Fluency is defined as "the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding" (Meyer and Felton, 1999, p. 284). It provides "a bridge between word recognition and comprehension" (National Institute for Literacy, 2001, p. 22). Fluency combines rate, accuracy, and prosody (i.e., reading with expression).
When a child incorporates prosody, his oral reading sounds much like speech with appropriate phrasing, pause structures, stress, rise and fall patterns, and general expressiveness.
A fluent reader does not need to give his attention on decoding the words. Instead, he can concentrate on what the text means and develop his comprehension skills (e.g., making connections, asking questions, understanding nuances and references in text, etc.)
Fluency training is something all parents can do for their child. It requires little time, minimal expertise, and it invariably works. You can read single words, poetry, plays, comic books, or fiction – anything of interest to your child.
Fluency develops gradually over time and through substantial practice. A good way to help motivate your child is to use material that is of interest to him.
There are many situations in which reading aloud can occur everyday (e.g., singing a sound, telling a joke, giving a speech).
Here are some helpful tips to target, as well as maximize, reading fluency to practice at home:
- Establish a daily family reading routine. 10-20 minutes is all you need!
- Select books that are at the child’s reading level so he feels comfortable reading independently.
- Vary the material. Read books, poems, magazines, comic books, and newspapers.
- Utilize auditory books on CDs to foster continued vocabulary development and content knowledge. Listening to books while reading the text will help your child maintain his language skills commensurate with his peers. By having the child read along with the CD silently or aloud also targets reading fluency. (Check out LearnOutLoud.com and Librivox.)
- Encourage your child to choose the material.
- Read aloud to your child to provide a good example of fluent reading. Consider reading material that is just beyond grade level. Your child will not only enjoy listening to a good model, but it will also foster language development and reading comprehension. Be sure to make it fun by using an expressive voice and intonation.
- Partner Reading
- You and your child take turns reading. Be sure to select reading material that is at your child’s success level. You are the model for both fluency and personal expression.
- Choral Reading
- You and your child read together at the same time. You should be slightly ahead (i.e., a couple of milliseconds) of your child. Even though it appears that the reading is happening simultaneously, you are actually leading and your child is following.
- Choral reading allows your child to build up his sight words as he associates the correct pronunciation with each written word. The pace should be slow, yet fluent, for the initial reading.
- Once you have complied reading material, encourage your child to reread his favorites. Try to make it fun! This could include reading in a different location (e.g., on a swing or in the bathtub) or using different voices.
- Repeated readings not only improve fluency, but comprehension and using intonation as well.
- Repeated oral reading significantly improves word recognition and fluency (i.e., speed and accuracy). Remember to practice at a level that your child is already able to decode easily. Your child should feel confident and comfortable with the text selected.
- You can also review sight words with your child to increase automaticity. (Check out Dolch Word.) You could do 2-3 minute drills with your child a few times a week.
- Keep your child motivated by encouraging and praising her for her strengths and her interest in reading. This will build confidence and maintain interest.
You now have been given a "tool kit" of activities and strategies to use help your child with fluency (i.e., accuracy + rate).
Best results to improve fluency are through consistent repetition, drill, and practice. It is not difficult to target fluency everyday for short periods of time (i.e., minutes).
Repeated oral reading significantly improves word recognition and fluency, which will increase self-confidence in your child. Success starts here!
Carlisle, J.F. and Rice, M.S. (2002). Improving Reading Comprehension: Research-Based Principles and Practices. Baltimore, MD: New York Press, Inc.
Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA). (2001). Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read. Jessup, MD. National Institute for Literacy at ED Pubs.
Rasinski, T. (2003). The Fluent Reader. New York, NY: Scholastic Professional Books.
Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
For more information, check out Reading Rockets' Understanding & Assessing Fluency article.