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Oral Reading Fluency: Getting Started with SoR

Reading fluency is efficient and effective reading of a text that supports a reader in constructing meaning. It’s displayed through accurate, rapid, and expressive oral reading. Comprehension is the end goal of our reading instruction. But in order to get there, reading cannot be disfluent. If the cognitive load is focused on decoding, there’s not much remaining for building a deep understanding of a text. Or, if expression and phrasing don’t match the syntax, it can lead to misunderstandings. So, what do we need to know to build oral reading fluency? Keep reading.

At the earliest phases of reading development, students’ oral reading is slow and methodic as students are just learning to decode. As their ability to recognize words grows, their oral reading may continue to be disfluent. Fluency isn’t a stage that is reached, but rather, it is a culmination of skills coming together. It is the connection between both decoding and comprehension. Fluency relies on both skills, and both skills need are only effective with fluency. To read with appropriate expression, students have to be able to identify meaningful chunks in the text. They must understand the text well enough to give appropriate inflection as needed. Students also need to have a breadth of vocabulary to help them match what they decode with words that they know.

3 Components of Reading Fluency

There are 3 components to oral reading fluency: accuracy, automaticity, and prosody. Let’s take a quick look at each of them.

Accuracy

Are they reading the words correctly?

I think accuracy is the most common component of fluency. It may even be your first thought when thinking of a fluent reader. It’s an obvious component for a good reason. Students need to be able to read the words in order to be fluent. In order to develop comprehension, and understand the text as it’s written, you have to read it accurately. But, even the most fluent of readers aren’t always accurate. We make mistakes as we read, especially the quicker we read. We skip words, mispronounce, etc. Accuracy isn’t our end goal, and 100% accuracy should never be expected.

Automaticity

Do the words need to be sounded out or are they instantly recognized? 

Automaticity is the next most well-known component of oral reading fluency. This is often what people think about when thinking of fluency, but it truly is only 1 component. It represents how automatic a student is when reading. Automaticity is built through continued practice as students move from the full alphabetic to consolidated phase of reading. Accurate readers, but those that are laborious, likely are unable to construct meaning at the depth required due to the amount of effort spent on decoding.

It’s important to note that automaticity shouldn’t be expected with all texts. Some texts, specifically non-fiction texts or those with a high level of content vocabulary, may have many words that are decoded at a much smaller pace. Think of science text books you’ve read. You likely fumbled through some of the words that are less familiar for you or that contain many, non common, syllables.

Prosody

Does it sound interesting and represent the meaning of the text?

Prosody is, in my opinion, the most complex component of fluency. It can be subjective and is the least quantitative component. Prosody represents expression when reading. Often, our oral reading fluency assessments only track accuracy and automaticity. But, prosody matters. Prosody reflects and impacts comprehension. The way a student chunks a text into phrases, or they way they inflect certain words, can drastically impact their understanding.

It’s important to remember that fluency varies based on what’s being read. Think of a textbook you had during a science class during college. While you likely could read each of the words, you likely couldn’t read it without slowly decoding a few of the vocabulary words. In general, non-fiction texts aren’t read with the same fluency as fiction.

Text reads: Components of Reading Fluency in purple with accuracy, automaticity, and prosody below it.

How do you Assess Fluency?

Since the early 2000’s it’s been common to assess fluency as part of your reading screening assessments. Beyond 1st grade, an oral reading fluency (ORF) assessment can be a key indicator of reading difficulties. It’s a great screening tool because it can be administered in a short period of time while giving teachers a glimpse into students’ overall reading ability. Uncertain about the differences between screening, diagnosing, and progress monitoring? Dr. Hasbrouck has a detailed post on Reading Rockets.

ORF assessments can be found in many reading assessment systems including DIBELS, AIMSWeb, Amplify, and EasyCBM. DIBELS and EasyCBM both are free options for administration. Dr. Jan Hasbrouck refers to ORF assessments as the canary in the coal mine – this is the big flag that there’s a reading problem. These assessments measure both accuracy and automaticity; there’s not a prosody component.

Each of the ORF assessment systems monitor both accuracy and automaticity. Norms are typically based on the standardized Hasbrouck & Tindal norms for automaticity. The 50th percentile is used to indicate a student that a student is likely not in need of additional word recognition and fluency support. Because fluency and comprehension are so intertwined, it’s actually not recommended that a student’s reading rate be much higher than the 50th percentile as speed can impact prosody and comprehension.

While prosody is not included in ORF assessments, there is a somewhat standardized rubric – the NAEP Fluency Scale. While this is a rubric, and is therefore somewhat subjective, it does give concrete skills to look for in a student’s oral reading. The scale was first developed in 1992 but has continued to be used – most recently in their 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study.

Some curriculums, and state standards, include additional look-fors in reading fluency. Others leave it up to teachers to assess and address. I’ve even heard of teachers needing to give grades in gradebook for reading fluency. Many years ago, I created grade level based fluency rubrics intended to put all 3 components into a singular rubric. I even received some feedback from Dr. Tim Rasinski in its initial development. I have a separate older post dedicated to Assessing and Scoring Fluency where you can read more.

4th grade oral reading fluency rubric on purple clipboard with blue paper behind it.

