Monday, November 17, 2014

Is Fluent, Expressive Reading Important for High School Readers?

I have been asked why I consider it important that my students read fluently. In particular, why did I put a words per minute goal on an IEP? Although the National Reading Panel described fluency as one of the five critical components of reading instruction, limited attention to reading fluency has occurred. Authors such as Timothy Rasinski suggest that poor success with fluency impacting reading skills is related to the limited definition of fluency as reading speed. Fluency incorporates speed but also prosody.
Reading fluency seems especially anachronistic at the secondary level. Students can read. Why should we focus on this area? David D. Paige, Timothy R. Tasinski and Theresa Magpuri-Lavell's article, Is Fluent, Expressive Reading Important for High School Readers? from the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy in September of 2012, looked at this issue. They open their article with the research-based assertion that "Fluent readers tend to read in a way that constructs meaning, whereas less-fluent readers tend to struggle with making meaning (p. 67)." They do note the brevity of research on the effectiveness of fluency instruction at the secondary level. This study reports a linear relationship between oral prosody and silent reading comprehension. Students who orally read more fluently have higher silent reading comprehension rates. Fluency was rated based on the Multidimensional Fluency Scale. This scale looks at the expression and volume, phrasing, smoothness, and pace of reading. It enables an informal assessment of skills that can be used to assess progress over time.

The authors go on to point out that reading instruction at the high school level tends to focus on comprehension skills. Since comprehension instruction is most effective once basic fluency is achieved, this suggests the requirement for an instructional shift. Based on their research, they suggest that for students with fluency issues, rather than focusing on comprehension, the instruction should focus on fluency in order to improve reading skills.

The authors suggest a few practices to improve fluency at the high school level.
  • Selection of materials that lend themselves to prosodic reading: plays, speeches, poetry, reader's theater, etc. Social studies and ELA abound with these opportunities, but a creative teacher can incorporate them into other content areas.
  • Deep and wide reading: read lots of different things at the readers level on a variety of topics in a variety of genres.
  • Repeated readings; read it over. Some of the CCSS move toward close reading emphasizes this idea that material should be read over, but teachers need to be careful that it not be at or beyond the frustration level of the students. Furthermore, passages for repeated reading should be short (Less than 500 words for high school students) which is counter to many readings used in CCSS materials.
  • Assisted reading in which a proficient reader reads along with the struggling reader. Techniques include paired reading and choral reading.
  • Direct instruction in what fluent reading is with modeling of appropriate prosodic reading.
  • Avoiding singling out struggling readers. Choral approaches allow anonymity in reading.
These practices can all be carried out in general content area classrooms. Teachers may need instruction in how to create and implement lessons that include fluency instruction within their content area. Consultant teachers and reading specialists can offer this support and guidance. Further, if a teacher is co-teaching in a room, groups can be split into those that need fluency support, those that can read independently and those that need comprehension strategies. Differentiating the instruction and utilizing the power of multiple teachers in a classroom provides for optimization of instruction. In order for such instructional approaches to be used, however, dedicated co-planning time needs to occur.

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