Fluency has been identified as one of the five components of effective reading instruction: phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. While the last decade has seen an increase in focus on fluency as a result of NCLB and Reading First, research indicating its importance has been around for a long time.
In Essential Readings on Fluency complied and introduced by Timothy V. Rasinski, articles from the last three and a half decades of Reading Teacher are reprinted. This book is one of a series of reading topics by IRA available at http://www.reading.org/General/Publications/Books/EssentialReadings.aspx. Although the articles are not recent in origin, their material is valid to teachers. The focus of instruction for the the authors is elementary and middle school. Each article is followed with a couple questions for reflection, a useful focus for PLCs or book clubs.
The primary methods endorsed by the authors to improve fluency specifically and reading in general are repeated readings, paired readings, timed readings and Reader's Theater. When trying to scale these approaches to the high school student, creative teachers need to think about how to meet the curricular needs of the individuals as well as the reading needs.
Teaching fluency requires material at the individual's instructional reading level. This means that low level texts or support materials must be sought out so as to support the student's curricular needs as well as work on reading instruction. Low level texts, however, are notorious for being far less information dense than standard texts and should not be used in isolation with students who need to be able to pass grade level tests. Publishers have produced a variety of low level texts and texts from lower grade levels may be used if funds are limited. http://www.resourceroom.net/older/hilow_sources.asp has a list of sources of low level text material.
One concern cited by the authors is that focus on speed alone does not increase reading skill. While there is a strong correlation between correct words per minute read and reading skill, they are not synonymous. Students need to expand their vocabularies and improve their comprehension as well. Being able to read quickly will not necessarily result in being able to understand what is read, especially if a language disability exists.
In spring of 8th grade, students at the 50th percentile (%ile) read 151 words per minute (wpm), while students at the 90th %ile read 199 wpm. That reflects more than a thirty percent increase in speed for the students. Students at the 10th %ile, however, read only 41 wpm. That is a two-thirds reduction. So a student at the 50th %ile reads for 15 minutes, at the 90th %ile reads for 10 minutes and the at 10th %ile reads for 25 minutes. When we consider how this might impact students, we must consider how reading tasks may be very time intensive for our lowest level students resulting in them being least likely to read the material because of the time required to complete the task. Simply reducing the reading load, however, means that they may not achieve progress desired. One approach may be to limit non-core readings to allow a focus on reading core material. If the non-core material, however, is highly motivational this may not be a good option either.
A difficulty with fluency is that norms do not exist for students above 8th grade. As the spread between highly capable readers and struggling readers widens in high school, expectations become increasingly difficult to meet and hard to measure against standards. The push to Common Core State Standards may result in push back from struggling students who feel even more incapable of achievement. They may drop out, increase in disruptiveness, and/or cheat at increased numbers. Targeting middle school for trying to improve fluency may be very important for high school success. Developing innovative ways to target fluency at the high school level and disseminating them through the core teachers will be a challenge of the future.