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

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.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Best Oral Reading Techniques for Beginners

Could you comment on first grade small group reading instruction, specifically round robin, "whisper" reading, echo reading, choral reading, etc.? You have mentioned partner reading and echo reading. Is there research to clearly favor one over another? My practice is to use a variety, although not round robin with the whole class, but my principal is pushing student driven discussion, partner reading, with the goal of student engagement. What does the research say?

Beginning readers cannot read silently. They need to read aloud to be able to figure out the words and to understand the author’s message; so round robin, whisper/mumble reading, choral reading all might have a place—for a little while. Several of these techniques are also useful throughout the grades to help students build oral reading fluency (e.g., repeated reading, echo reading, paired reading, reading while listening, neurological impress). There are no studies that I am aware of that compare these with beginning readers, but in fluency studies they all tend to do pretty well: each has students reading aloud, with repetition, and with some kind of feedback or guidance.

Until beginning readers are able to read silently with understanding, ALL of these techniques (including the much reviled round robin reading) could have a profitable place in your classroom. If the point is to get kids started with reading, choral reading makes great sense. But you want to try to get away from that soon, because kids need to figure out/remember the words themselves (and choral reading allows one to pretend to do that). If students are a bit further along, and the point is to guide kids through a story to begin building reading comprehension, then round robin can make sense, for a little while. Whisper reading or mumble reading tend to be used when teachers are trying to get kids to shift from oral to silent reading (it is a transformational strategy).

It is important to move on from round robin quickly not because the reading practice it provides is so bad, but because there is so little of it. Not much reading happens on a per child basis in round robin, so methods that allow more than one kid to read are a better choice. Studies suggest that the only one doing any learning during round robin is the child who is reading; that’s great for the reader of the moment, but it is a big waste of time for the others.

When kids are independent enough to read aloud on their own (or when paired with another kid without the teacher), then paired reading and those other fluency builders become essential tools. While they all work, I use paired reading most often—again, for efficiency sake; with that approach kids have to do the reading and half the class can practice at the same time.

Think of the various things you need to accomplish to reach the learning goals:
  • ·     Introduce students into reading itself (not just listening to someone else read), but trying to put words to text oneself
  • ·      Give students experience in sustaining this reading through a whole selection to comprehend it
  • ·      Making it possible for kids to read text silently (with understanding)
  • ·      Developing oral reading fluency

Select instructional activities that would facilitate each of these goals… considering research (what has worked successfully), efficiency (which methods allow the most reading experience/instruction for the most kids), and classroom environment (balancing efficient routines that kids can negotiate quickly and easily with variation of activities to hold their interest).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How Much In-Class Reading?

I am wondering what you think are the acceptable ways to read text in a text in grades 3-8.  Obviously, round robin or popcorn reading is not one of them -- and these are still options we see too often. Independent reading is desired, and some degree of teacher read aloud to the whole class to model fluency and dramatic reading is appropriate as well. What other ways do you think are effective? How much time would you say we should push teachers to do each? (i.e. 60% independent, 20% teacher read aloud...) etc.

I’m with those who believe that students need to read a lot during their school days. Yes, they should read at home, but within their schoolwork at school in class, students need lots of opportunities and requirements to read.

The most powerful of such reading (in terms of stimulating student learning) seems to be oral reading with feedback from a teacher. I would discourage popcorn or round robin but not because the reading practice that they provide is so bad—just that they provide so little practice. When one student is reading, many more are just sitting waiting for their turn. The students who are reading are learning, and the others, not so much.

Research suggests that techniques like paired reading (in which kids read and reread texts to each other), reading while listening, echo reading, radio reading, etc. can all be good choices. In all of these techniques, many students are able to practice simultaneously, they read relatively challenging materials, and then they reread these in an effort to improve the quality. If students can read texts (8th grade or higher) orally at about 150 words correct per minute, I wouldn’t bother with this kind of practice, and if they could not, I would provide about 30 minutes of it each school day.

