Reading Academy

Fluency: The Art of Speedy Decoding

Now that you know what decoding is from our previous article on phonics, we can properly define fluency, the middle component of the Reading Pyramid. Reading fluency can be defined as the ability to automatically and correctly decode words, whether through silent reading or reading aloud with correct pronunciation of words and full articulation of sentences.

The Connection to Higher-Level Reading

Once a learner has a strong mastery of phonics and decoding skills (i.e., knows the individual units of language and the rules they follow), he/she moves ahead to the next step to reading mastery: fluency, or making the process of decoding automatic. For the majority of learners, this automaticity happens around the ages of nine through eleven (third through fifth grade), but for some learners, decoding automatically proves difficult. There are several reasons why some struggle to gain reading fluency, but the fact that many struggling readers typically have issues in the more foundational components of reading (phonemic awareness and phonics) only strengthens the case for mastery of the first two components of the Reading Pyramid.

Phonics and decoding skills are continually being tested as we learn to apply them in various reading situations. Learners, read aloud to themselves, listen to fluent readers read to them, read alongside fluent readers, and read to or with their peers. In each of these situations, fluency is being developed.

Fluency connects foundational reading skills to higher-level reading skills. When a learner understands the foundational reading components and becomes increasingly fluent, he/she is better prepared to build the vocabulary and comprehension skills needed for higher levels of reading.

Reading Fluency for the Struggling Reader

Those with processing disorders like dyslexia will have a harder time making decoding an automatic process, so it will take more time and patience for them to become fluent. Fluency can be built in much the same way as is done with a non-struggling learner, except that, for the struggling student, higher-level reading materials are introduced more gradually. A key component of building fluency is exposing the learner to more and more literature. For someone with a processing disorder, new words and context are difficult and need to be broken down into smaller, more manageable parts before the learner can fluently read through a passage. Although this adaptation may slow down instruction at first, once it has been done several times and in various situations, it becomes a natural process that allows the student to become familiar with new text and more fluent in his/her reading.

If you are a parent looking for passages for your reader, we have a few solutions to suggest

  1. The Lexile® Framework for Reading is a ranking system for text passages that gives you a way to find books based upon their reading level.
    • Learn more about Lexile® levels
    • Find a book based on Lexile® levels
  2. The Reading Horizons At-Home Software products have a reading level assessment that helps determine your child’s reading level. Once your child’s level has been determined, hundreds of passages matched to Lexile® levels are available for your child to read.
  3. Physical copies of the software passages are available to purchase. Read them to your child, read them along with your child, or allow your child to read them alone.
    • Ages 4–9 (Link to Discovery™ K–3 supplement page)
    • Ages 10 and above (Link to Elevate™ supplement page)

Taking the Next Step

Fluency is the bridge that allows learners to be introduced to new vocabulary — the next step to reading mastery that transitions the student to higher-level reading skills.