Monday, February 4, 2013

Fluency First-Aid

As a specialist, perhaps the most difficult foundational skill to remediate is that of fluency.  Specifically, that of phrasing.  Fluency is more complex than one may think.  It is more than reading smoothly and with expression. Pinnell and Fountas (2009) state that fluency is:
  •  Performing motor actions rapidly, easily, and without conscious attention... 
  • Using processing systems with automaticity 
Now, they also mention other components, but these are the ones that I want to focus on since I have had several students struggle in this area.

The Common Core State Standards  has the following expectations for both grade one and grade two students:

Foundational Skills
1.4 Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
a.  Read on-level text with purpose and understanding
b.  Read on-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings
c.  Use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding, rereading as necessary.   
What's important here?  That which as teachers we all know: the goal of appropriate fluency is to support and enhance comprehension. We all have students that seem to be the exception and who baffle us with disjointed, choppy speed, who constantly repeat, self-correct, pause, struggle with decoding, lose their place, and yet despite it all, somehow are able to comprehend.  However, I firmly believe that even if they are able to demonstrate an understanding of the text at present, their ineffective fluency will eventually catch up with them as the texts become increasingly more complex.  At that point it is almost certain that comprehension will suffer.  And besides, even if the student can understand, most young readers will admit that the reading experience is not enjoyable as they are laboring so hard.

Another take-away is that students demonstrate appropriate fluency with successive readings. Rereading is powerful.  It not only builds confidence, but offers additional practice with a "comfortable" piece of text.  The student knows what to expect because they have read the selection before.

When I have a student whose phrasing is awkward, who pauses at inappropriate times, who has difficulty with prosody and intonation, and who struggles with words that I know they know, I use a few "fluency first-aid" strategies when we are working one-on-one.

First, I must assess and then "triage" to determine what the target skill will be for the day, week, month, etc. in a clinical setting.  While remediation and intervention is highly effective in small groups, sometimes the child needs individualized instruction and this is where RTI comes in.

Here are a few strategies I use when working with a student.  By no means is this a definitive list;  this is just a start and I plan to write about this is more detail. But, this, in my professional opinion, is a good place to start.

  • Assess, assess, assess: formal and informal.  I sometimes will use fluency quick checks like those that accompany our Treasures reading series or ones that are included on  Readinga-z ( a paid subscription site. I've used this site for years and it is well worth the investment).  The site has a section devoted entirely to fluency including leveled fluency passages and fluency assessments passages.
  • With some students, I am not as concerned with how many words they read per minute (I know, I hear a few gasps about now), but how well they are reading.  Is their phrasing appropriate or are they reading word-by -word?  Are they enunciating words in a strange way by dragging out the syllables or inserting and uttering extra sounds?  Are they stuttering, repeating the first sound several times?
  • I like to use the gradual release model:  I read, we read together, you read ( "you try it").  Like most other instruction, these little readers need a good model, whether it is me reading aloud to them, or listening to an audio version.
  • But maybe I got ahead of myself.  Before choosing a text to use for instruction, I take great pains to find a text that I know the student will find interesting and engaging.  If they like penguins, I find an appropriate text.  Like Dr. Seuss, we'll use that.  This is so crucial to fostering comfort and confidence.
  • The texts I use at the beginning of fluency remediation is at the child's easy level. If the child has already read the text, worked with it in the classroom, or listened to the text, this is even better, as it is familiar and not nearly as intimidating.  Plus, if it is a text that like and maybe even chose for our session, I have instant buy-in and the student has ownership.
  • Ok, back to the gradual release.  Depending on the student, sometimes, we will spend an entire session on me reading aloud, the child following along with their own copy of the text, and of course they must use a pointer.  A side note, I love to use the fun, bright colored drink stirrers you can purchase at the Dollar Store.
  • I like to use the HearALL Assessment Recorder available from Learning Resources and well worth the investment.

 This little beauty is a breeze to use, is light, and portable. I can record my own voice as I'm modeling reading. Then, the child reads with me, and then they read by themselves. All using the same text and all being recorded. Some kids (me inlcuded) find it a bit embarrassing to hear themselves read, but it is critical for them to hear what they are doing well and what needs to be improved. The beauty of this device is that I can email the MP3 files to their classroom teacher and to their parents to keep them informed of progress.

Ok, if you have an attention span like I do, this is enough for today. Much of this you probably already knew, but hopefully I have offered at least one new little nugget for you to think about and experiment with.
Am I proclaiming to be an expert?  No way! I'm just a little middle-age reading specialist with 20+ years experience as a mother and teacher.  I'm blessed to be able to work individually with students and to experiment with my own kinder and first grade sons.
Next time, I'll share a few more tricks that I have found successful and discuss fluency guru Tim Rasinski. Speaking of Mr.Rasinski, here is a wonderful fluency rubric you may want to check out. I use a rubric during the first read and then with each successive read to show my little sweeties their progress and to send to their parents and classroom teacher to communicate progress.

In the spirit of collaboration, please tell us about your tips and tricks for developing fluent readers.

Have a marvelous Monday! 


  1. Thank you for the rubric freebie. I am not a specialist but have my masters in reading. I always enjoy reading ANYTHING about how to teach reading. I have used voice recorders before, but that one looks so neat!
    Thanks for your great ideas.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Amy! I'm with you- if it's about reading, I will read it, watch it, listen to it, etc. :-) Lauren


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