Thursday, October 2, 2014

What's Hot & What's not

Every year IRA (International Reading Association) conducts a What's Hot in Literacy survey. This month's (September/October 2014) Reading Today contains the report authored by Jack Cassidy and Stephanie Grote-Garcia. Unsurprisingly, according the survey Common Core related topics such as close reading/deep reading, college and career readiness, informational/nonfiction texts and text complexity are hot. The trend of the survey is that the participants rated the vast majority to the topics as should be hot.

What surprised me was that fluency was rated by at least 75% of the respondents as not hot and 50% said it should not be hot. The authors postulate that this could be the case because they were hot during the Reading First/NCLB years and yielded negligible results in student achievement (p. 10). Indeed overall reading achievement scores have changed only slightly despite the attention to the big five that Reading First provided.

Timothy Rasinski has been a leading proponent of fluency. He has published multiple articles on the subject in a variety of journals, written several books, and given countless presentations on the matter. He certainly believes that fluency should be an integral part of the reading program, especially for struggling learners. Fast ForWord, a computer based intervention program, has a strong fluency component. Both Rasinski's and Fast ForWord studies have demonstrated significant improvement in reading achievement. Perhaps the reason the impact is perceived as minimal is that little attention was truly paid to fluency, in spite of the "attention" it was supposed to be receiving.

Perhaps another reason for decreased or stagnant reading performance is the reduction in the amount of reading children do. According to a Common Sense Media 2014 report, in 1999 approximately 45 minutes were spent a day reading or being read to for 2-7 year olds. In 2013 that number dropped to be 29 minutes per day for 2-4 year olds and 32 minutes per day for 5-8 year olds. Children who do not read and are not read to will have great difficulty improving their reading skills. Just having students read more increases reading performance. Merely reading and rereading material improves fluency. Targeted interventions are more effective, but simply promoting reading time is effective. This is something easy to accomplish, requires no training, and can be done in virtually any environment.

To me, not only does fluency impact comprehension, it also greatly impacts a student's willingness to read and ability to complete work in a timely manner. Without appropriate fluency, students are left in the dust as their peers read and learn on. Although our attention to complex texts and deep reading entail slowing down reading, think of the child who spends all of their mental energy on just getting through the text. If they cannot read it with some amount of speed, they often will not bother to read it. They will skim, look for key words, and learn to cheat and copy convincingly. This is not the goal. We need to empower our struggling readers to access the reading. This includes fluency.

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