As powerful as oral reading is at stimulating student reading ability, we can’t ignore the fact that most reading that we engage in will be silent, and students need to practice this as well. I would strongly encourage teachers to have students read those texts silently that they are to write about or that are going to be the focus of group or class discussion. When I assign such reading in classrooms, kids often tell me that I’m doing it wrong (because their teachers have them read the texts round robin). Teachers do this to make sure kids read it and to monitor their reading. By doing the fluency work noted above, I do away with the need to monitor their fluency progress (I’m already doing that), and teachers can make sure students read from the discussions and writing that ensues. I would usually have students reading their literature selection and their social studies or science chapters silently. If students struggle with this, divide the assignments into shorter chunks (even 1 page at a time), and then stretch this out over time. I would suggest that students should be engaging in as much silent reading as oral reading in these grades (and if students are fully fluent as described above, then the silent reading should be almost 100% of what students read).

I would argue not only for minutes to be dedicated to fluency practice, but for another 30-45 minutes to focus on reading comprehension daily—and a lot of this time would entail silent reading. However, silent reading is also going to come up during science, social studies, and other subjects and this counts, too. Thus, having students spend as much as 15 minutes reading aloud (paired reading for 30 minutes would allow each student 15 minutes of such practice), and having students read for 20-30 minutes of a 45 minute comprehension lesson and reading another 10-20 minutes a day in other subjects would give kids a substantial amount of oral and silent reading practice.

Even in the silent reading context, there should be at least some oral reading. Most prominently: students should read aloud during discussions to provide evidence supporting their claims or refuting someone else’s.

It is a good idea to encourage kids to read on their own, but this has such a small impact on student learning that I would make such opportunities available in ways that would not appreciably reduce the instructional doses suggested above. Getting kids to read on their own beyond the school day, while providing them with the heavy involvement in reading across their school day will be the most powerful combination for getting students to high performance levels.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Too Fluent by Half

I am a Reading Specialist at a parochial school.  I wonder if you can give me some advice regarding one of my 4th grade students. She reads very fluently, however, her comprehension is poor.  We have worked extensively on vocabulary and visualization skills.  Can you make any recommendations?

Let’s assume your description of the student is correct (that is not always the case: sometimes teachers tell me that a student is fluent, but what they mean is that the student reads the words accurately, though often too slowly and without it proper prosody or expression).

If she is a fluent reader, but not understanding the text anyway, then try something I call intensive questioning. Have her read the first sentence of a text… and before allowing her to read any more, ask her a ton of questions;

Sentence 1: “We got back from the grocery store and found the house a mess.”

1.       Where were they?
2.       What do you think they were doing?
3.       Then what happened?
4.       What did they find?
5.       Do you think they were surprised? Why?
6.       Where were they first? And, then where were they?

Then she reads a second sentence.

Sentence 2: “I had neglected to close the bathroom door again, and our Saint Bernard, Bernie, had left chewed toilet paper all over the house.”

1.       Who had caused the mess?
2.       What allowed him to cause the mess?
3.       What did he make the mess with?
4.       How did he get the paper?
5.       What kind of paper was it?
6.       What was the Saint Bernard’s name?
7.       What kind of a dog was Bernie?
8.       What did Bernie do to the toilet paper?
9.       What was the person who is telling this doing while Bernie was making the mess?

Etc. As she gets better with that, start stretching her out to read  longer segments, but still with this thoroughness of attention to meaning. (You can also turn this around getting her to generate the questions about the sentences—then trying to answer her own questions). The idea is to keep her so focused on the meaning that you break the habit of simply calling the words.

Stay with silent reading with her too, not oral (except to show evidence)… and don’t have her spending any time at all practicing fluency. But for interactive sessions, limit the amount of text (1 sentence initially) and keep the emphasis as much on recalling and interpreting the ideas as you can. I would also encourage writing, but again, with a heavy emphasis on the content that she is writing about.

Good luck.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reading Aloud in the High School?

Recently, I came across some interesting stuff in Jay Mathews’s “Class Struggle” column in the Washington Post."

Mr. Mathews explains that he noticed oral reading taking place during a high school classroom observation and he wondered whether this was a waste of time or a good idea. Various teachers chimed in, on both sides, with valuable insights. The column is worth a read—in fact, it would make a great kickoff to teacher discussions.

I’ve been in the field of reading education for a long time (I started tutoring inner city kids in reading 40 years ago). For that entire time, the professoriate has been anti-oral reading (or “round robin reading” as it is usually pejoratively referred to). Why not oral reading? A lot of the complaints about it seem to be personal, based on childhood memories; these complaints focus on how nervous it made them, or how they only focused on their part and ignored the text.

