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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.

 

Looking Beyond Our Borders

Looking Beyond Our Borders

English is unique not only in it’s complexity, but also in the lack of a commonly adopted system to make it easier to learn. That is not the norm in many other countries.

For example, every single student of Chinese and Japanese learns a phonetic alphabet in the first grade. It takes only a few weeks to learn, and the system is the foundation for teaching literacy in those countries. Every child learns to read by sounding out these symbols. No complex phonics rules and virtually no exceptions. Kids simply teach themselves the words they need to know to read. As they develop fluency, the “aids” are removed, and children become sight readers naturally.

In Hebrew, there is a simple system used to teach kids to read.

The black portion of the characters above is what an adult would read or write. The red and green marks are only added when reading is taught to children. As with English, Hebrew doesn’t include enough information in its standard written form for a child to read without error. So, two thousand years ago, they added “tips” to make things easier. This works wonders.

 

A Simple System Is Needed.

Take a group of kids who speak English as their primary language and teach them to read in Hebrew. By the end of 1st Grade, they read better in Hebrew than they will read in English 4 years later. When a written language is easy to pronounce, kids learn to read with ease.

 

Put all of this together and the message is extremely clear:

  • English is so hard to learn that only half of our kids become proficient. 
  • English is hard because our spelling is “complex” and irregular. 
  • Most “complex” languages have some kind of “tips” that teach kids to read.
  • Kids easily remove these systems as they achieve mastery of the language. 

 

So we know, from lots and lots of research, that a system that makes it easy to read English will make it easier for kids to read. Kids will read faster and with more joy. 

 

That’s why we invented TIPS™!  Check out  ReadingWorld  for starters!

How to Avoid COVID Learning Loss?

COVID LEARNING LOSS – THE 2020 SUMMER SLIDE

Every year, “the big summer slide” holds back the educational progress of millions of American kids.But this year, if we don’t act to avoid a massive COVID Learning Loss, the education gap between high and low-income kids will widen to historic levels. This year, Covid Learning Loss is a real thing, and it’s huge.

Studies show that TWO-THIRDS of the reading level gap in 9th graders can be attributed to the fact that many of them read way less over the summer, and lose proficiency. But it is not just 9th graders. Because kids who aren’t reading at or above grade level by 4th grade rarely catch up. And here we are in May, already starting the slide. No end in sight.

With most schools unlikely to reopen until fall, kids will have lost a lot, even the ones lucky enough to still be going to school via video conferencing. Kids from lower-income families generally fall even further behind. So the “Summer Slide” has come early for millions of American kids this year, and no, that doesn’t mean the slide at the playground or the slip n’ slide in the backyard. It means sliding back from the progress achieved during the school year, and nowhere does this have a more pronounced effect than in reading. And this year, the effect will be felt like never before.

So what can you do, as a parent? How can you avoid COVID Learning Loss?

TOP 2 RULES TO STOP COVID LEARNING LOSS

Rule #1: Read. Read, read, read with your kids. They watch what you do, they want to imitate. You read, they will read. We are all bored, and looking for things to occupy our Stay Safe-Stay Home time. Most parents are trying to structure time during the day for their kids to maintain their own sanity, so make sure that part of that day has at least two 20 minute sessions devoted to reading, longer if possible. And let them stay up ½ hour later … in their bed … but only if they read. Even kids who can’t read will look at picture books, or their favorite books, and pretend to read.

Rule #2: Read. Read, read, read with your kids. Repeat Rule #1!

But even with all of this reading, the reality for most kids now is that the day is less structured and includes less educational content than it did before. That means, we need to find a way to teach our kids that is actually easier. Easier for parents to deliver, but also easier for kids to learn.

WHAT SHOULD YOUR KIDS READ?

To avoid COVID Learning Loss, put your kids in the driver seat (of reading). I had one 5 year old who loved to read chapter books. I had another 5 year old who early on didn’t like reading books at all. But he loved reading encyclopedias about animals, or space, or sports… anything that was only a few sentences long. Both were, and still are, voracious readers, of anything they can get their hands on. So let your kids choose what they read because they are more likely to read what they are interested in. It’s about language early on, not literature. They are discovering how a writer can manipulate words to create feelings, portray mental images, and tell a tale as well as learn stuff.

If your children are too young to read on their own or are just learning to read, the key is to read to them. Let them pick the book, and don’t be surprised if they pick the same books over and over. They love the sounds the words make (don’t you love Pout Pout Fish?) or they go wild over the pictures (anything by Maurice Sendak). They have a fine time with rhyme … you can never go wrong with Dr. Seuss! Point to the words, so they get the idea that a group of letters blends together to make a sound called a word. Soon they will start to recognize those words, especially the fun ones like BAM! and WHOOSH! and GLUG! and THWACK!

A HOUSE WITHOUT BOOKS IS LIKE SOUP WITHOUT SALT

Here’s a hard fact. Households without books produce the majority of the kids who cannot read at or above grade level. But books cost money and are a luxury item to many people. Libraries are helpful to bridge the gap, but right now the libraries are closed, and there is even less money to spend on “luxuries”.

But you have a smartphone. We often hand our kids the phone to keep them occupied at some point, to keep them entertained (and perhaps quiet during an important conference call). How can we make the best possible use of that technology? How can we turn that moment into a mechanism that delivers something that will help them succeed in life? ReadingWorld (available here in beta) is a fun activity to do with your children. And it’s something they can absolutely do on their own (after a few plays). Full of games, and revolutionary way to teach phonemic awareness and reading, ReadingWorld will help them learn to read super fast, and put them on the path to success. There are a lot of other programs to download also, on a wide variety of subjects. Take advantage of them.

KEEP YOUR KIDS SAFE, HEALTHWISE AND READING WISE

Parenting at any time is tough. Right now it is extraordinarily difficult. As caregivers to our children, we have an even greater obligation to see that not only do we keep them safe by keeping them healthy, but that we keep them safe from falling behind in their reading ability. This is the single most important factor in a child’s success … the ability to read above grade level proficiency. It’s ok to use your phone to help you get through this. And by the way, there are lots of free books for you to read too!

So let’s stop the Covid Learning Slide, and every Summer Slide from here on forward! READ, READ, READ. About happy things. Fun things. Interesting things. Any things. And while you are reading with your kids, don’t forget to snuggle.

Stay Safe. Stay Home.

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