In this article, I introduce the notion of synergy—the logical combination of related activities with the same purpose—as it applies to oral reading instruction. Combining powerful elements of fluency instruction into an instructional routine delivered to students on a regular basis will result in instruction that is more effective than if the elements were presented separately.
As you read this article, consider how these ideas might fit into your classroom and, more important, how you might devise your own forms of instructional routines that create synergy.
Repeated Reading While Listening
We know that oral assisted reading (OAR) builds reading fluency. OAR activities require students to read a text while simultaneously listening to a fluent rendition of the same text—from a parent, teacher, or other more proficient reader, or from a recording. Reading a text while listening to it being read appears to reinforce recognition of words and phrases, which leads to improved reading. We also know that repeated reading—reading a text more than once improve fluency, word recognition, and comprehension. One simple way to introduce synergy is to combine these two proven approaches. Research has shown that having students engage in repeated reading while simultaneously receiving the support of a fluent rendition results in improved reading performance, especially for struggling readers (Hasbrouck, Ihnot, & Rogers, 1999; Rasinski, 1990; Rasinski & Hoffman, 2003; Rasinski, Reutzel, Chard, & Linan-Thompson, in press; Smith & Elley, 1997). In the study reported by Smith and Elley, for example, during a daily 20- to 25-minute intervention, students repeatedly read and listened to high-interest stories on tape at their instructional levels until they felt they could read the stories on their own. Over 27 weeks (about three quarters of a normal school year), students made, on average, gains of 2.2 years in their reading achievement. Moreover, students who participated in this synergistic program maintained their progress in reading over a two-month summer break.
To do repeated reading while listening, set aside time daily for the student to read and reread passages at his or her instructional level, multiple times. The student reads while listening to a fluent rendition of the text, either by a person or on a recording. When the student feels he or she has achieved an appropriate level of fluency, check his or her reading by having the student read the passage aloud independently. Record the reading rate (words read correctly per minute) and accuracy scores (percentage of words read correctly) on a log sheet. From there, move the student on to another text that is at the same difficulty level or slightly more challenging than the previous one, depending on his or her performance.
Fluency Development Lesson
The Fluency Developement Lesson (FDL) is a daily scaffolded instructional routine. FDL begins with the teacher reading aloud several times (modeling/repeated reading) a short, usually predictable text, such as a poem or a short passage from a basal story. Teacher Harry Parker, for example, uses his booming voice to draw his second graders into the daily poems that he uses in his fluency development lessons. Then, he repeats the poem in a variety of other voices, including a staccato, unexpressive, robot-like voice to illustrate disfluent reading, which his students dislike. Harry then spends a minute or two talking with his students about the meaning of the poem, as well as any difficult or unusual words.
Next, Harry and his students read the poem chorally several times, in various ways (oral support reading). He then pairs his students up, and each student reads the poem to his or her partner three times (repeated reading). The partner listens, provides help when necessary, and encourages the reader. Harry feels it is important to encourage the listeners to be supportive and give good feedback. After the third reading, the students reverse roles, and the listener becomes the reader.
After this practice time, Harry calls students together and offers them the opportunity to perform for an audience. The audience is usually the class itself, but sometimes Harry sends students off to perform for other classes; for the school principal, secretary, and janitor; for parent volunteers; or for teachers who aren’t on duty (more repeated reading).
After the performances, Harry and his students choose two or three interesting words from the text and add them to their individual word banks and the classroom word wall. Later, these words are used for word practice, sorts, games, and other activities.
Harry extends FDL by making two copies of the poem for each student. The students keep one copy in their poetry folders so they can reread and enjoy it later. The other copy goes home. Each day, as homework, students must find as many people as possible to listen to them read their FDL poem (more repeated reading). Parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and neighbors listen to the student read his or her poem once, twice, or more. Harry prepares parents for this early in the school year. He not only tells them that their children will be reading a poem each day to develop fluency, but he also talks about the importance of repeated reading and encouragement. After each reading, the listener signs the back of the poem or the daily Lucky Listeners form and adds a word or two of praise. This automatically enrolls the student in the “Lucky Listeners Club!” This activity has evolved into a friendly competition of who can come to class each morning with the greatest number of signatures. This is not only fun for the students, but it also tells Harry who’s doing the most repeated readings. Harry and his students usually read the poem a couple more times chorally before moving on to the new poem for the day.
FDL is fast paced. Harry’s entire lesson, for example, takes less than 15 minutes to complete. Once students get the hang of the routine, it doesn’t need to be explained. So instead of listening to directions, Harry’s students are reading— and they read a lot. Moreover, for students still struggling with fluency, this blend of modeled and supported reading is just what they need to be doing.
My research colleagues and I worked with second-grade teachers in urban schools, implementing FDL from May to October (Rasinski, Padak, Linek, & Sturtevant, 1994). We found that students made substantial gains in their reading fluency, as well as in their overall reading, as measured by an informal reading inventory. Indeed, their gains were greater than those of a similar group of students who spent the same amount of time with the same texts, but engaged in other forms of reading instruction. Moreover, we found that students and teachers enjoyed this lesson. Students became successful at reading FDL texts—and that success transferred to other, unfamiliar texts. Other research has supported the use of FDL with first-grade students (Kulich, Evanchan, & Sidorova, in press). Teacher and researcher Lynne Kulich has found the fluency development lesson to be perfect for her emerging readers:
While teaching first-, second-, and third-grade students, I implemented the FDL with poetry on a daily basis in my classroom. Each year, my classroom culture was enriched by the diversity of my students. Not only were monolingual English learners developing fluency and comprehension skills with the incorporation of the FDL, but my ELLs were also demonstrating great reading progress. Perhaps the most compelling reason for implementing the FDL is the level of student engagement evident in the classroom. The sheer desire to read for both aesthetic and efferent purposes began to escalate as the school year progressed. No other reading activity had such a powerful impact upon my diverse emergent readers.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of FDL’s effectiveness lies in its staying power. Teachers continued to practice it several years after the completion of the study. And we can see why: We have used a version of FDL in our university reading clinic for years and have found it to work consistently well with students of all ages who have difficulty with reading fluency.
For more about fluency, including lessons, strategies, and ideas, see Your Complete Guide to Reading Fluency .