Fluency means having the ability to read and write effortlessly and efficiently. Being a fluent reader and writer is a developmental milestone that all students will reach, most during 2nd or 3rd grade. The Common Core Standards have students being fluent readers by 4th grade.
To be a fluent reader, students need to be able to recognize most words automatically and be able to identify the words they don’t know easily. A fluent reader reads quickly, accurately, and uses expression. Reading fluency involves these three components:
- Automaticity: The ability to recognize familiar words automatically without even thinking about it and can identify unknown words quickly.
- Speed: Fluent readers can read about 100 words per minute. Most students can reach this speed by 3rd grade with this rate increasing every year. By 8th grade students should be reading about 150 words per minute and adults should read about 250 per minute.
- Prosody: Reading sentences with expression with appropriate phrasing. Beginning readers read word by word and don’t recognize different punctuation at the end of a sentence, but as they become more fluent readers they are able to do this.
Teachers teach high-frequency words to help students start to recognize words automatically, these words are usually posted on word walls so students can look at them as needed. Students start to learn the 100 highest frequency words in 1st grade and learn 300 of the highest frequency words by 4th grade. High-frequency words typically consist of words that are hard to decode like to, what, and could. Also, some of these words don’t have much meaning to students such as what because students can’t visualize what this looks like and use picture clues to figure it out.
There are four strategies that students use to decode unfamiliar words:
- Phonic Analysis: Students use phonics to decode words. Even though all words don’t follow phonic rules, they have some part of them that do.
- Decoding by Analogy: Students us phonograms (similar ending sounds in words) to identify unknown words.
- Syllabic Analysis: Students break words up into separate syllables and then use what they know about phonics to figure out the unknown word.
- Morphemic Analysis: Students use root words and knowledge of prefixes and suffixes to read unknown words.
Assessing Reading Fluency
Teachers listen to students as they read daily and fully assess their reading and progress from the beginning of the year to the end of each month or quarter. Teachers collect data on the students’ accuracy, speed, and prosody. Teachers check to see if students know high-frequency words and how they use decoding strategies.
Writing fluency also focuses on three components:
- Automaticity: Can write most words automatically and accurately. Students should know how to write high-frequency words as well as strategies to write unknown words.
- Speed: Should be able to write quick enough to keep up with their thinking. Students need to write 10 words per minute to be considered fluent writers. However, students should be more concerned about others being able to read what they write than how fast they are writing.
- Writer’s Voice: Students should have their own unique voices when writing. This shows the tone or emotion behind the writing. The writer’s voice is created by the words that are chosen and how they are put together.
Dysfluent Readers and Writers
About 10-15% of students are not fluent readers and writers by 4th grade. A dysfluent reader and writer is a student who is not fluent in reading and writing by 4th grade.
Obstacles to Fluency
Teachers need to help students who are struggling to become fluent readers and writers by using effective intervention:
- Providing explicit instruction on diagnosed fluency problems
- Increasing the time for students to read books at their independent level
- Modeling fluent reading and writing
- Clarifying the connections between reading fluency and comprehension and between writing fluency and effective compositions
- Increasing opportunities for writing
Here are some obstacles that students might face and ways to help them:
Obstacle 1: Lack of Automaticity
- Locate examples of the words in books they are reading
- Practice reading flash cards with words to a partner
- Play games using words
- Write the words and sentences they compose with them on whiteboards
- Spell words with letter cards or magnet letters
- Write the words during interactive writing activities
Obstacle 2: Unfamiliarity with Word-Identification Strategies
Teachers should include these things in intervention:
- Develop students’ background knowledge and introduce new vocabulary words before reading
- Teach word identification strategies
- Provide more time for reading and writing practice
Obstacle 3: Slow Reading Speed
The teacher should provide opportunities daily for reading so students can work on increasing their reading speed. Teachers can also provide students with opportunities to read aloud and time themselves to track their own progress and to see improvement. Students should read the same text 3-5 times so that the times are comparable because the reading is the same.
Obstacle 4: Slow Writing Speed
Again teachers should have students writing daily to help increase writing speed. Teachers can use quick writing where students choose a topic and write about it for 5-10 minutes. This is very informal but encourages students to write about something of their choice.
Obstacle 5: Lack of Prosody
Teachers can use modeling to show students what prosody sounds like. Students can also participate in choral reading or readers theatre to improve their prosody.
Obstacle 6: Voiceless Writing
By having students read and write a lot they will start to develop their voice. By reading or listening to stories together the teacher can point out things that the author does to create their voice.
All above information comes from:
Tompkins, G. E. (2017). Literacy for the 21st century: A balanced approach (7th ed.). Boston: Pearson
The main idea I got out of this chapter was giving students lots of opportunities for reading and writing. Hopefully by giving younger students these opportunities, they won’t have as many obstacles when they get older. I think it is also important to point things out as the teacher is reading aloud to the students such as the author’s voice or how the teacher isn’t reading too slowly or too quickly. Of course, I would have a word wall in my classroom with the high-frequency words that the students should know at their grade level and well as teaching more high-frequency words throughout the year.