Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fluency: the Secret Ingredient in Reading

Reading involves several different parts moving at the same time—rather like walking. Those parts are phonics (also called alphabetics), vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Tutor training at Literacy Network leans heavily upon direct phonics instruction, since it is the thing many dyslexics need most immediately.
Fluency deserves our attention as a skill that learners can improve with practice. It involves the combination of accuracy in identifying the individual words, the rate at which they read and the conversational tone of voice—also called prosody. Better fluency leads to better comprehension, as it helps students to make the reading meaningful and applicable to their own experience.
In this post, I want to describe a technique I learned about at STAR (STudent Achievement in Reading) training this month at Madison College.
Repeated Reading is simplicity itself. It follows a style of teaching in which the tutor first demonstrates how to do something, does it together with the learner, then finally supports the learner doing it for himself. It starts with a discussion about what the learner wants to read, how long it should be and how fluently he/she wants to be able to read it. Ideally it should be a text at the learner’s instructional reading level—something that is a little more challenging than what they can read very easily but not so challenging as to be frustrating. The learner first reads the passage aloud to the tutor. He or she then hears the same passage read with fluency. You, as a tutor, are eminently qualified to model fluent reading for your learner. If you feel that a professional could do a better job, though, you can sometimes employ a recording of an actor to show the rate and prosody of a confident reader. Take, for example, the first ten lines of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy is easier than it sounds at first. The Flesch-Kincaid reading scale rates it at grade level 6.8. You can find a recording in the public library or on the internet, for instance at this site: The public library has audio book versions of many popular works ranging from Shakespeare to my favorite children’s book series, Frog and Toad.
The learner then reads the text on her/his own repeatedly, trying to read in their own voice with fluency. This part could be an excellent homework assignment. Finally the student reads the text for you, the tutor. Reading repeatedly helps a learner gain confidence, and confidence gives people a reason to stay involved.

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