However, some of the criticism has been based on research. When I first started, the claim was that listening to a poor reader and trying to follow along in text was disruptive to the reading of the better readers. This important finding was based on a single study of about 6 kids doing a single reading. Not very convincing evidence. Later, another study was done that found kids answered questions better when the reading lesson focused on the text meaning rather than on oral reading practice. But, again, one study, one small group, one lesson.

Despite expert complaints about the practice of oral reading, teachers have persisted. Every large scale observational or survey study of teaching finds it to be a common teaching practice. Of course, the professors were upset when Jane Stallings and her colleagues found amount of oral reading practice in class to be related to learning gains in reading—even in high school.

The mindless each kid take a brief turn kind of oral reading is a bad idea, but not for the reasons given. Kids can learn a lot from oral reading practice, but some practices are just inefficient or poorly tuned. Tim Rasinski has shown the large numbers of disfluent high school students; paired reading, echo reading, and similar practices have been found to improve fluency—which in turn improves comprehension.

Many of the teachers whose opinions were recorded by Mathews focus on more direct comprehension benefits, such as when the oral reading targets particularly complex aspects of the text—so the teacher can guide student translation (which makes a lot of sense, but which I don’t see much of when I visit schools). And, I always remember Eudora Welty talking about how important oral reading is to writers (I concur with this, and truth be told, I engage in quite a bit of oral reading myself—some material is just meant to be read aloud).

No, don’t just have students taking turns reading paragraphs through your chapter; that’s a real time waster. But the practices noted above are well worth it, if your concern is student learning.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Useful Information on Adolescent Literacy

Hi everyone,

I just got back from the big Reading Summit in Indiana. The governor and state schools superintendent, Tony Bennett (no, not that Tony Bennett) have noticed that the nation has been improving in literacy, but Indiana has not (fourth graders in Indiana are reading no better than they were in the early 1990s, while American fourth graders have been on the improve; older US kids haven’t done any better, so the lack of progress among the Hoosiers is more understandable, though certainly not acceptable).

The Indiana Department of Education brought in a group of speakers to help kick off their efforts, and I was proud to be there. I spoke about adolescent reading and the talk was well received. As promised to the audience, I have attached a copy of the Power point slides here. Reid Lyon gave a rousing opening, and before I headed back home I got to hear Mel Riddle, an amazing principal who has successfully led efforts to improve reading in an urban high school. He sure knows how to get the job done. Mel also serves on the Carnegie Adolescent Literacy Commission and is one of the authors of their new report, Time to Act, which is a fine piece of work and one that I think you might find useful.

After my talk, during a Q & A session I was stumped; I couldn’t remember the name of a silent reading fluency test for older kids, so I promised to place that info here: the Test of Silent Contextual Reading Fluency (Pro-Ed). I’m not a big fan of group fluency tests, but sometimes it is the only way to go. I would say, however, that even in middle and high school, teachers can evaluate fluency while teaching fluency. If that is done regularly, the fluency level estimates can be every bit as good as what any standard test might provide.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do I Teach Fluency to English Language Learners?

I got a question yesterday: Does it really make sense to teach oral reading fluency to English learners or would it be better to have them working on oral language proficiency in English?

Oral reading fluency, which includes accuracy, speed, and expression is an important (skill or collection of skills) because instruction in oral reading fluency improves reading comprehension. As such, it is an important factor in reading. (Because it is an amalgamation of skills, activities such as repeated reading can improve several of them: including automaticity in word recognition and prosody--using the sound to show the meaningful relations among the words).

However, the relationship between fluency and comprehension changes a bit with second-language learners, and our educational practices have to change accordingly. Most important in this regard is that fluency instruction has been found to have a positive impact on the reading of English learners, however the effect size of this impact tends to be smaller (meaning that such teaching helps English learners, but not as much as it does native speakers). This doesn’t mean that I would not teach fluency to English learners, only that I would alter my criteria for success and I wouild teach it somewhat less and a little bit differently.

Certainly, fluency should not just be reduced to rate and accuracy (as is done in far too many classrooms), some consideration to the expression (especially as children get into the intermediate grades) is needed. ELLs should not spend inordinate amounts of time in discrete skills programs (but some instruction in discrete skills can be beneficial to these students). It is critical that the whole program be considered in such placements: most of their time these students should be in rich language settings with explicit English language instruction.

