Saturday, October 12, 2013

Slow Down! Helping Students Who Read Too fast

As a reading specialist, I work with students on fluency goals, administer fluency assessments, and craft my lesson plans to provide plenty of oral reading. Using oral reading daily promotes effective fluency along with repeated readings and using a multi-sensory approach to reading instruction.  For the majority of my students, they struggle with decoding and in turn, their fluency is marked by word-by-word reading and an inability to read at an appropriate speed and prosody.

However, there are students that read too fast.  These students usually have an average to above average reading level, often skip or insert words, and do not read with much expression.  As a result these readers often have gaps in their comprehension, may have difficulty retelling, and may score lower than expected on a reading assessment such as an IRI.

Unlike the student with a below average reading level who labors over decoding and who has difficulty understanding sentence structure, phrasing, and vocabulary, and therefore may be an unmotivated reader, the "fast reader" usually has a high interest in reading.

A Mini-Case Study

My middle son, age 7 (will be 8 in just three weeks!) who is in second grade is a spirited child who reads WAY too fast. An avid reader, he has several chapter books scattered around the house that he is reading, in addition to his nightly Guided Reading book and weekly library books.  If I want to get his attention, I place a few new books on the dining room table or in my home office.  He rarely stops in his tracks, but will do so if he spots a new and interesting book!

Noah does everything fast.  He runs, rarely walks, talks fast, and for the most part, learning has come very fast and easy.  Since preschool, he has had the misconception that being the first or one of the first to finish his work is the goal, no matter the quality or correctness.  He also thought that good readers read "really fast"- the faster the better!

When reading out loud to me, here is what I notice:
  • A very fast speed that at times makes it difficult for me to hear all the words
  • He skips words and inserts words (mostly for articles or sight words)
  • His prosody will often sound like mumbling
  • He does not slow down to verbalize his thinking (asking questions, predicting, monitoring)
  • After reading, he gets the "gist" of the text, but does not always remember key details or all story events.
Because his Guided Reading level is lower than I would have anticipated and because he desperately wants to read chapter books for Guided Reading and independent reading in his classroom, we have been working on s-l-o-w-i-n-g down his reading speed.

Tips for helping students who read too fast:
  • The first thing I did was ask my son if he thought he read too fast.  His response?  A resounding "No!".  Then I asked him if he remembered everything he read, which he admitted he did not.  Lastly, I asked him if he still wanted to read those chapter books in school.  Of course he did and so I used this intrinsic motivation to explain to him that he was reading too fast and that I could help him slow down and prove to his teacher that he could read those books!
  • So, we sat down to read his Guided Reading book that he brought home that day.  He began his usual speed reading.  I stopped him and he was not aware that he was reading too fast and did not think it was a big deal that he was skipping words or using careless decoding (look at the first letter and say any word that pops into his mind).  So, I read the page to him reading at his speed and then again at a more appropriate speed so he could hear the difference.
  • He read the page again, repeating and echoing my model.  I pointed to each word on the page as he read to slow him down. I used a gradual release model of "I do it, We do it (Choral reading), and You do it".
  •  I like to use my HearAll Assessment Recorder from Learning Resources to record my son reading at a fast pace and then at a more effective speed.  He can listen to both files to hear the difference.  Sometimes kids are not aware that they are reading too fast as they are reading.
  • For my son, he was pausing slightly at end punctuation.  Other readers will speed right on past any punctuation at the end of sentences. I tell my son that he needs to slow down or he will get a speeding ticket; he needs to put on the brakes!  A strategy that helps readers to stop and take a breath at the end of sentences is for them to lightly tap their pointer finger on their lap every time they come to the end of a sentence as a way to remind them to stop and take a breath.
  • He was not reading in phrases, not paying attention to syntax or commas, and barely pausing at the end of sentences.  To help him focus on phrases and sentences, I had him use a Reading Helper slide.

Just the act of holding the slide and having to maneuver it caused him to decrease his speed. Because of the green color of the plastic slide, it helped him to visually discriminate and not make so many simple miscues.

The slide also highlighted the internal sentence punctuation such as commas and semicolons. I reminded him that he needed to pause and take a breath and modeled what that sounded like.  For others, it may be necessary to remind them of how good readers read in chunks or phrases, which naturally causes you to take a breath.

