Monday, November 3, 2014

The Fluent Reader

Timothy Rasinski's The Fluent Reader: Oral and Silent Reading Strategies for Building Fluency, Word Recognition & Comprehension is a book and DVD package that reiterates how interrelated the elements of reading are. If you do not have word recognition, fluency and comprehension suffer. If your fluency is impaired because you take too long to read, ignore punctuation or do not use any emphasis in your reading, comprehension suffers. If you do not comprehend the material, you cannot read with prosody. Strategies that address any component affect the others.

The forward of the book by D. Ray Reutzel is exceptionally well written. Even someone who has extensive background in fluency approaches will appreciate it. He highlights some of the challenges of common fluency instruction:

  1. reading purely for the sake of increasing speed AKA DIBELS side effect
  2. providing attention to the idea that different reading tasks require different types of reading- "reader's executive or metacognitive control of accuracy, rate, and expression for a variety of purposes and across a variety of text difficulty levels and types."
  3. reading uninteresting, isolated passages as practice
  4. measurement of fluency by oral reading rate using grade level texts read for a single minute
                                                                                                                             p. 8-9
This book discusses ways to deal with these challenges.

First, Rasinski emphasizes the role of comprehension and prosody. This voids the speed for the sake of speed. Techniques such as choral reading of poetry, radio reading and readers theater provide fluency practice while incorporating good oral reading skills.

Second he suggests intensive use of read alouds to demonstrate the importance of different types of reading for different tasks. Other authors have suggested that if a student is assigned to read passage and answer questions at the end, skimming might be the appropriate approach to "reading" but when a summary is required, a more careful read is required. Rasinski supports teachers demonstrating both good and bad models of reading and having students discuss the pros and cons of each. This is not a task that is done once, but many times with different types of readings. Poetry, for example, can be read with lots of rhythm and a sing song manner, but if you try doing that with prose, meaning suffers.

Third, rather than reading isolated passage selections, Rasinski supports integrating instruction into content area materials. He proposes a one minute check in during which a teacher listens to a student read whatever content area material they are working on. Students have the background material available, are not feeling like this is a step out of instructional reality and hopefully have some motivation to read the passage because it complements what they are responsible for learning. This is a quick method that could be done once a month for every student in a class to monitor progress. Notes on correct words per minute, prosody and errors would lead to instructional choice for both the individual and the entire class.

Lastly, he proposes using a large variety of reading material to assess fluency. Poetry; student, teacher and commercially available scripts; textbooks; picture books and more are used to practice and assess progress. If students are involved in the creation of such passages, they could reflect the content being taught at the time so this is not a wholly separate activity that teachers must carve time out for in their busy days.

Two strategies that he proposes for developing fluency are often neglected: silent reading and being read to. As students get older, an increasing amount of material must be read silently. Practice at this skill is a must. Devoting class time to silent reading is a valuable use of class time, but teachers must be sure that actual reading is taking place. Students, especially struggling readers, are experts at fake reading. Checking in at the beginning, setting goals, circulating and asking students what they have read about, paired reading and student generated book-talks are all possible activities to reduce the fake reading. Students also love to be read to, regardless of their age or reading level. (I know that my very literate 17 and 14 year olds still love it when I break out a book to read to them.) I have found that picture books can be great ways to introduce new content to older students. Modeling good prosody, highlighting great phrases, exposing students to rich vocabulary are all benefits of reading aloud to students. Just last week I was reading a book, Zee's Way by Kristin Butcher, with a group of kids and the author described dawn as night leaking away. I had to stop and share my joy at this description with the students who, when prompted, visualized it and agreed with my delight at the wording.

Rasinski offers suggestions for developing sight word vocabulary. One of these suggestions is to use Fry's list of sight phrases. I have begun doing this and have noticed that it encourages reading in phrases rather than word by word, a symptom of disfluent reading. This is a resource that will certainly be utilized in my instruction with students who need support to read in phrases.

Rasinski's style of writing is very friendly. He incorporated lots of references for where to locate material to use with the various strategies and lots of sample forms for taking data. This book targets reading instruction at the elementary and intermediate levels, but offers suggestions that can be utilized at the secondary level. Further, this book would be a great resource for a teacher just beginning to focus on fluency. It offers lots of classroom specific ways to integrate fluency instruction into the school day. The DVD has both the forms that he prepared and classroom video of activities in action. It is a great support to the book itself.

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