According to the National Institute for Literacy, the most important skills to support literacy include decoding, morphology, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each of these skills build upon and work with one other to help students understand and apply the knowledge of every subject they’re learning.
When developing fluent readers, an individual must already have phonemic and phonic awareness (decoding) as well as understand the prefixes, suffixes, roots, and stems (morphology) of the words he or she is reading.
What is Fluency?
Fluency is the ability to read quickly, accurately, and with the correct expression. To be fluent, one must understand what they’re reading, as well as apply appropriate intonation.
Fluency has three main components: accuracy, rate, and prosody. Accuracy is how automatically and correctly students can read and identify the words they’re seeing. Rate is the speed at which readers read, which will vary for age and grade level. Prosody, or intonation, is the emphasis we give certain words (via pitch, stress, and timing) to convey meaning.
When readers lack fluency, they struggle with unfamiliar words, read slower, and read in phrases or chunks without portraying punctuation changes.
Why is Fluency so Important to Student Achievement?
Over 30 years of research shows how fluency is one of the critical building blocks of reading, because fluency development is directly related to comprehension. When a student is able to read fluently, the more likely they are to have stronger reading comprehension skills. Plus, the less effort it takes to read, the more enjoyable it can be.
Research analyzed by the National Reading Panel suggests that just encouraging students to read independently isn’t the most effective way to improve reading achievement, and students at a lower fluency level may end up reading far less, or not reading at all.
Whether you’re improving reading fluency in school or trying to boost reading fluency at home, there are several research-based reading fluency strategies and interventions teachers and parents can use.
5 Strategies to Improve Students’ Reading Fluency:
1. One-on-One Time
Though it can be challenging to find the time, especially with new hybrid or all virtual classrooms, working with each student to determine their needs is incredibly important and helpful. When you make dedicated class time for fluency, set aside specific time to work with each student one-on-one. Some students may need only a check in, and others will need more extensive guidance, so it’s important to plan accordingly depending on ability, and will also save you time.
2. Peer-partnered Reading
Pair students to try guided oral reading together. One option is pairing a more fluent reader with a less fluent reader, so the more fluent reader can provide feedback and an example for the less fluent reader. You can also pair readers of the same fluency level, which will allow advanced student pairs to try more challenging texts. In this case, it would be important to model the text for struggling pairs, or provide them with recordings so they can follow along as they work through the text.
3. Group Guided Oral Reading
Guided oral reading is reading aloud with an instructor or other guide, and is considered one of the best methods of teaching fluency in reading, according to a study done by the U.S. National Institute for Literacy.
When limited to an hour or less of instructional time, it can be difficult to provide one-on-one training, so teachers may target a small group of struggling readers and work with them one-on-one, while the other students are peer partnered or in small groups where they can help one another. In groups, it’s helpful to provide taped readings for the students to listen to first, and to guide them if they reach any challenging points during the text.
4. Reading Fluency Games
Reading fluency games can be a fun way to incorporate fluency instruction into the classroom or at home. A great game option is “Readers’ Theater,” a motivational reading strategy that supports authentic reading and creates multiple levels of understanding of the text. Students rehearse (and perform) a play or scene; this requires repeated readings, conveying meaning, sight vocabulary, and peer interaction.
By transforming reading into a creative game or activity, readers find themselves improving their fluency without even realizing it!
5. Repeated Readings for Growing Fluency
Repeated readings are an excellent way to help students recognize high-frequency words easily and quickly, which will strengthen their ease of reading. Having students practice reading by rereading short passages aloud is considered one of the best ways to promote fluency because students are actively engaged and reading as one.
Watch Your Students Improve Their Reading Fluency
Students who read and reread text aloud with an instructor, peers, or parents will become better readers and learners. Note, fluency doesn’t mean readers can read everything perfectly; it changes depending on the level of the text, the familiarity of it for the reader, and the amount of practice, so it will adjust over time.
Helping students and learners improve their reading fluency will continuously improve their literacy levels—and just as importantly, their enjoyment of reading.