Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot!

Timothy V. Rasinski's article, Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot!, from The Reading Teacher, 65(8), takes an interesting approach to understanding the challenge of fluency instruction. He points out three reasons ways fluency instruction is often flawed:
  1. Fluency instruction focused solely on reading quickly, minimizes comprehension in favor of speed and consequently does not improve reading.
  2. Fluency instruction is limited to the early elementary grades based on the theories that it should be in place early in the process of learning to read and that silent reading replaces oral reading as students move up in grades so oral fluency-based instruction is unnecessary.
  3. Fluency instruction often does not focus on reading for meaning and enjoyment.
Unfortunately, these characterizations of fluency instruction reflect the worst not the best of the instruction.

Research has, however, repeatedly reflected the link between fluency and comprehension. Research has also demonstrated that students who read orally with good speed, automaticity and prosody read better silently as well. Further, research proves that struggling readers may read at half the speed as their average reader peers, reducing the probability of these students actually reading.

Good fluency instruction does include speed as a component, but also includes prosody and automaticity. It uses fluency as a bridge to comprehension. Building these skills is accomplished through two major approaches- wide reading and deep reading. Wide reading, reading many different things, builds background knowledge and allows for exposure to many words thus increasing word recognition and automaticity. Deep reading links fluency to comprehension. Interestingly, Rasinski does not use the term close reading. Close reading generally refers to strategies used to comprehend challenging reading material. Deep reading, however, refers to rereading in order to improve prosody. "...[T]hrough repeated reading, readers become more adept and efficient at employing prosodic features into new passages not previously read" (p. 519). Everyone has been lucky enough to hear a gifted storytelling reader. He uses his voice to effectively communicate the message of the text. This is the goal of repeated reading.  In order to read with prosody, one must understand the material. Rereading, as the proponents of close reading know, enhances comprehension. The trap that close reading often falls into, however, is the third flaw of fluency instruction- it often minimizes enjoyment of reading, whereas Rasinski's deep reading emphasizes this.

Rasinski proposes that fluency instruction should be hot, but that it needs to be done in an effective manner that utilizes wide reading and deep reading. Performance activities are a great way to meaningfully encourage rereading, not merely for speed or to answer text dependent questions, but for prosody as well. Building these tasks into remedial reading tasks can be a wonderful way to get students to read and reread. It does, however, require that they be taught how to read with prosody. Teachers need to become gifted oral readers to demonstrate skills and then they need to highlight what makes reading more interesting to the listener-- things like using volume and speed to reflect meaning, pausing for punctuation, matching expression to meaning and carefully enunciating words.

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