Dr. Jan Hasbrouck contributed the following post. Jan's research interests include fluency, educational leadership, literacy coaching, etc. Helpful guides for teachers include The Reading Coach: A How-To Manual for Success.
I have been involved with issues related to reading fluency for over thirty years. My interest in this topic started when I was a reading specialist, working with struggling readers in primary, intermediate, and middle schools. I was frustrated with the fact that while so many of my students could read—they could figure out what the words on the page were, and in most cases make sense of what they had decoded—most of my students couldn’t read well. Daily, I watched them struggle. They worked HARD to read text. It took them a long TIME to read sentences and passages. There clearly was little to no intrinsic MOTIVATION to read anything.
Because this awareness began over three decades ago—long before the publication of the Report of the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000)—I had to do some exploring on my own to figure out what I needed to do to help my students become successful, motivated readers. My investigations helped me understand that a key skill that was missing in many of my students’ repertoire was fluency, which I have come to understand as “accurate reading at a minimal rate with appropriate prosodic features and deep understanding” (Hudson, Mercer, & Lane, 2000). I appreciate this particular definition because it includes all the key components of reading fluency—and lists them in what seems to me the correct order. Below, I will discuss these four components and their contribution to reading fluency.
Accuracy. Fluent reading is first and foremost ACCURATE reading. We’d never consider a reader to be fluent if he or she made many errors. Nor would we expect a reader to never make a mistake. We are human after all! Acceptable levels of accuracy in reading would typically range from 97 to 98%.
Rate. I also appreciate that Hudson et al.’s definition mentions RATE--but not a maximum rate. This is a common misunderstanding about fluency. But we understand that fluent readers do not read as fast as they can (although that can be fun to try from time to time! Ready, set, GO!!). As reading specialist, my question was: “So, what should the ‘minimum rate’ be for my students?” Without this information it is difficult if not impossible to set a reasonable instructional goal for students. I was surprised to find that in the early 1980s there was no answer for this question in the current research literature. When I mentioned this critical gap to my then doctoral advisor, Dr. Jerry Tindal at the University of Oregon, he suggested that we should do the research to provide this information for our professional educator colleagues. Together we compiled oral reading fluency norms that continue to be used today to help determine an appropriate “minimum rate” (Hasbrouck & Tindal, 1992; 2006).
Prosody. Appropriate PROSODIC FEATURES means that when students read aloud, they should use “good expression” with appropriate rhythm, intonation, phrasing, and stress patterns of syllables. In other words, fluent reading should sound like speech (Stahl & Kuhn, 2002). The research is just emerging on the role of prosody in reading and at this point there is only minimal evidence that prosodic reading serves as a significant mediator of reading comprehension (Schwanenflugel et al., 2004).
Deep Understanding. We care about the skill fluency because the point of reading is comprehension and many if not most of our dysfluent students have difficulty making sense of what they read. The information comes in inaccurately and/or too slowly for the brain to process correctly. Students who struggle with fluency also read significantly less than their more skillful peers and fall further behind in skill development. As Stanovich (1986) reminds us, in reading the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Vocabulary development is affected by reading fluency. Some struggling readers, especially those who have been diagnosed as having dyslexia, have an understanding of spoken words (listening vocabulary) that is at times even superior to their normally progressing peers (Wolf, 2002). However, in order for a student to apply their understanding of the vocabulary in text, they must be able to read that text accurately and at a reasonable and appropriate rate.
Every teacher and every parent wishes that every child will learn to read and love to read. Paying attention to the skill of fluency can help us all achieve that wonderful goal. Help children read fluently, and they will be more apt to enjoy books and other print media. Fluent readers gain word and world knowledge from texts and websites. Ultimately, a natural byproduct of frequent and fluent reading is improved vocabulary and comprehension.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Please share your expertise! What tools, tips, or techniques have you found effective in building students’ fluency with words, phrases, sentences, and/or passages? What tools do you use to measure fluency? How well is it working? Drop us a line! I am happy to respond to any comments or questions you may have on this topic.
- Hasbrouck, J. E. & Tindal, G. (Spring, 1992). Curriculum-based oral reading fluency norms for students in grades 2-5.Teaching Exceptional Children, 24(3), 41-44.
- Hasbrouck, J., & Tindal, G. A. (2006). Oral reading fluency norms: A valuable assessment tool for reading teachers. The Reading Teacher. 59(7),636–644.
- Hudson, Mercer, & Lane (2000). Exploring reading fluency: A paradigmatic overview. Unpublished manuscript. University of Florida, Gainesville.
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Schwanenflugel, P. J., Hamilton, A. M., Kuhn, M. R., Wisenbaker, J. M., Stahl, S. A. (2004). Becoming a fluent reader: Reading skill and prosodic features in the oral reading of young readers. Journal of Educational Psychology. 96(1), 119-129.
- Stahl, S. A. & Kuhn, M. R. (2002). Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement: Making it sound like language: Developing fluency. The Reading Teacher, 55 (6), 582-584.
- Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21(4), 360–407.
- Wolf, M. (April 2002). Reading difficulties - A major health problem. Radio broadcast Monday 1 April 2002. Retrieved January 5, 2010 from href="http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/helthrpt/stories/s518687.htm">http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/helthrpt/stories/s518687.htm