Another suggestion is to read poems together, which we know is so much fun and effective for all fluency instruction.  By doing a choral reading, the reader hears a model of appropriate speed and is "forced" to adjust their speed and slow down.  We enjoy the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series which again provides opportunity for modeling and guided practice of appropriate reading speed.  Click the picture below to see the listing on Amazon.

At present, my son has reached the point where all I have to do is say "Put on the brakes! "or "Slow down!" and he understands what I mean and can reduce his speed.  Just this week, he told me that his teacher told him that he had increased his Guided Reading level!  I was so happy for him praised him for working so hard to show his teacher what a "super" reader he is!

If you have success with working with fast readers, please share your tips and strategies.

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  1. How is your son’s reading pace now? Has he slowed down? I’m glad you have lots of plans to help your child. Asking him directly to slow down can be counterproductive because as you’ve said, he’s not aware that he’s reading too fast. I find that having a child answer a few guide questions about what he/she is reading forces him/her to slow down and process the words and punctuations.

    Sarah Haskins

    1. Hi Sarah- Thank you for asking! I started seeing improvement by December. His teacher also worked with him. Once he saw that by slowing down he was able to increase his reading level to an "M", he was so motivated! Great tip about asking questions during reading! Thanks for stopping by. :-) Lauren

  2. Loved this article, I have often joked about my son being "Rain Man" as he seems to read so fast, I have even tested him on the story and he has nailed all my questions. However I think you are right in that he gets the "gist" of the story and although he is personally content with that, a more in-depth knowledge is likely required for school texts. I will certainly be using your tips and see how we get on!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Please let me know if the tips help you son! :-) Lauren

  3. I'm a fellow reading specialist and am having a hard time with a sixth grader of mine. She reads SUPER fast compared to my other students (at least 170 WPM). Like you said, she gets the overall gist, but fails to remember details, omits or includes new words, and just overall needs work on comprehension. I think her fast speed is what is affecting this so much.

    She is autistic, and I think she has it in her head that fast is good, and I'm having a REALLY hard time breaking her of it. I've done some of the things that you have done, but she's so stuck in her ways that it's hard to break her.

    Any suggestions for an older student like her?

  4. Hi Ashley! I've had a few middle school students like the one you describe. My own two youngest sons attended an elementary school for K-2 where speed drills were emphasized. It took a good year for my middle son to start slowing down and knowing when to adjust his rate. Once he realized and actually believed that good reading isn't necessarily fast reading, he started to slow down. When he wasn't able to summarize or answer comp questions, I gently reminded him that it was most likely because he read too fast and that now he has to reread when he may have been able to understand the first time.

    It's a fine line we walk because we don't want to frustrate and kill their love of reading.

    Have you tried having your student use her finger to point to words to see if that slows her speed? Then, later, it could be phased out once she understood how and when to adjust her rate. I used the STOP strategy with my son and older readers as a way to teach them how to self-monitor for speed and comprehension. I wrote about it here on my blog:

    I think I mentioned it in this post, but having kids tap their leg once or twice at the end of each sentence can help them to slow down and develop new habits.
    I'm not sure of where on the Autism spectrum your student is, but my oldest son has Aspergers. He's now an adult, but I remember that with him, it took a long time for him to change behaviors such as academic behaviors. You are planting seeds now and may not see the fruit of your labor this year. :-) Something else that may work is to have the students set a goal of slowing her reading pace. You could help her with a WPM goal and then tie in rewards if she meets that goal.

    I hope that something that I shared is of use. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. I know you wrote this years ago, but after leaving a teacher conference...this is my son! He's 7 now and he reads on a 6th grade level but he is only remembering about 1/2 the details of what he's reading b/c he's reading so fast! I'm planning to start working on it with him to slow down. He's in the same boat where we let him read chapter books at home, but his teacher won't at school until he slows down and starts picking up the comprehension and she's wanting to move him to chapter books at school too but needs him to slow down first. Anyway, I didn't know that she wasn't letting him read the chapter books so I didn't see an issue with it but we are going to start tomorrow with these tips! So happy to find this! Thank you!

    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by! I wrote another post with a strategy I use to help my son decrease his reading speed (he's 9 now and still reads too fast at times) and increase his comprehension. Click the link to see the post. I hope it helps! :-) Lauren


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