Reading fluency is the ability to read with proper speed, accuracy, and expression. Children, and people in general, must be able to read fluently in order to understand what they’re reading. This applies to both silent reading and reading out loud.
When doing the latter, fluent readers are able to read phrases and add in proper intonation when needed. As such, their reading becomes smooth and expressive.
Why Is Reading Fluency Important?
Reading fluency is important because it develops comprehension and motivates readers. It has been referred to as a bridge between reading phases such as early reading and later reading.
Early phases of learning reading fluency help learners to develop their oral language skills, as well as phonemic awareness. It also helps to teach the principle of the alphabet and to improve complicated words. Practicing early reading fluency helps the student become familiar with more complex and high-frequency words, which then helps them to master a significant number of words.
Later reading fluency phases are developed by increased reading skills and a deeper comprehension.
Readers who do not sufficiently master reading fluency can become stuck in the middle of this bridge. Oftentimes, they will be able to decode words, but because they do not have the proper reading fluency, they will often lack the comprehension to enjoy or understand the reading process. This leads to students taking a dislike to reading and will often create reluctant readers who do not wish to participate in reading activities. This can have negative consequences for themselves and also for their families, both current and future, and their broader society.
When reading fluency problems are present and fluency skills are weak, they can stunt the development of vocabulary and comprehension, leading to a process referred to as the Matthew effect. The Matthew effect is based on a Biblical passage that states that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
In the same way, readers who struggle early on in the process of attaining reading fluency end up lagging behind their peers. As a result of this, these learners often fall further behind in learning environments and in society because they read less text than their peers. In relation to the Biblical verse, proficient readers become richer since they are able to read an increasingly significant amount of text compared to those who lack in reading fluency.
A student’s ability to master reading fluency often depends on being able to identify a significant number of words by sight alone. Since words are not referred to as sight words until the student learns to read them correctly, minimal reading practices and inaccurate practices have been shown to slow a student’s development of reading fluency. This is especially true for beginner readers and often results in a cycle of failure.
Reading Fluency Skills
There are three main elements in reading fluency: accuracy, rate, and expression.
Accuracy is the fundamental foundation of fluent reading. In order to master reading fluency, the reader must be accurate in reading text. The main purpose of being able to read is to understand what is being read. In order to achieve this understanding, the reader must be able to read accurately. As simple as this sounds, it means that the reader must be able to identify specific words accurately.
The rate refers to the speed at which a student can read the text. While rate is important, reading fluency goes beyond rate alone. Oftentimes, it is believed that faster reading is better reading, but this is simply a misconception. Reading at a quick rate does not signify that the reader will be able to comprehend the text that is being read. Fast readers may still be reading inaccurately. In fact, they may be reading so fast that they are unable to understand what they are reading. While fast reading is often associated with an overall proficiency in reading, it should not be regarded as the same as fluently reading.
Expression is an important part of being able to read orally. It includes components such as tone, pitch, emphasis, volume, and rhythm. Expression also signifies the reader’s ability to group words together into correct phrases. It’s often thought that a good expression reflects better reading comprehension.
Reading Fluency Activities
Aside from school-based activities that teachers engage in with students, there are certain activities parents and guardians can do at home to help build a child’s reading fluency. These include:
- Reading and rereading easy-to-understand books. Have your child choose their favorite book and then engage in repeated readings with them. Allow them to read it out loud at least three times.
- Engage in fluent reading daily in the presence of your child. Use expression and funny voices when reading aloud.
- Read a phrase, sentence, or paragraph, then allow your child to read the same one.
- If your child is an older sibling, have them read a simple book to a younger sibling.
- Read a short poem or nursery rhyme with your child. Read it to them, then allow them to read it and continue to read it until they can do so fluently.
- Study basic high-frequency words with your child to ensure that your child knows these words automatically. Knowing these words on sight can help your child with their reading accuracy and rate.
- Select a comic strip from a newspaper, a comic book, or online source and expressively read the comic strip aloud. After you have finished, ask your child to do the same.
Reading Fluency Programs
There are several reading fluency strategies and programs that exist to help children develop and master fluent reading skills. One such program is the Read Naturally program or strategy, which was developed by Candyce Ihnot, a Title I reading teacher.
In the Read Naturally program, students are assessed and placed into an appropriate instructional level, at which point a teacher helps the student to set a realistic fluency goal. Step one is then to have the child do what is known as a cold reading—an unpracticed reading of a student-selected passage. Step two involves the student practicing reading from the same passage at least four times. A model is there to help them learn how to correctly pronounce the words in the passage. Step three focuses on the child reading the passage again, independently. The final step allows the student to read for the teacher and is graded on a WCPM (Words Correct Per Minute) scale.
There are many other reading programs and strategies to help students improve their reading fluency. Which program or strategy is best for your child will be up to you and their teachers.