09 Oct How to build reading fluency
Knowing how to build reading fluency for our students is an essential part of teaching reading.
Reading fluency is one of those skills that quite often gets misunderstood as being able to read quickly. It’s more complex than that. I’m going to talk you through what reading fluency is.
We tend to use time as an indicator of how fluently a child can read. But the time is actually used as a measure of how automatic the student’s reading is. Automaticity is the ability to rapidly and effortlessly perform a task. Being able to decode fluently and recognise words at sight allows the reader to gain meaning.
Fluency is really important to be able to have reading comprehension.
It’s very difficult to achieve reading comprehension if you are sounding out those words laboriously.
As skilled readers, we really don’t give much thought to what’s going on inside our brains when we’re reading, but those processes have to be taught explicitly.
There are lots of processes a brain must perform quickly in order to be able to read fluently. The person needs to be able to take the information from the page in through their visual system. From there, the sound properties that those letters represent are processed. This allows the reader to think of the word the letters make.
Then the meaning is processed. When we read a word, we access all the different meanings for that word. Finally, we process the language, taking in the context and the way sentences are arranged together.
There are a lot of things that the brain has to be able to do in order to be able to have reading fluency.
Fluency is often talked about as its own, distinct reading skill. I often see IEP targets like ‘build fluency’ and activities like ‘timed reading tasks’. But fluency is actually built up of all of many subskills and we need to make sure we’re teaching these.
In particular, accurate word decoding. Once the student has mastered the phonic code and they’ve got really accurate word decoding, they can start to blend more efficiently. This means they can read that word with fluency.
Mary-Anne Wolf talks a lot about needing to build fluency, not just in single word reading, but also in connected text.
For fluency in connected text, decodable readers can be helpful. These are readers that use only patterns already taught, so the reader can sound out each word.
Explicit teaching should always take place before we try to get students to speed up. We should never present them with whole words to memorise ‘by sight’. That skips vital steps in the process.
So be sure that you always teach first!
Flash cards are often used to build fluency and are a useful tool, but you can easily turn any game into a repetition activity.
For example, go fish, Connect Four etc. by asking the student to read a word before taking their turn.
Handwriting practice, gymnastics ribbons or small and large imaginary pencils also to build motor memory and provide repetition.
There are limitless ways for building in repetition and revision, and your students will love these activities!
Ensure you teach accuracy first using an explicit teaching model
Begin to build single word fluency using repetition and revision activities
Build fluency within connected text using decodable readers at the right level.