Understanding Reading Fluency
FLUENCY IN READING
WHAT IS IT?
Fluency in reading is a critical skill that is the goal of learning to read. Reading fluency is what motivates kids to read more, because it is enjoyable, not frustrating. It is what leads to reading to learn, after learning to read. The problem is that children who are not reading fluently by 3rd or 4th grade generally never do, and struggle the rest of the school years, and often the rest of their lives.
What is reading fluency? When we think of fluency, the first thing that comes to mind is learning a foreign language. How accurate are we? Can we communicate without hesitation? Can we communicate with expression? Can we understand not only the content, but the nuances of the conversation? what other people are saying If we can do all those things, we consider ourselves “fluent.”
Same is true for reading English. Can we decode accurately, that is, sound out a word to get its meaning? Can we decode automatically so we are not stumbling and making mistakes? Can we read smoothly, at an appropriate pace? Can we read with the expression and intonation that communicates the meaning of what we are reading? If we can do all that, when we read aloud, we are reading “fluently”. And this is the level we need to get our kids to, early on, so they can maximize their success in life. Accuracy, smooth speed, and expression.
STEPS TO READING FLUENCY
How does it happen? First, a child needs a firm foundation in the ability to decode words. Decoding has to become second nature. At first that means knowing the sounds the letters make, and sounding out the word. With practice, a vocabulary of sight words begins to accrue, and the “sounding out” form of decoding is limited to new words. At this point, a child can read with what is called “automaticity”, that is, they can read most of the words on the page, have some hesitation as they come across new words, but don’t necessarily understand the content of what they are reading, or how it relates to their world. It’s still just words strung together on a bumpy road.
The next step is a big leap. To gain fluency, readers need to be able to recognize words automatically, so they don’t need to decode except occasionally. They need to be able to know which words group together to form meaningful phrases. They need to read aloud smoothly and with expression. group words together to And it comes with practice, practice, practice, and then more practice.
Let your child read simple books, even if they are below what you consider her intellectual ability. Have older children read to their younger siblings … those toddler board books are great practice for the learning-to-be-fluent reader. Have your child read to you, books she is familiar with. Make sure she reads the words correctly. Have her stop if she stumbles, or guesses wrong, and sound out the word. See if you can identify problem sounds, and work on those.
Fluency in reading is what creates joy in reading, and that joy is what leads to reading to learn. The focus shifts from figuring out words to figuring out the meaning of what they are reading. And that opens up a world of possibilities.