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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reading fluency

As the old song lyric goes, “Everything old is new again.” One example of how true this lyric rings is the concept of fluency in reading. I remember as a 1st grader, the ultimate compliment the teacher could pay was for her to say of you, “He reads like he talks.” She was referring to “fluency,” that quality a child has when he or she is no longer struggling to call words one at a time, but is reading groups of words with confidence and expression. Some children acquired fluency early in their school careers, while this skill eluded others well into junior high.

Recent research in reading is telling us what our 1st grade teachers already seemed to know—teaching students to read with fluency is an essential skill in order for students to be able to understand what they have read.

The reason I am putting together this information for you this week is because fluency is one of those areas where it is easy for parents to help. Parents universally like spelling tests because it is an area where most all parents feel comfortable in helping their children. We can call out the words and tell the child when he or she has spelled the words correctly. Fluency is just as easy. Here is what to do:

1) Get where you can see a clock or watch that has a second hand on it, or better yet, pick up a one-minute timer from the grocery store.
2) Ask your child to read out loud from a library book that is on his or her reading level.
3) Stop your child after one minute and count how many words were in that passage. Subtract from that number any words that were incorrect.
4) You now have your child’s fluency rate! It’s that easy.

Where should your child be performing in the area of fluency? This chart will give you that answer:

Words Per Minute

Grade Level

Beginning of Year

Middle of Year

End of Year

1st Grade



2nd Grade




3rd Grade




4th Grade




5th Grade




6th Grade




How can you help your child increase his or her fluency rate?

1) Provide models of what fluent reading sounds like. Children are great imitators, and when your child hears you, an older sibling, or another good model read aloud, your child will imitate the rate of speed and the vocal expression.

2) It’s OK to let your child practice on familiar material. Rereading is an excellent way to increase fluency rates.

3) Encourage your child to let his or her eyes move ahead and see groups of words rather than one word at a time. Its’ easier to put together a puzzle that has a few large pieces than it is to assemble a puzzle that has many small pieces. Likewise, children who are good readers have learned to see chunks of words at one time.

4) Stress that it’s not just about seeing how fast they can read. What we are trying to do is get the reading speed up to a level where lack of speed will cease to be a cause for not understanding what was read. That’s all it is—faster is not better. When your child reaches the fluency rates shown on the chart, then you can emphasize expression. As an experiment, time yourself reading aloud a passage from a magazine and see how far you get in one minute. You will find that even the 135 words per minute that 6th graders should be reading when they leave us is not that fast.

5) Most importantly, ask your child to summarize what was just read. That way, you know your child is comprehending the material and not just calling words.

When we develop readers who are fluent, we are actually doing several things. We are developing young people who better comprehend what they read, our first and foremost goal. At the same time, we are developing young people who are expressive and enjoyable for others to hear. Finally, we are encouraging a generation confident in their ability to speak before an audience. Not a bad investment on our time!


At 2:42 PM, Blogger Nancy Willis said...

As one of the reading coaches who administers DIBELS to all the second and third graders in the system, I can certainly see how parents and teachers have worked so hard to instill and practice all the components of reading fluency in our children.I applaud the work ethic of our teachers and students. I see it firsthand as the children read with expression and excitement during assessments!We have come so far in three years, and I'm proud to be a small part of Talladega City's teaching community.Thank you, parents, for helping extend our instruction at home.You are an important part of the learning process!


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