text, I would encourage you to work with silent reading—including silent reading of short parts as you describe.

If your students can’t read 8th grade material at 150-175wcpm making it sound like English, then it is legitimate to engage them in oral reading instruction. If one student is reading, and everyone else is listening, then we’re not on the same page. If multiple kids are engaged in the process (in echo reading, everyone reads at the same time; in paired reading, kids take turns). Activities like Reader’s Theatre can be okay, but they should be used no more than occasionally because in some ways it is like round robin—kids wait around too much. 

Instead of you doing the reading as in this lesson, I’d encourage you to have the students try to read it silently. If they have difficulty making sense of it, I would definitely show them how to use oral reading (or whisper reading) as a tool to make sense of those complicated 19th century sentences. Sorry, in this one, I agree with the principal.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Do You Want Your Husband to Remember Your Birthday or Anniversary?

            Let’s be honest. Any woman (or man, for that matter) wants their significant other to be involved enough that they remember both of these dates. Remember my birthday, but forget the day that we linked ourselves together for eternity, and you’re in obvious trouble. Recall the date we connected, but not my special day (all by myself) and I wonder if you think of me only in connection to you. Problem!

            Your spouse wants to know that he/she is important to you and not having a premature Alzheimer’s attack when it comes to both of these dates is a real plus.

            Easy question. Easy answer. Okay, try this one…

            Is oral or silent reading more important in middle school?

            We live in a time when silent reading ability will probably buy you more than oral reading skills. There definitely are radio and television announcers who have to read scripts well, but most of us don’t have those duties.

            However, that doesn’t mean oral reading is without value—especially for kids who are 11-, 12-, or 13-years-old.

            Oral reading has some small value as an outcome on its own, but in school-age kids it has its greatest value as a teaching tool. While it is true that oral reading fluency matters much more when you are 7 than when you are 11, it still matters a lot. 

           Oral reading proficiency explains more than 80% of the variation in the reading comprehension of second-graders. What that means is that if you could make all 7-year-olds equal in oral reading fluency (recognizing equal numbers of words, reading with similar speed, pausing equally appropriately), then you would do away with 80% of the differences in comprehension.

            Phony choice: If I had to choose—and I do not—I would spend more time on fluency instruction in second grade than on vocabulary instruction—because the learning payoff is bigger.

            The amount of reading comprehension variance explainable by oral fluency falls to about 25% by the time the average student is in eighth grade. To me that justifies fluency instruction, though I recognize the payoff is smaller. (What self-respecting secondary teacher wouldn’t gladly do away with 25% of the reading variation in their students?)

            Phony choice (again): If I had to choose—and I still do not have to make such a choice in real classrooms—I would spend more time on vocabulary instruction in 7th grade than on fluency—because the learning payoff should be bigger.

            What happens is that as children progress up the grades, more and more of them read at ceiling levels of fluency. Few third-graders can read 175 words correct per minute with proper pausing and prosody. But those numbers increase each year, meaning that more and more students have sufficient levels of fluency to allow them to accomplish the highest levels of comprehension. But, once those ceiling levels of fluency are reached, then to accomplish the highest levels of comprehension will require other kinds of gains (such as in vocabulary).

            I would definitely include oral reading practice in my secondary classes—at least for any students not reading at about 150-175 words correct per minute (and, yes, it has to sound like English—none of this “read as fast as you can” baloney). 

            That doesn’t mean that my students would do a lot of round robin turn taking. No, I’d follow the research: we’d engage in paired reading and echo reading with repetition and feedback. Our purpose would be to practice the reading of demanding texts (texts which the students can’t already read well), until we could read them at high levels of proficiency.

            But just because I would provide students with that kind of practice, does not mean that I don’t understand the value of silent reading. I would also devote substantial class time to engaging students in the silent reading of texts that have rich content and language. I would engage students in discussions and debates about the content of those texts, and I would require that students write about the ideas in such texts (e.g., summarizing them, analyzing them, and synthesizing information from that and other texts).

            Our responsibility is to make students effective readers. There are many things that go into that outcome: students need to develop rich vocabularies, they need to know how to parse sentences so that they can be interpreted well, they need to know how to operate on texts that they don’t understand just from reading, and they need to know how to reason and think about the kinds of information that they will meet in text.

            Thus, when it comes to oral and silent reading, I’m unwilling to pick one over the other. It is a foolish choice that confuses outcomes and inputs. There is no question that our goal is to develop readers who can read a text with a depth of understanding. But practice, both oral and silent, contributes to the accomplishment of that goal so only a very foolish teacher would require one and not the other.

            By the way, how many dozens of roses must you send if you do forget your anniversary? No, reason… I’m just asking.