In assessing fluency, common ELL miscues that do not affect comprehension should not be counted (or these words should be counted as correct). Don't expect children from Mexico to pronounce words like children from Dubuque. No decisions on these children should just be made solely on the basis of a reading rate measure (consideration of comprehension is an important indicator and would help me decide what to do with the child). Oral language proficiency is especially important with English learners, so I definitely would not ignore that in terms of assessment or instruction.

A small amount of targeted skill instruction in decoding and/or fluency is not problematic with second language learners if they are struggling with those things (in fact, such teaching can be beneficial), but it is easy to mistake language differences for weaknesses in these basic skills, so care is needed. Also, if too much time is spent on such instruction, oral language proficiency will not be attained and the student will eventually struggle no matter how well he or she does on the basic skills.

NICHD supported a lot of research that identified young children with serious decoding deficiencies. They entered them into programs that successfully taught them to decode (though it took a long time and a lot of hard work). However, once these kids could decode they still underperformed their classmates in reading... their basic skills had improved, but they lacked the language and knowledge to take advantage of those now-proficient decoding skills.

The problem is that fluency or decoding are NECESSARY, but NOT SUFFICIENT skills. Without them, you won't be able to read with comprehension. With only these skills, you are also going to be unable to read with comprehension. The pendulum swings back and forth between too much skills work and too little skills work. We need to keep it in mind that kids need fluency and comprehension.

With second language kids, I would have them do something meaningful at the end of every fluency reading (like answering a question). I would spend extra time on the vocabulary of the passage as well (making sure they understood the word meanings); more than I would do if they came to the reading in English. I would ignore dialect pronunciations. I would give them every opportunity to ask questions about what they are reading. I would avoid have them read meaningless stuff, like "decodable text," as I would not want to get them used to the idea that reading doesn't make sense. I would do all of that, but I would also teach them to be fluent. It's a balancing act.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Irish Literacy and Some New Audio Resources

What a great week... I just got back from a very pleasing visit to Dublin, Ireland. My Irish friends invited me over to see if I could provide any help to their wonderful "youngballymun" project. Ballymun is an area of Dublin that is economically challenged. Ireland has one of the world's best education systems and among the highest literacy levels, but everything isn't what it should be in Ballymun.

As in major cities all over the U.S., the kids who live in economically-challenged neighborhoods (with the worst housing, the most serious health problems including drug abuse, etc.) do worst in school. Some Irish areas manage remarkably to avoid this unfortunate pattern, but not Ballymun.

Consequently, Atlantic Philanthropies has teamed up with the Irish government to provide support to make things go better in such neighborhoods. The team in Ballymun is working closely with the schools to get improvements there, but they are also expanding preschool, afterschool, and health care opportunities, and doing everything they can to try to make it possible for more kids to do well in this changing neighborhood.

The current environment there reminds me of Chicago when they were tearing down the Robert Taylor homes--the high rise public housing projects that didn't work well for the residents in Chicago. Right now in Ballymun the ever-changing landscape is punctuated by abandoned high rises, piles of rubble from the demolition, and hopeful new housing. But while changing the physical environment is a good idea, that alone will not likely lead to improved achievement without real changes in these children's educational lives.

That was why they brought me over. I visited all the schools, attended a plethora of meetings, shared my framework with everybody who would listen, and kept up the mantra that it is the children's experience that matters: amount of teaching, curriculum focus, and quality of delivery are what improve literacy--everything else is just commentary. I look forward to continuing to work with this vibrant and commited group, and will keep you posted on their progress. For more on the youngballymun project go to

Also, while I was away Just Read, Florida has posted some professional development materials that you might be interested in. They conducted an interview with me about oral language development, decoding and fluency, explicit comprehension instruction, vocabulary development for older students, writing, and ELL. You can listen to the interview or download the transcript at:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Demolishing a Straw Man: Should We Teach Fluency?

What’s the relationship between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension? Does fluency instruction automatically lead to comprehension? Are reading comprehension and fluency independent processes? Reasonable questions like those abound about this aspect of learning to read. However, if you are seeking answers to such questions in the recent article on fluency and reading comprehension that appears in The Reading Teacher (RT, March 2009, vol. 62 (6), pp. 512-521), don’t bother.

