Fluency--Not Hurrying

  • afterschool programs
  • 24 December, 2007

         Oral reading fluency has become a hot topic in the past few years. Of all aspects of reading, it still may be the most neglected, but we seem to be doing somewhat better in providing fluency instruction than we were when the National Reading Report concluded that fluency instruction improved reading achievement. That surprised many people; the idea that practicing oral reading could do more than improve the oral reading seemed strange. Usually we get better at what we practice: so, it would make sense to have kids doing a lot of silent reading rather than oral reading, since we want them to get good at silent reading.

            But the research is pretty clear that oral reading practice, when done appropriately, not only makes kids sound better, but comprehend better, too—including on silent reading tests. One reason that oral reading can do more for silent reading than silent reading, is that often when students are asked to read silently, they may not even be reading, or their reading might be flawed and labored but who would know it if it was done silently? Oral reading makes reading more physical and less mental, so it is easier to keep on task and to notice miscues and deal with them.

          Of course, if we are going to teach oral reading (in order to make kids better comprehenders) it is reasonable to monitor their progress. That’s where oral reading tests, like DIBELS come in. Teachers can listen to kids read, and get a pretty good idea of their progress and pick out who may need more help. Sadly, I’m starting to see teachers doing silly things like asking kids to read as fast as they can so that they can get good DIBELS scores. The problem with that is that kids are supposed to read faster as a result of becoming more skilled at decoding and interpreting text, not because they are hurrying. I have no doubt that fluency instruction can have a powerful impact on reading comprehension. I also have no doubt that hurrying kids through texts is bad idea that won’t lead to that kind of learning. By all means use DIBELS (and DIBELS-like) oral reading tests. But make sure they are tests of reading--rather than hurrying.


See what others have to say about this topic.

April M. Apr 06, 2018 03:24 AM

I agree with your argument that fluency is not reading in a hurry. Fluency is reading at a pace that allows the students to comprehend what they are reading. I also agree that it is better to have students read orally, rather than always reading silently. Students should be taught strategies for how to read fluently and should be given practice reading aloud, so the teacher can monitor how they are progressing. Some ways I do this, as a reading resource teacher, is modeling good reading. This involves having my students listen to others reading aloud, which may include myself, or an audio recording. What I have done in the past, was give two examples, one of someone reading really fast, and the other reading at a good pace for comprehension. Then, I ask my students which one was easier to understand and learn from. When students are reading to themselves, they are essentially listening to themselves read. Shouldn’t their reading mimic that of the read aloud that was easier to understand? Yes. Once my students choose which read aloud was easier to understand, I then have them list reasons why. This helps them understand what they need to do. Then I model reading and have them practice through things such as: choral reading, repeated reading, reading with a partner, and round robin reading. These strategies give them an opportunity to practice, while allowing me to track their progress. I teach my students that they should read to comprehend. If they are reading too fast, they are not comprehending what they are reading. When my students read with a partner, their partner is supposed to be monitoring their fluency. This helps both students because the one monitoring has to know what to look for, and the one reading has to know how to read fluently. It also gives good practice. I also teach my students to read texts, or part of texts, more than once if they need to, to ensure they understand what they are reading. I have them read aloud to a partner 1 or 2 times, and to themselves, if they wish, then they read aloud to the class. My students notice they read more fluently once they are more familiar with the passage. I have many students that have difficulty reading fluently due to the amount of time spent on decoding, but this strategy works well for them. The first time they read, they pick out the words they do not know or have to decode, the second time, it takes them less time to decode, and they are more familiar with the words. By the time they read the text out loud, they have worked out all the “kinks” and can read fluently for understanding. Although this strategy does not bode well for good scores on a fluency assessment such as DIBELS or GRASP, but it does give them a strategy they can use when silent reading. Having students ask themselves questions as they read monitors their comprehension, which lets them know if they are reading fluently enough to understand, but not so fast that they are not retaining the information.

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Fluency--Not Hurrying


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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