We talk a lot about reading fluency around our office. It’s a term that is easily misunderstood. In my mind, reading fluency is a natural ability to read without the burden of thinking about sounds, rules, and meaning. In educational circles, “fluency” is a buzz-word that gets thrown around with great weight and sometimes the meaning gets watered down.
So What is Fluency?
Reading fluency encompasses the speed or rate of reading, as well as the ability to read materials with expression. Meyer and Felton defined fluency as “the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding” (1999, p. 284).
Fluency is necessary for skilled reading and for reading comprehension. It is a misconception that if people are reading at a faster, more fluent rate, that they simply “know” the words they see. When we simply read and reread a passage with our children so that they “memorize” the visual representation of the word, resulting in the ability to read the passage faster and with fewer errors, it is not necessarily helping them to improve overall fluency.
Using this method your child’s success will be with the practiced passage only, and soon they will go back to slower reading when new material is presented to them.
We’re proponents of decoding skills for good reason. Among other things, the ability to decode increases reading fluency. This has been proven in neural imaging research which allows scientists to look closely at the process of fluent reading and how fluent reading is developed. Researchers are learning fluent or ‘fast’ reading utilizes a neural ‘expressway’ to process words. This ‘fast reading area’ of fluency is different from the slow phonologic processing pathways used by beginning readers.
The key components to developing fluency are:
(1) Ensure that students are reading using proficient phonologic pathways by teaching them with an effective, direct, systematic phonics program;
(2) teach the students all of the necessary sounds and strategies so they can process print proficiently;
(3) sufficient practice with strategies such as rapid word recognition, guided oral reading, speed drills, and/or choral reading.
Fluency is the bridge between decoding and comprehension and is vital to reach that end. For that bridge to be solid and effective it must have the phonological foundation of automatic decoding. This is the foundation for success.
To see how fast you read, check out this Speed Reading Test!