Breaking Through Two Myths About Reading with Fluency

Side note: I’ll explain the robots at the end of the post, so stay tuned…or read ahead like I usually do!

So I’m here to tell you that reading with fluency has gotten a bad rap.  I hear lots of talk about "reading fast" and "reading fast enough" when that’s really not what it’s all about at all! 

Here’s the real scoop – and I hope it’ll change your mind a bit about why reading with fluency is so critical to develop with EVERY student. Yes, middle school and high school teachers that means you, too!

Myth #1:  Good and strong readers don’t need fluency instruction or practice

Actually, EVERYONE needs good fluency practice and instruction! In fact, the research on learning to read at any age tells us over and over again that without fluency of skill, we struggle to put it all together for the toughest and most demanding part of reading: comprehension. 

Think about it this way – when you’re making a new recipe for the first time, it takes longer to make it because after each ingredient, you’re looking at the recipe and checking and re-checking your next step.

Once you’ve made the recipe several times, your prep time and "doing" time probably lessens – in essence, you have become fluent with that recipe.  It’s at this point in making that dish that you think, "Hmmm…I wonder if I added a bit of this or that if that would make the dish better".  You have time and the wherewithal with the fluent recipe-making to become fancier or to handle the complexities because you have the basics down. 

That’s how fluency works in reading too!  The more efficient you are with the foundational and basic parts of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, multi-syllabic words), the more brain power you have available for comprehension.

And ALL students could use more brain power when it comes to comprehension because they will continue to be challenged by text – especially in content area classes!

Myth #2:  Fluency in reading is only for young kids

You know, reading with prosody (reading the way you’d speak the same text) is an indicator of comprehension – and it’s necessary for comprehension.

When I think about learning to speak Spanish (which I was "fluent" with for about 4 minutes one day in college, but that’s another story for another day!), I could "decode" or blend through the words really well.  In fact my college professor complimented me on it!  (It was a highlight for me, considering I went on to get an ‘F’ in that class…yet ANOTHER story for another blog!)

But, when it came down to actually having a conversation and really stringing multiple words together to form a proper Spanish sentence, I fell flat.  I had the individual word decoding thing down, but fluent reading and speaking that led to me actually understanding what was said or read?  Not gonna happen.

I was 19 years old, dysfluent and failing.  (But having a fun time doing it!)

I needed practice in linking the sounding out of the words to connecting to the meaning of words.  In fact, if you heard me speak in Spanish you would realize that each word had the same emphasis, the same tone and the same speed.  It made no sense!

The same is true for ALL students – reading with fluency is a skill.  And as the text gets more difficult, even on-benchmark readers could use some solid, meaningful practice in reading with fluency.

Because that’s the thing: the text gets difficult and the students’ skills have to be tough enough, strong enough and mastered enough that they remain strong even under tough circumstances. 

So, why the pictures of the robots at the top of the blog?  Well, I want you to DISENGAGE THE ROBOT.  Huh?  When you are constructing another opportunity to teach or provide guided practice on reading with fluency, I want you to give PURPOSE for the practice.

For example, you might tell your class, "Folks, I’m not listening into your reading right now and hoping that I’ll hear reading like you’re hooked into an electrical socket – I want to hear real readers, reading with feeling, reading like you speak it.  Here we go…"

It’s our job to make the work in classrooms meaningful and not robotic.  Robotic practice means that it’s meaningless and that kids are probably going through the motions.  GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS LEADS TO RAPID FORGETTING.  Or "fake remembering", as I like to call it.

I often say (and tweet!) that "Anything worth doing in schools is worth doing well" and that extends to reading with fluency and teaching kids fluency in reading. 

So, where to start?  Examine your fluency practices by asking yourself this: if I were a fly on the wall during fluency instruction or practice, would I see robotic, mindless practice or would I see meaningful, comprehension-building work being done?

Leave your thoughts below…I love to read ’em and I promise I will respond right back!

6 Responses to Breaking Through Two Myths About Reading with Fluency

  1. This helps me realize how important oracy groups are with our ELLs; we need to be sure we are offering a balance in the four language domains so reading with prosody truly does have meaning!

  2. Do you agree that a student could be reading fluently, but still not make benchmark on DIBELS? I am frustrated at times that they are not reading “fast enough” to be benchmark, but they are fluent and comprehending.

    • Casey – By definition, a student reading fluently at their grade level is meeting or exceeding the benchmark. In my experience, they were currently (at their grade level) reading fluently and comprehending even if they’re not meeting the benchmark, but what happens is that kids start to slip later…much beyond my grade level. It’s kind of like not meeting fluency benchmark is the gateway drug for future fluency/comprehension issues. I know it’s tough, but when kids are reading at or above that benchmark, they’re not racing, they’re keeping a logical pace. Keep pressing on!!!

  3. I do agree that all students need fluency practice. I love having them keep a data folder and graph their fluency so they all see the gains they are making. That way we don’t forget about those Benchmark kiddos who need to make gains also!

    • I know – don’t they love it? I love it when I see teachers like you who have kids pay attention to their data so that they can see that the little teeny tiny changes they make in their reading/instruction/practice MATTER!

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