This year I am assigned to work with kids who demonstrate reading challenges. These range from decoding to fluency to vocabulary to comprehension and many of these items combined. Since I have been concerned with the time reading assignments take for my struggling students, fluency has been an area of interest.
Fountas and Pinnel suggests students read 180-220 words per minute (WPM) by the end of 8th grade, NEAP suggest about 170 wpm after the 5th grade, Rasinski suggests 180 at the 6th grade level and Reading A-Z proposes 170 by the end of 6th grade. Research by Hasbrouck and Tindal (2006) indicates that in the fall of 8th grade students at the 25th percentile read 106 wpm, in the 10th percentile they read 77 wpm, in the 50th percentile they read 133 wpm and in the 90th percentile 185 wpm. Our best readers read almost two and a half times as fast as our most struggling readers. I looked at sample chapter section of Prentice Hall's World History: Connections to Today (2005) text, a typical 9th and 10th grade history textbook in New York state. Discounting the introductory guidance, sidebars, graphics, and captions the section had approximately 2652 words. A reader at the 90th percentile might need just over 14 minutes to read the text. A reader at the 50th percentile, almost 20 minutes and one at the 10th percentile, over 35 minutes. A struggling reader is unlikely to independently have the stamina to read this, especially with the intense content load, complex vocabulary and challenging names used in the reading. When students do not complete the reading, we ask ourselves, "What is wrong with these students?" We say, "They need to build stamina and perseverance. Look at Johnny, he always gets his work done." Of course he does. It takes him a fraction of the time to do it. His stamina requirements are far less than our struggling reader. So what are we to do? We cannot just assign a shorter reading all the time. No we need to address the underlying cause of the struggles our readers have, remediate and teach compensation strategies and explain the bitter truth of being a slow reader or struggling reader means things are going to take longer. We could also assign our best readers more complex passages that might provide them with some challenge- but that is an issue for another day.
In comes fluency instruction as part of a balanced directed reading intervention. I am working with Wilson reading, but this program does not have a robust fluency aspect, so it needs to be added to the program. I was intrigued with Jerry L. Johns and Roberta L. Berglund's idea of differentiating fluency instruction based on the type of issues the reader is having. Johns and Berglund identify 6 types of readers:
- Student reads fluently but exhibits poor comprehension
- Student struggles with words and meaning and has generally weak comprehension
- Student stumbles over words but has acceptable to strong comprehension
- Student reads material slowly, at or near grade level, with acceptable to good comprehension
- Student's oral reading lacks prosody (phrasing, tone, pitch, stress, rhythm, pauses, intonations, expression) and comprehension varies
- Student is a severely disabled reader who is functioning far below grade level
I once worked with a type 1 reader. The teachers could not understand that although she read beautifully, her limited vocabulary and concept knowledge extremely limited her ability to comprehend the material. Most students in school that we might identify as needing some support (or maybe we would say are fine) are in the 3-5 groups. I tend to work with students in groups 1, 2 and 6. One of the points that the authors make, however, is that all students need fluency instruction that is appropriate to their skill set at that moment. This includes those secondary students who no longer have reading class. Being able to identify the types of weaknesses students have enables a teacher to select appropriate interventions and strategies for instruction in the classroom.
In their definition of fluency, Johns and Berglund incorporate comprehension rather than leaving it as a separate entity. This full inclusion into fluency is unusual in their approach to reading instruction. Below the illustration indicates the components of fluency, what they mean and major ways they are addressed through instruction.
Simply looking at speed is clearly not enough. We need to think about all the aspects of fluency and address all the pertinent ones.
After they justify fluency instruction and identify the reader types the authors present a series of 31 strategies that can be used to teach fluency. While many of these strategies are fairly commonly found, the authors' twist on making it unique is how they present each one. Each strategy is described by what reader types it is appropriate for and what aspects of fluency it addresses. There is a general description of the strategy and the research that backs it up. Then they provide ideas for instruction and practice. For example Basic Sight Word instruction is recommended for types 2, 3, 4 and 6 while Guess the Emotion is recommended for types 1, 4, and 5. While I think this is a great jumping point, I suspect that the average secondary content area teacher might need some additional support in determining how to implement the strategies in their classrooms.
The book concludes with three additional parts: a series of graded passages to assess fluency, a series of monitoring resources and then the appendix of resources. I really liked some of the fluency rubrics. I plan on trying to use them with my students for whom fluency is an issue since they nicely describe what fluent reading should sound like.