Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why do Some Readers Struggle with Fluency

What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research Based Programs, a text by Richard Allington contains a chapter entitled Why Do Some Readers Struggle with Fluency? This chapter offers three main reasons for fluency not developing in struggling readers:
  1. Students are given a steady diet of too-difficult texts- they cannot read them accurately.
  2. Students are given lessons that provide little high-success reading resulting in little actual reading occurring
  3. Teachers frequently, consistently and immediately interrupt when students make an error.                                                                                        p. 34
As a result of these practices, children do not read enough to develop into successful readers.

His analysis of what high success reading looks like is interesting. If we look at a student who can read at 95% accuracy, he or she is making 6 errors per page of Harry Potter. For 99% this number drops to 3. In the first chapter that means there are over 50 errors that are likely to be important to the story (p. 37). Understanding of the text with this level errors would be drastically impaired. Consequently, Allington believes that for high-success, fluency development, 99% may not even be an adequate level of correctness. An interesting concept, since we tend to assign struggling readers, readings in which they make many more errors than that.

We know that students who are proficient readers read more than those who are struggling and that this discrepancy results in exponentially different numbers of word exposures between the two groups. Further, this difference results in widening the reading proficiency gap. It appears that one critical piece of increasing both reading fluency and overall reading skill is increasing the amount that students read. In order to do this we need to have books that intrigue students on topics they find interesting. While there are high interest/ low reading level books by publishers such as Orca, High Noon, HIP, Hameray and Bearport, classroom, school, and public libraries often carry few, if any, titles. If we want our reluctant readers to read, we need to give them things they can read AND things they want to read. As enjoyable as Arnold Lobel's books may be, middle and high school students will usually turn up their noses at them because they are "babyish."

Allington creates an interesting comparison between reading lessons with successful and struggling readers which is summarized in the chart below.

Type of reader
What lessons ask students and teacher behaviors
  • Ask to read aloud
  • Read too-hard texts
  • Interrupt with correction when misreading occurs
  • Ask to sound out words
  • Appropriate level of reading difficulty
  • Read silently
  • Expectation for self-monitoring and self-correcting
  • Focus attention on comprehension
  • Interrupt only after a wait period or at the end of a sentence
  • Suggest to reread or self-monitor when interrupted
                                                                                               p. 42-43
In light of different teacher behaviors, we see different student outcomes. This is not all that surprising.  Struggling readers are not given the opportunity to self-monitor and correct so they become passive rather than active participants in the reading process.

Repeated reading is a strategy that is highly regarded when it comes to reading fluency. Allington notes, however, that the studies that support this intervention are all short term studies- 6-12 weeks. Consequently he does not support long-term application of repeated reading. The research does support the use of wide reading as a long-term intervention. Therefore, he does support increasing the quantity of reading students do by virtue of reading lots.

When I think about how this interacts with some of the behaviors I have seen used with Common Core curriculum, I am concerned. Yes, research does verify that repeated reading of challenging material is successful for increasing comprehension. What passes as challenging material is my first concern. If you are a seventh grader reading at a fourth grade level, reading material at the upper end of the 6-8 Lexile band is frustrating and not seen as a learning challenge but an unsurmountable mountain of difficulty. Challenging material for this individual would be at the end of fourth grade level, but we are unlikely to modify our curricular expectations to meet this individual's  challenge level. This is not high success reading, except for then most capable readers in the class. It also fosters high levels of teacher interventions because of the difficult vocabulary, language and concepts.  Further, with the emphasis on passing "the tests" and limits on our instructional time, we are unlikely to provide the intense at-level practice that will help this student develop fluency and the self-identification as a reader. Yes, many of the selections provided represent varied reading choices. The repeated reading required for students to access this material may teach persistence in attacking difficult material, but it also limits the number of different texts students are exposed to. Presenting a balanced reading program is even more challenging in today's educational climate than it has been in the past.

No comments:

Post a Comment