Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reading Aloud Builds Fluency

Young readers (K-3) often stumble from word to word as they read. They do this because they are just figuring out how to decode words. As their reading progresses young readers should start to gain fluency. This can happen with school instruction, but with large classes of students at different reading levels it is difficult for teachers to work on fluency. Parents need to take an active role in helping students develop reading fluency.

What is fluency?
Fluency is the ability to read a text quickly and accurately. A person who reads a text fluently does not pause to decode the words, but moves along at a steady pace. Fluency depends on the level of the reader in relation to the level of the text. For example, high school graduates should be able to read the newspaper quickly and accurately, but might struggle when reading scientific or academic texts. In other words, they are fluent in reading the newspaper, but not fluent in reading more difficult texts.

Why is fluency important?
Fluency is important because it frees readers from the decoding process and allows them to focus on comprehension. Fluency is separate from comprehension. A fluent reader might be able to read a text accurately, but might not understand the text. A high school graduate might be able to read an academic or scientific text fluently, but might struggle at comprehending what it means. Being able to read a text fluently is the first step toward comprehension. If you can read a text fluently, you can put your energy into understanding the meaning. If you have to struggle with both decoding the words and understanding the text at the same time, reading will be quite difficult. This happens with many adult second language learners, who have the fluency of a young reader, yet desire to read texts with adult complexities. Their fluency level makes reading complex text a time consuming process.

How do we build fluency in young readers?
The National Institute of Literacy recommends that students read text aloud to develop fluency. They offer three important considerations when having students read texts aloud.
  1. Find an appropriate book-- Students should read a variety of texts, including fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The texts should be at the reader's level, meaning the student can read the text with a 95% accuracy.
  2. Model the text for the child-- Students need fluent models to emulate. Students need to understand proper pronunciation, proper use of pauses, proper pacing and proper inflection. Occasional explanation of pauses or inflection can help children understand why the text is being read the way it is.
  3. Have the child read the text aloud several times-- Children often have to read a text aloud several times to get it right. Reading a text several times gives them the opportunity to focus on the way they are saying it.
What kind of text do you like to read aloud?
I like to read poetry aloud. Reading the newspaper or a novel aloud just isn't much fun. Children feel the same way. The National Institute for Literacy recommends that teachers use poetry for fluency practice.
"Poetry is especially well suited to fluency practice because poems for children are often short and they contain rhythm, rhyme, and meaning, making practice easy, fun, and rewarding."
Children like to read poetry and the rhythm of poetry helps them to read poems more fluently. My son is particularly fond of Jack Prelutsky. I have made attempts at introducing William Carlos Williams, with only mild success. The poetry you offer your child does not have to be of literary value, as long as your child is reading and working on reading the poems fluently.

More on Reading at The National Institute of Literacy
Ideas for this blog came from reading a pamphlet, "Put Reading First:The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read", published by The National Institute for Literacy. The pamphlet summarizes research about young readers. It provides an overview of pertinent research on the five areas of reading instruction; phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. It is designed for teachers, but is helpful for concerned parents.

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