How do you Build Fluency?

The first step in building a student’s oral reading fluency is ensuring their decoding skills are where they should be. Early readers must have significant amounts of practice on basic word recognition and analysis. I have a post dedicated to 5 Ideas for Practicing Decoding that gives ideas for both continued practice and activities for current skills. Work with rereading connected text and encouraging some levels of prosody can be done once students have a bank of known words, both decodable and high frequency words. Practice in decoding and prosody can support students in their reading development and it should be part of every phonics lesson.

 

Fluency instruction should be done with a text at a students’ independent level; one that can be read with at least 95% accuracy. With that said, our phonics instruction, both decoding, and encoding, also contributes to improving students’ oral reading fluency.

For older readers that are disfluent, give them a diagnostic phonics assessment to determine if they need phonics intervention. Phonics deficits should be targeted; fluency instruction can done alongside phonics intervention. For those students that demonstrate proficiency with phonics, but are still disfluent, the following fluency strategies can support their progress.

"ar r-controlled fluency grid #2" displayed on a blue background. There is a pencil and brightly colored notebooks laying around it.

Repeated oral reading

Repeated reading is a well researched approach to improving oral reading fluency. It’s the most effective. In this method, students read aloud passages several times and receive guidance and feedback. There isn’t a rule on how many times a text is read, but, four re-readings are usually enough for many students. Through repeated oral reading, students improve their word recognition, speed, and accuracy, therefore, their fluency also improves.

There are many commercially developed programs that follow this method of cold reads, repeated reads, and feedback. I’m most familiar with the HELPS Fluency program. I have a separate blog post dedicated to how the HELPS program works. I’ve used the one-on-one program, but a small group program is available. This program is low cost and is a great option. More well known programs include Read Naturally.

In this method, a first read is done as a cold read and students’ accuracy and automaticity is recorded. Afterwards, students practice reading the passage 3 or 4 times with an adult model, or a fluent recording. After this scaffolded practice, students read the text again independently, continuing to practice. Finally, the students’ oral reading is once again tracked for accuracy and automaticity, along with appropriate prosody and comprehension.

Choral reading

In choral reading, teachers and students read the text together. Because the teacher is reading at a typical pace, the students get the benefit of a model while they are practicing reading aloud. If this is done whole class, it can be difficult for some students to keep up. But, even with just following along and participating when they can, they still benefit from hearing the text being read accurately and with appropriate phrasing and pace. It works best if all students use their finger or other tool to follow along with the text as it’s read. Choral reading can be done easily with any classroom text- even non-fiction and content based texts.

Cloze reading

If you are familiar with other “cloze” activities, you likely can already identify what cloze reading is. In this method, the teacher does most of the oral reading with students following along. Periodically, the teacher omits a word and the students’ job is to read it orally. The words omitted should be vocabulary or content specific words, rather than simple sight words. Because students’ spend less time reading orally, this strategy is best as a model of effective reading with a focus on increasing student engagement, rather than an effective intervention for improving fluency.

I personally use cloze reading when reading aloud a text with students. It helps students stay engaged with the text and have some accountability, while not being responsible for reading the text orally independently. As with choral reading, some students are unable to keep up or correctly read every omitted word, but they are not singled out and it’s a low stress environment.

Partner reading

Partner reading is most effective when students are taught some techniques for giving feedback to each other, and with intentionally chosen partnerships. Partners should not have a large gap between abilities; partners can be paired in top and middle arrangements. This helps to be sure there’s not embarrassment or too much support coming from one students. For the lowest performing students, partner reading is likely not the most effective use of their time. With partner reading, texts can be new, or ones that have already been used in teacher instruction.

 

This post is just the tip of the iceberg on fluency. I’ve given a quick introduction into the complexity of reading fluency and ideas for building fluency. For a much deeper dive, I highly recommend the book The Fluent Reader by Dr. Tim Rasinski. I explore it in a blog series covering each of its major chapters.

Further Reading on Reading fluency

Developing Fluent Readers by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck on Reading Rockets

Understanding and Assessing Fluency by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck on Reading Rockets

Screening, Diagnosing, and Progress Monitoring for Fluency by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck on Reading Rockets

The Fluent Reader by Dr. Tim Rasinski

A Close Look at Fluency a blog series exploring The Fluent Reader text

Oral Reading Fluency is More than Speed by Dr. Tim Shanahan

Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot by Dr. Tim Rasinski

Reading Fluency and the Science of Reading by Nathaniel Hansford

 

Further Information on the Science of Reading

I am sharing helpful information on the Science of Reading throughout this blog series. Each post has a different focus and includes links to relevant posts of my own, from time to time. The topics have been carefully chosen to include the background information needed to understand the science and help you learn more about some of the large, underlying research in the field. The first three up in the series include The National Reading Panel’s 5 Pillars of Reading, the Simple View of Reading, and Scarborough’s Rope.

Want to get each post in your email so you don’t miss it? Sign up below. I will email you the posts, beginning with the first ones in the series, and continuing with each post throughout.


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Text reads "Getting Started with the Science of Reading Oral Reading Fluency: Components, Assessment, & Instruction. Text is below a 6 word fluency grid with consonant blend and short vowel words.

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