Here is an FAQ on teaching oral reading fluency.
Do all students need work with fluency?
No, not all students need work with fluency, but most elementary students do. Some students are so good with fluency that they apparently can read almost any book so well that it sounds like they can understand it. As a population of students goes through school, an increasingly large proportion of them will be fluent at the highest levels. This means that fewer students will need fluency work as time goes on.
Our students are getting low scores in reading comprehension. Why aren’t we focusing on that instead of fluency?
Low comprehension scores can mean many things. They might mean that your students have poor knowledge of word meanings or that their fluency is limited, or that they lack strategies for making sense of a text. We need to address all areas of reading progress; fluency is just one of them.
How much fluency teaching are we expected to provide?
Schools should provide students with up to 30 minutes a day of fluency instruction or more if more than 2 hours of reading instruction is provided. But remember, this is across all classes. If every class did 10 minutes of fluency work once or twice each week, that would be sufficient.
What do you mean “up to 30 minutes a day?”
If a student is fluent with the course materials and the teacher checks on this regularly, then there is nothing more to do with fluency. However, if a student is not fluent, then the school should find ways to provide 30 minutes per day of this kind of instruction. That could mean that some students do very little direct work with fluency, while others spend a full quarter time of the framework on fluency.
How do I keep from embarrassing my low readers?
Fluency work is a practice activity, not much different from Michael Jordan shooting free throws to get ready for the big game. Practice usually isn’t embarrassing, as long as everyone sees it as practice. Most students enjoy fluency work as it is involving and they can see their own improvement. Don’t do much round robin reading, where one student reads and everyone else follows along; paired situations are much better as long as they don’t single anyone out. Talk to the class at the very beginning to make sure that they understand the purpose of this practice, and what to expect.
How do I pair the kids?
Don’t make a big deal out of pairing up, as this can be a real time waster. One rule is to make sure that the students who are working together on a given day are using the same book. That’s easy in most classrooms. A second rule is not to pair up the same kids all the time; they differ in their ability to give feedback, so share the wealth.
What kind of texts should we use for fluency?
Many teachers like to select special texts for this work, such as poetry. However, we really want students to become fluent with prose, so practice with prose materials is essential. Any material that you are using in class for reading comprehension or in a content subject such as social studies or science are ideal.
I've been told the texts should be easy for kids to read?
Actually, research says the opposite. In repeated oral reading activities, it is more productive to work with texts that are challenging--even frustration level. It takes more rereading, of course, but kids learn more from such practice.
Doesn’t silent reading improve fluency?
Of course, silent reading can help fluency. Kids who read a lot will usually be pretty fluent. Unfortunately, teachers can only be sure if their students are fluent if they listen to them read. Paired reading becomes a great opportunity for this. Silent reading only works when the students are actually reading, and not just looking at pictures or turning pages.
How do I know that fluency activities such as paired reading or chunking actually work?
Nothing works automatically, you have to make them work. However, research indicates that the various techniques that are being recommended have worked successfully in other schools with students at a variety of age levels. Over time, fluency ability transfers to other texts.
I work with very young children. Do you recommend fluency work for them?
When children are first getting started with real reading, you actually want them to be somewhat disfluent. That is, you want the reading to go slowly enough that each word stands out on its own. Fingerpoint reading is the starting point. However, once students begin to read, the fluency goal is the same as with older children.
When you observe in classes, what are the biggest problems that you see with fluency instruction?
The biggest problem is teachers often fail to teach fluency at all, and students fall further and further behind as the texts get harder. Another problem is the reliance on round robin reading, which is a real time waster compared with paired reading. Finally, even when teachers do have students work on fluency, there often is little or no repetition, so the students do not necessarily become fluent (they just read the material aloud and then move on).
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