What is the Definition of Fluency in Reading?
When teaching students how to read, there are five pillars educators should be aware of: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. While it seems like each of these pillars is its own individual step toward literacy, in reality, they are all intertwined and constantly working together.
That said, learning how to read is a complex process, and teaching students how to read can be even more so. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the important role fluency plays in the literacy acquisition process, and how teachers can feel comfortable and well-equipped to support students on their reading journey.
The Three Components of Fluency: Accuracy, Speed, and Expression
Fluency is the third pillar of literacy, and it serves as the bridge between word recognition and reading comprehension. Oftentimes fluency is defined as the ability to read quickly, but in reality, it is much more than that. Fluency is a combination of the ability to read with accuracy, speed, and proper expression, which ultimately helps students strengthen their reading comprehension skills.
An integral component of fluency is the ability to identify letters, letter patterns, and isolated words accurately and quickly. Fluency integrates this automatic word identification with the application of intonation, rhythm (prosody), and phrasing at the text level. Accuracy is intertwined with the theory of automaticity, which is the idea that students must develop their word recognition skills to focus their energy on understanding what they’re reading. Automaticity is a necessary component of fluency, but it also takes quite a bit of time and practice to develop.
While speed isn’t everything, it is still important. When students are able to read quickly while simultaneously comprehending the meaning of the text, it is a great indicator of their literacy skills. At the same time, some students might be reading so fast they don’t fully understand what they’re reading, which is why the importance shouldn’t be placed solely on speed.
In fluency, expression refers to the ability to read orally in a way that sounds like spoken language. It includes components like tone, pitch, volume, emphasis, and rhythm, and ultimately signifies the student’s understanding of what is being read. A student who has a strong grasp of expression will pause at appropriate times, emphasize important words, and use emotion when reading aloud.
How Fluency Leads Students to Success in Reading Comprehension
Research has shown that students with strong oral fluency skills are more likely to have success in other areas of the literacy acquisition process. This is because fluency serves as a bridge between being able to read or decode words and being able to comprehend what is being read. Students who don’t master reading fluency could become stuck in the middle of this bridge, they might be able to decode the words they’re reading, but they won’t be able to fully understand or enjoy the text.
The human brain is amazing, but it can only handle so many tasks at a time. By developing a student’s fluency skills, their attention and cognitive energy are freed up in a way that allows them to focus on finding meaning within the texts they’re reading. This allows for a more efficient application of higher-order thinking. This is known as the theory of automaticity.
Evidence-Based Strategies for Teaching Fluency
When teachers have a strong understanding of all the processes involved with learning how to read, they are better equipped to teach all types of students, including bilingual learners or those with reading disabilities. In understanding the science behind learning how to read, educators are better able to support their students in achieving literacy success. According to the National Institute for Literacy, some of the best ways to support your students in becoming more fluent leaders are (1) providing them with models of fluent reading and (2) having students practice reading passages with your guidance.
How Reading Aloud Supports Fluency and Reading Comprehension
When students have good models of fluent reading, they learn how important a reader’s voice is in making meaning of the text. Educators should read aloud to their students often and exemplify proper emotions and expressions, pause at appropriate times, and emphasize important words. After modeling the text for your students, you should have them read it on their own. There are plenty of evidence-based reading techniques that support students in developing their fluency skills, either at a classroom level or one-on-one with a teacher.
Some methods the National Institute for Literacy recommends to get students engaged in reading aloud and developing fluency are:
- Student-adult reading: This is meant for one-on-one sessions between a teacher and student, where the adult reads the text first to model fluent reading and the student reads the same passage back to them.
- Choral reading: This is a good way to help students practice oral reading without the anxiety that can come with other reading methods, like popcorn reading.
- Tape-assisted reading: Similar to choral reading, students will practice oracy by reading along with an audiobook. This form of instruction can be adjusted for different reading levels, eventually having students read the text independently of the audiobook.
- Partner reading: Students can be put into pairs, with students of different reading levels being partnered together. The stronger reader can serve as a model for their less-fluent partner, helping them with word recognition and giving them support along the way. This is just one way of doing partner reading—you can also pair students of the same reading level together.
- Readers’ theatre: This exercise makes reading fun by involving the whole class in a play. Not only is it fun, but it gives students a reason to reread texts and practice their fluency. It also promotes “cooperative interaction with peers” and makes reading more appealing.
What are the Approaches to Developing Fluency in Lexia Core5 Reading?
In Lexia® Core5® Reading, automaticity and fluency are targeted through systematic activities that enhance the speed of processing.
A feature of Lexia Core5 Reading is the inclusion of warm-up activities and review units designed to consolidate previously learned skills and bring them to a level of automaticity.
Students engage in warm-up activities at the beginning of each session for approximately two to three minutes. Since students differ in their processing speed, the pace of these warm-ups is based on individual performance and allows the students to increase their rate of response relative to their level of automaticity.
The content of the warm-ups follows the same sequence as the activities within previous levels. Warm-ups begin with letters and sound-symbol correspondences and move to a recognition of both regular and irregular words, as well as key elements related to comprehension.
In Lexia Core5 Reading, fluency instruction is built systematically by work that focuses on important aspects of sentence structure, as well as activities that involve the analysis of intonation, emphasis, phrasing, rhythm, and rhyme scheme. These activities are not timed and address critical elements of fluency related to prosody.
Fluency activities also include work at the paragraph level through the timed silent reading of narrative and expository text that follows a maze format. These silent reading activities are designed to increase the speed of processing while maintaining a focus on meaning.
Along with Lexia’s Core5 Reading program, we also offer professional training focused on empowering educators when teaching literacy acquisition. It is incredibly important that teachers have a full understanding of all the processes that go into reading to provide their students with the tools they need to find success. Take a look at our LETRS® Suite, which is a comprehensive professional learning program designed to help educators develop a deep knowledge of literacy and language.