A Close Look at Fluency

Reading Fluency- what it is and how to improve it.

Reading Fluency

My students this year are making tremendous growth in reading.  We’ve practiced reading comprehension strategies whole group, small group, and during silent independent reading.  We’ve been talking about finding textual evidence to support our answers.  I’ve been pleased with their overall progress.  However, many of them are still struggling immensely with their reading fluency.  I’m also certain that their fluency is a big part of their reading comprehension struggles.  I’ve read quite a bit about fluency over the last few years, have heard Dr. Tim Rasinski speak quite a few times, and even had him give me feedback on something I created (more on that later).  I’ve always believed fluency is an important, and often overlooked, area of reading, and it’s something I’ve had as a focus in my intervention groups as well as having a fluency bin as a station in my general ed classroom.  You can read more about my fluency bin by clicking on the image below.

Build students' fluency with fluency bins for independent practice.

It’s my third year using a fluency bin and I still think it’s a fantastic center to have; but, at least this year, it’s not enough.  In order to take a new focus on fluency after we return from break, I wanted to put together a new plan to kick things up a notch.

I found my copy of The Fluent Reader by Tim Rasinski and reread it to help me design my new classroom plan {I have the 1st edition so things may be slightly different than the new version}.  I knew I already had many resources that we’ve been using, as well as resources available to me to help me get started as soon as we get back from break.  If you haven’t read the book before, maybe consider buying it and then following along with my posts to do a book study of sorts.

According to Dr. Rasinski, and he’s probably the most well known researcher surrounding reading fluency, fluency increases with oral reading.  Dr. Rasinski urges teachers to give students opportunities to continue to read orally, though discourages round robin reading.  Oral reading builds vocabulary, increases confidence, fosters fluency and strengthens decoding skills.  Dr. Rasinski suggests that students use whisperphones to hear themselves orally read.  You can also make whisperphones yourself using cheap PVC pieces from the local hardware store.  You can find out the pieces I used in this post.

I already knew that fluency and comprehension have a close interrelationship but the text reaffirmed it for me.  According to Dr. Rasinski,

“A 1995 (Pinnell, et al.) study sponsored by the United States Department of Education demonstrated the degree of association between oral reading fluency and silent reading comprehension.  In the study, over a thousand fourth graders were asked to read a passage aloud….The same fourth graders were then given a test that measured their comprehension of a set of passages that they read silently.  The fourth graders who were the most fluent readers were also the best comprehenders.  Morever, every decline in oral reading fluency was marked by a corresponding decline in silent reading comprehension.  The students who read orally best also scored best in silent reading comprehension.  And those students who struggled most with oral reading, even though they read with a high level of accuracy, also had the most difficulty in reading comprehension.”

Quite a few years ago when I was serving as my building’s Reading Resource teacher, and DIBELS was still pretty new, a teacher came to me and asked how to record fluency on the students’ report cards.  It seemed the district directed teachers to record it as part of the grade, but did not direct how.  The teacher questioned recording accuracy, as that’s what others were doing, since it wouldn’t depict the students rate of speed.  And, less face it, if students knew that accuracy was what was being looked at, they’d slow way down and try to ensure that.  But then the teacher also didn’t want to record only the student automaticity, either.  I developed rubrics combining prosody (from the NAEP scale that Rasinski cites in his book), automaticity, and accuracy.  I emailed them to Dr. Rasinski for feedback before I began to use them.  I still use them in my classroom now as an overall depiction of students’ fluency and to help me target interventions for students.  To see more about my fluency rubrics, click the image below.

Dr. Rasinski suggests that there are 4 major ways you can build reading fluency with students.

  1. Read aloud
  2. Provide oral support for readers
  3. Offer plenty of practice opportunities
  4. Encourage fluency through phrasing

Throughout the next several days I’ll be posting about each of these topics and linking them back here.  Do you have strategies you do to increase your students’ reading fluency?

(Note: Affiliate links are used in this post.)

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Hi! I'm Tessa!

Tessa Maguire image

I’ve spent the last 15 years teaching in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, and working beside elementary classrooms as an instructional coach and resource support. I’m passionate about math, literacy, and finding ways to make teachers’ days easier. I share from my experiences both in and out of the elementary classroom.