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Teaching Tip: Aiming for fluency

Michele Dufresne

A popular literacy assessment suggests that fluency is about speed of reading. Marie Clay (Literacy Lessons Part 2page 150) tells us "There is more to fast and fluent reading than just rapid action from a brain that recognizes letters and words and patterns fast." It is vital that teachers consider the quality of the reading. Fluency can provide us with evidence that the child is accessing the deeper meaning of the story. 

What does fluent reading sound like?

It is important for teachers to listen carefully and assess students' fluency. Does the reading sound smooth or choppy? Is the reading phrased as in spoken language? Does the child use intonation to make the reading sound interesting? Does the child raise her voice at question marks and drop her voice at periods? 

Here are some suggestions for increasing students' fluency:

1. Reread familiar text. Make time every day for rereading books. Read together chorally, have students read to a partner, to an older student or to a teacher. Reread, reread, reread!

2. Leveled text supports fluency. A new book, with only a few challenges, allows for fast responding to known vocabulary, with just enough opportunity to solve new words. Don't be afraid to move down a few levels to get fluent reading established. It will pay off later!

3. Read a book aloud, demonstrating how it should sound and then read it together. The students will learn to match their voice to yours.

4. Discourage the use of a reading finger and prompt the child to "Put the words together so it sounds like talking."

5. Select books that include text that lends itself to phrased and fluent reading. I like books with lots of conversation and fun, repetitive language. Select a few favorite books that set a benchmark for how reading should sound. Try A Birthday Present for Spaceboy  or  A Mouse in the House. The rhythmic language in these books supports phrased and fluent reading.

6. Close your eyes and listen to how the reading sounds.  Sometimes we are just so happy that the student is reading the words correctly we lose track of how it really sounds.

Don't give up! For some children it takes lots of practice and encouragement. The payoff will be big!

Happy Teaching!

Michèle Dufresne

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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