Reading fluency is key to learning and comprehension from written texts, which is the goal of reading. In order to optimize reading comprehension skills, we need to set realistic reading fluency goals for our students with dyslexia.

Over the past two years, the Journal of Learning Disabilities (JLD) has published a number of articles on the topic of reading fluency. Whether reading aloud or silently, fluent reading, defined as reading with speed, accuracy, and prosody (or expression), is key to comprehending text. A fluent reader reads with automaticity and does not have to attend to the mechanics of reading, for example, decoding. Reading is not laborious for a fluent reader, and as a result, good readers can make inferences from the text, make connections within the text and across texts, and gain new understandings in short learn. It is well documented in the literature that our students with dyslexia read more slowly than their typical-reading peers, even after they learn to decode text. As a result, our students with dyslexia read less text than their peers. In turn, they have less access to new vocabulary, or "word" knowledge, and literate language forms, and fewer opportunities to develop increased "world" knowledge; all of which contribute to one's ability to understand text. There is a strong correlation between reading rate and reading comprehension, particularly in the early years. But, how fast is fast enough when it comes to reading for our students with dyslexia?

We have evidence in recent literature that the practice of benchmarking reading fluency goals for those with dyslexia or reading disorder (RD) against rates achieved by their typical-reading peers does not yield the best outcomes relative to reading comprehension. It behooves us to set realistic goals for our students with RD in regards to reading fluency in order to optimize reading comprehension. O’Conner (2018) found that reading rates of around 110 words correct per minute (wcpm) at 2nd grade and between 120-140 wcpm at 4th grade yielded the best outcomes for reading comprehension in typical readers. (Of note, 120-140 words per minute approaches that of conversational speech.) On the other hand, the optimal reading rate for reading comprehension for 2nd graders with RD was between 40 and 75 wcpm, and for 4th graders with RD, it was between 40-85 wcpm, both considerably lower than their typical-reading peers. Above the rates of 75 wcpm for 2nd graders and 90 wcpm for 4th graders, reading comprehension suffered. These are important data to keep in mind when setting reading fluency goals for our students with dyslexia.

In regard to intervention, the practice of repeated readings (RR) has shown promise in improving both reading rate and reading comprehension. It is important to note that sustained silent reading (a practice in many classrooms) has not been shown to be effective in improving reading fluency. Students need direct instruction to make improvements in reading fluency and reading comprehension. Having the student first listen to the teacher orally read the passage (i.e., model phrasing and prosody) had positive outcomes in both reading comprehension and reducing anxiety on the part of the student (Lee & Yoon, 2017). The best outcomes occurred after hearing the teacher read the text aloud, followed by the student reading the text four times. Lee and Yoon “…did not find isolated word preview to be an essential component of RR for students with RD” (p. 221). They posited that reading vocabulary words in connected text may prove to be more effective than isolated word preview.

Another way to have students with dyslexia practice RR is to have them read to younger students. To enhance reading fluency, students should read books in which they can decode 95-97% of the words. It can be a real challenge to find books, particularly for older students, that are at their reading level and don’t appear “childish.” To mitigate this, at 3LI, we often suggest that students read to younger children. This creates a context of authenticity. It makes sense to read “easier” text to a preschooler or kindergartner. A note of caution -- we always want to be mindful when pairing students so that the student with dyslexia has better reading skills than his or her younger partner. Ideally, the student with dyslexia should hear the book read first, then practice reading it aloud.

Reading fluency is key to learning and comprehension from written texts, which is the goal of reading. In order to optimize reading comprehension skills, we need to set realistic reading fluency goals for our students with dyslexia. Goals should be achievable. Benchmarking reading rates for students with dyslexia against their typical-reading peers does not appear to be the best practice to achieve adequate comprehension of text. Upon setting achievable goals, the reading fluency skills of our students with dyslexia can be improved by a teacher’s (or more experienced other’s) modeling of fluent reading coupled with repeated readings of the text.

I am indebted to my talented colleague at 3LI, Dr. Lauren Katz, for her careful review of this piece.