The problem is that the authors, M. D. Applegate, A. J. Applegate, and V. B. Modla, have made up a straw man (um, straw person) argument implying that someone out there supposes oral reading fluency alone is the necessary and sufficient condition for high-level reading comprehension. Their contention is that there is this (apparently stupid) group of teachers or scholars who believe that if kids can read text aloud quickly, accurately, and with proper expression, then they’ll comprehend anything no matter what their knowledge of vocabulary or the world or their other intellectual skills and predilections.

Surprise, surprise, the authors manage to show that oral reading fluency alone is insufficient to guarantee reading comprehension. This isn’t especially difficult to show, but this study is poorly reported so the findings aren’t particularly persuasive or informative.

One big problem with the data analysis: student selection is poorly executed, leading to some rather circular analysis (I got dizzy anyway). They only included students with a score of 16 or higher on their fluency rubric, but provided no information on the reliability or validity of this, and they didn’t indicate who administered the test and how inter-rater reliability was handled, nor did they provide any information about why 16 is a good level of fluency to select. Reliability and validity data for setting a specific cut score on a test are different than the reliability and validity of an overall test—this is particularly true in an instance like this where the authors tried to identify students with a narrow range of test performance. Why should we think that a 16 on this rubric is the level of fluency that students should attain?

On other tests, fluency criteria are usually set against some outcome measures—typically reading comprehension. Here’s where it gets circular: a level of fluency on a test is usually set to make it possible to determine if, for most kids, fluency will be sufficient to allow reading comprehension success. That fluency cut is never set at a point where 100% of the kids at that level comprehend well (test data are too messy for that). So the authors have set a cut score that does not match with all kids being able to comprehend, and then they set out to prove that not all kids who reach this cut score can comprehend.

The study divides students into three levels of comprehension but not in any clear way (and neither standard deviations nor standard errors of measurement for their tests are provided), so it is impossible to know how different these groups really are or whether other ways of dividing the data would help us to understand things any better. The study tries to analyze different question types, but without any discussion of the reliability or validity of these parts of the tests (you cannot simply divide up a test into parts and assume that the parts remain valid and reliable).

Not surprisingly, they found that students who were fluent could for the most part answer questions accurately about text if the answers to the questions had been explicitly stated in text (for 143 of the 171 kids tested). They even found that more than two-thirds of these fluent kids could do high level comprehension tasks such as interpretation and critical response, but that the rest struggled with these aspects of higher-order thinking despite their fluency.

In other words, for the most part, fluent readers were able to accomplish average levels of reading comprehension when the focus was on remembering or interpreting information in the text, but about 15% of these students had difficulty when asked to use the information in text to do other things. The accuracy of these figures is impossible to verify given the reporting flaws, but whether these numbers are accurate or not the authors are correct: fluency alone will not guarantee comprehension.

The highest correlation I’ve seen between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension is about .85 (which is very high), but the correlations vary a bit and probably average a bit lower than that. But even a correlation that high only indicates that oral reading fluency predicts about 72% of the variance in reading comprehension scores. In the simplest theory possible, the one that claims that oral reading fluency simply and directly causes reading comprehension, that still leaves more than a quarter of the variation in reading comprehension performance to other variables. The imperfect correlation of fluency and comprehension alone tells me that some fluent readers will not comprehend very well—and that some disfluent ones will manage to understand text anyway. The high correlation on the other hand (especially from experimental studies in which children’s fluency is improved through some kind of intervention that leads to improved reading comprehension) indicates the importance of teaching fluency.

The National Reading Panel reviewed the experimental studies on fluency instruction and found that, in 15 of 16 studies, fluency instruction led to improved reading comprehension. The one study that did not find comprehension gains from fluency instruction is the one that proves that fluency alone does not guarantee comprehension improvement. The other 15 studies are the ones that suggest it would be wise to make sure that kids are fluent.

While teachers should know fluency instruction alone will not guarantee comprehension gains (nor will instruction in any other aspect of reading), these authors might want to spend some time in middle schools and high schools in cities like Cleveland and Chicago where large numbers and percentages of students lack the fluency levels commensurate with being able to get an author’s message or to do text level interpretation of text successfully. Teach fluency, but by all means, don’t just teach fluency.