Tim Rasinski on Fluency

Thursday, January 13, 2011 4-4:30PM ET/ 1-1:30PM PT

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Question: Does fluency necessarily mean that the student has comprehension?
Answer: Yes. Fluency does not exist without comprehension. The reason for developing fluency is to allow students to dive deep into the meaning of the text. Any method or program that promotes fluency should have a strong emphasis on helping students access meaning as they read.

Question: Are the "canned" fluency programs that students use on the computer an effective way to build reading fluency?
Answer: Most commercial programs for teaching fluency employ repeated and assisted reading, both of which are proven methods for improving fluency. However, because reading speed is used as the method for assessing fluency in these programs, many students focus their use of repeated and assisted reading on improving their speed. As a result, many students in these programs show improvements in reading speed. However, improvements in reading fluency and comprehension are often lacking. My major concern with many of the commercial programs in the field today is their implied emphasis on fast reading. Students learn what we teach them; if we tell them that reading rate is fluency, they will learn to make speed the key ingredient when working on fluency. For me, this is not fluency.

Question: Are one minute fluency timed readings effective? Are we losing comprehension?
Answer: There has been found to be a strong correlation between reading speed (as measured by one minute fluency probes) and comprehension. This is because speed of reading is an indicator of automatic word recognition. The more automatic students are in word recognition, the more of their cognitive resources can be devoted to comprehension. That said, an over use of one minute reading probes focuses students’ attention on improving speed at the cost of comprehension. I think used judiciously and sparingly (e.g. once a month or so) one minute fluency timed readings are useful. Too much use, however, draws students away from comprehension, the goal of reading.

Question: Are there any independent or partner activities students can do in the classroom to help them with their fluency?
Answer: Most definitely. Paired reading is a great activity for building fluency in which students read with a more fluent partner 10-15 minutes per day. Independent rehearsal (repeated reading) of a poem, monologue, or other text that will eventually be performed for an audience is a great way for students to work independently on fluency. The practice students engage in is not practice aimed at improving reading speed; on the contrary, rehearsal becomes practice that is aimed at using one’s voice to communicate meaning to an audience.

Question: Please address the differences between fluency and automaticity. Thanks.
Answer: Automaticity is one aspect of fluency – it is the ability to recognize words so effortlessly or automatically that the reader is able to use his or her limited cognitive resources to making meaning. Automaticity is measured through reading rate. However, reading rate is not the same as automaticity. Fluency programs aimed at improving rate are not good. Although we should want students to learn to read quickly, we want them to develop speed and automaticity the same way that most adults develop speed and automaticity – through lots of reading.

Question: A second aspect of fluency is prosody or reading with expression. It is through expressiveness when reading orally that we also add meaning to the texts we read. Consider this sentence: Woman without her man is nothing. Adding two pauses (one after Woman and one after her) will change the meaning of the sentence completely. Can a teacher really increase fluency through silent reading?
Answer: Absolutely. Fluency is not something that happens only in oral reading. It occurs during silent reading where students recognize words automatically and also hear that internal voice in their heads as they read. Practice in silent reading will also lead to improvements in fluency and comprehension.

Question: What kinds of reading practice to you advocate?
Answer: I think that there are two essential forms of practice in reading. One is wide reading. That’s the kind of reading most of us so. We read a story or an article; digest its meaning, and then move on to the next text. This is what students do in their regular reading programs – read a story, work on comprehension with the teacher as well as other reading skills and strategies, and then move on to the next text. However, if students read a text only once and do not read it well, then we are only allowing them to practice in a mediocre way at best. Sometimes I think we need to give students an opportunity to read a given text several times until they achieve a level of fluency, mastery, and comprehension of the text. This is called repeated or deep reading. Wide reading should be balanced with deep or repeated readings. In deep or repeated readings students read one text several times until they can read it well – with fluency and comprehension.

Question: How can poetry help with fluency?
Answer: I think poetry is one of the best texts for developing fluency. Most poems for children are short, so they can be read several times through in a short period of time. Poetry contains a strong voice. Voice in writing is, to me, the flip side of prosody in reading. Material that are written with voice are materials that meant to be read with voice - -or read fluency. Finally, poems are meant to be read orally for an audience. This means that poems should be read repeatedly (repeated reading) until students can read them to an audience. The rhythm and rhyme in poetry makes them easy to learn – a feature that is very powerful for students who often struggle in reading. Finally, poems are fun to read. Students enjoy reading the language of poetry.

Question: I feel like all I do is drill, drill, drill, with fluency. Is there a way to make it more fun?
Answer: Give your students opportunities to read and perform poetry, readers theater scripts, sing songs, and recite speeches for an audience of classmates, parents and others. Because students know they will be asked to read for an audience, they have a natural and authentic reason for engaging in repeated readings.

Question: I have a hard time finding readers theatre with topics for older students. Any suggestions?
Answer: Try other texts such as poetry. Or, better yet, have students write and perform their own scripts and poems. Students can easily transform segments of a textbook chapter story into a script. Then they can practice and eventually perform it for an audience. The transformation of a story or other text into a script means that students will have to read it for meaning in order to transform the text into a different form (script of poem). Performing your own scripts and other texts of your own creation is inherently interesting and enjoyable.

Question: Should fluency tests always be a cold read?
Answer: Because the fluency norms used are based on cold readings, then to use the norms, a teacher should administer the text in much the same way as the norms were developed – with cold reads. However, if you are going to measure progress from one time period to another, there is no reason that fluency cannot be measured after giving students a chance to read the text silently. If the same protocol is used with every measurement, then the assessment is a valid one (and, I might add, a more authentic approach to fluency).

Question: Should lower fluency rates be acceptable for struggling readers?
Answer: We need to use established norms to give us a guide as to where students ought to be in their reading. However, beside using norms as a peg against which to measure where students are and need to be, I think it is more important to show that students are making continual and ongoing progress in their fluency. Although a fourth grader may not hit the fluency norm by the end of fourth grade, the fact that he or she made extraordinary progress during that one year of school should be reason to celebrate.

Question: What can a Kindergarten teacher do to help create fluent readers?
Answer: I think there is much that Kindergarten teachers can do to promote fluency. First, read to students. When you read to your students you give them an opportunity to hear fluency in action. Talk with your students about how you used your voice to help them understand the story that you read. Also, talk with your students about the various features of fluency that you used (e.g. increasing and lowering your voice volume, emphasizing words, changing your voice, dramatic pauses, increasing and decreasing your reading speed). Help them see that your use of these things aided their meaning. Allow your students to practice and perform simple rhymes and other poems. Read these chorally with your students.

You can also help students develop fluency by working with them on basic decoding skills and reading high frequency words. Before students can become automatic in their word recognition, they need to develop basic accuracy in their reading. Kindergarteners are at a great age to begin to develop basic word recognition and phonics skills and strategies.

Headshot Tim Rasinski

Recommended for Teachers of Grades K-8

Nationally-renowned fluency expert Tim Rasinski will discuss the latest fluency research and share effective fluency practices that are easy to integrate into a balanced reading program.

Timothy Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University. He has written over 200 articles and has authored, co-authored or edited over 50 books or curriculum programs on reading education. He is author of the best selling book on reading fluency entitled The Fluent Reader, published by Scholastic, and co-author of the award winning fluency program called Fluency First, published by the Wright Group. His scholarly interests include reading fluency and word study, reading in the elementary and middle grades, and readers who struggle.

Teaching Resources by Tim Rasinski