Working with high school struggling learners, it quickly becomes apparent that although some are very much like children, others are far more like adults. This is seen in their individual maturity, compliance, individuality and outlook. Therefore, in looking at research related to fluency and my students, I have also pooled adult literacy materials. Beth D. Winn, Christopher H. Skinner, Renee Oliver, Andrea D. Hale and Mary Ziegler's research article, The effects of listening while reading and repeated reading on the reading fluency of adult learners for the November 2006 edition of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, was an interesting read. It describes a research study in which a dozen adults seeking support for weak reading skills were provided with listening while reading (LWR) and repeated reading(RR) opportunities and the effects of this intervention were analyzed. As one might expect both LWR and RR were effective in increasing reading fluency on the passage in which they were used. No research was completed to see if this instructional technique had impact beyond the article in question.
I want to comment on the author's rationale for looking at reading fluency. Fluency has been demonstrated to be related comprehension. People who read more quickly utilize less working memory than those who read more quickly. This enables them to maintain the information in their heads for longer. It also facilitates ability to synthesize material with past learned material because there is available working memory for this activity. Reading fluency also impacts motivation. People who find reading easier, find it more enjoyable and are more likely to read. When you read faster the rate of reinforcement related to reading is higher and the likelihood of choosing reading over other activities increases. Further, when individuals read, their fluency, vocabulary and comprehension increase. Thus there is a spiral that works up and down. Fluency increases motivation to read which increases reading which increases fluency. Conversely there is a negative relationship as well. Low levels of fluency decrease motivation which decreases reading which increases the gap between the high and low proficiency levels which decreases relative fluency. This is the first time I have seen researchers really appreciate this cycle of motivation and reading success. Although others comment on the link between reading and increased reading skills, rarely do they pull in the motivational impact. I think that this is important in understanding why people do not choose to read.
In my practice it is easily and quickly apparent that both LWR and RR impact fluency on the particular passage. When I want student to read something more smoothly, I will use one of these techniques to do so. It inevitably increases reading rate, phrasing and comprehension. I operate on the basis that using these strategies increases fluency on other tasks as well. It makes sense that more frequent exposure to words increases the brains familiarity with them which in turn increases links that lead to proficient reading. After all, we know that neurons that fire together wire together. If we get students to create neurological links between words, their physical representation, their verbal representation and their meaning, it can only improve reading.
It appears, however, that the critical link may be motivation. How do we motivate students to read more? Simply requiring reading does not work. Students have lots of practice fake reading, reading simple books they read before, and avoiding required work. We need to show them the joy in reading. LWR is a great way to demonstrate that... if we have material to read that is interesting to the individual reader rather than interested to the adult in charge. For my son, this meant reading antique bottle buying guides. Unfortunately these are not on the AR list, do not have a plot to describe in a review and is absent of characters. He was lucky to have teachers willing to create individualized tasks for demonstrating his comprehension and reading. I know this is not always the case. We know that students who read graphic novels read more non graphic novels than struggling readers who do not read graphic novels. Why then do so many teachers disallow them in for independent reading choices? We need to give them a reason to read. Otherwise they will not. If they don't read, they won't get better at it and they won't choose to read in the future.