Growing Readers

I just finished rereading A Corner of the Universe (A. Martin), an intermediate novel for Literature Circles next term.  I was reminded once again how meaning can be taken to a whole new level just by the manipulation of words. What happens when there are monstrous barriers that make words impossible to decipher?

Make no mistake – reading is a  multi-tasking activity; a vast amount of brain energy is expended while decoding and making sense of text.  Just imagine when you first learned to drive – remember that struggle to focus on the road, not to mention organizing hand and foot movements to maintain a smooth ride! I can just bet that you don’t have to think as much about your feet and hands now (…ok still keep your eyes on the road!).  This is because you’ve achieved a level of automaticity, the ability to accomplish certain tasks without having to really think about it.  This also happens in reading.  Imagine how hard it would be if you had to labour over each word in a story by sounding it out!  You wouldn’t have any energy left for meaning making.

Part of successful reading requires attention to fluency (decoding and prosody). While some people think fluency is only about fast reading, it’s actually the bridge to comprehension.  When we break through the surface structures of decoding  we get at the deep level structures – comprehension.  This requires a certain level of automaticity with words and that takes practice, lots of practice.  Word study activities  in Words Their Way (Invernizzi, Bear…) and exercises in Fast ForWord provide students with multiple repetitions.  In the same vein, exercises that require repeated reading of texts serve to develop fluency. The multiple rehearsals  provide opportunity not only to listen to the sound of language but also encourages deeper meaning (not unlike rehearsals for a play) through the emotion and story of words.  Great readers are fluent readers.

Who has time to listen to every student repeat a passage over and over! Me included.   This is where technology can help.  Using Windows audio recorder, Photostory,  Audacity, or iPads, can be the tools of choice.  Students practice recording and use the playback features to listen to themselves. By capturing their voice, they have an opportunity to review their work multiple times.  Through self assessment, students decide what they need to fix and re-record as many times as needed.

Watch how Dr. Timothy Rasinski (Kent State University) describes fluency.


To gage improvement, frequent informal assessments are needed.   Fluency is usually measured in words correct per minute using a running record format, which is why some connect it to speed.  When vocabulary are automatic, the speed of reading tends to increase. And because the assessments only take 2 minutes to do and score, they are easily integrated within a regular classroom program.  Further, by graphing the results over a period of time,  students get a first-hand look at how their efforts are connected to success.  (Better yet, have students record their own results.)

How do you use fluency as part of your reading program?  I’d be very interested in your stories.

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