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Strategies to Assess and Increase Reading Fluency

Strategies to Assess and Increase Reading Fluency

National Institute for Literacy (

Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with proper expression and comprehension. Students who are able to read orally with speed, accuracy, and expression, but who do not simultaneously understand what they read, are not fluent. Educators value assessments of rate and accuracy because they help determine a child’s level of automaticity, or the “fast, effortless word recognition that comes with a great deal of reading practice.”

One effective indicator of reading fluency is to have a student read a passage from grade level material aloud for one minute. A score is given representing the number of words the student read correctly. This procedure is valid and reliable and is a good way to monitor student progress over time in reading grade level material. The scores can be easily graphed to illustrate progress and there are published norms for grades 1-3.

Another tool often used to assess both oral reading accuracy and comprehension is the informal reading inventory. A child is typically asked to read aloud a passage at grade level and the teacher records errors. Then the child is asked to orally answer comprehension questions about the passage. Several published informal reading inventories are currently available.

A third tool that can be used to evaluate fluency includes a measure of expression. In the NAEP assessments (National Reading Panel Report, pp. 3-10), a four point scale was used. When a child’s oral reading was word by word, one point was given; when reading showed comprehension with appropriate pauses at meaningful phrases and clauses, four points were awarded.

What is “guided oral reading”?

Guided repeated oral reading is an instructional strategy that can help students improve a variety of reading skills, including fluency. There are a number of effective procedures that can be used in providing guided oral reading. In general, a teacher, parent, or peer reads a passage aloud, modeling fluent reading. Then students reread the text quietly, on their own, sometimes several times. The text should be at the student’s independent reading level. Next, the students read aloud and then reread the same passage. Usually, reading the same text four times is sufficient.

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Some examples of more specific techniques that involve rereading with feedback include these:

• An adult or peer reads with the student by modeling fluent reading and then asking the student to read the same passage aloud with encouragement and feedback by the adult or peer.

• A student listens to a tape of a fluent reader reading text at the student’s independent level at a pace of about 80-100 words a minute. The student listens to the tape the first time and then practices reading along with the tape until the student is able to read fluently.

• The student reads with a peer partner. Each partner takes a turn reading to the other. A more fluent reader can be paired with a less fluent reader to model fluent reading. The more fluent reader can provide feedback and encouragement to the less fluent reader. Students of similar reading skills can also be paired, particularly if the teacher has modeled fluent reading and the partner reading involves practice.

• Readers’ theatre can be a motivating way to improve fluency. Students read scripts and rehearse a play to prepare for a performance. The practice in reading and rereading the scripts provides an excellent opportunity to improve fluency skills.

What does the research say about encouraging students to read on their own as a way to improve reading skills?

The National Reading Panel (NRP) found correlational studies indicating that students who read more are generally better readers. Because these were correlational studies, it isn’t clear, however, whether the relationship is causal. For example, in a correlational study, it is possible that good readers tend to read more and poor readers tend to read less. What is not clear from correlational studies is the direction of the relationship. What we would ideally like to demonstrate is that the amount of reading a student does determines if one becomes a good reader or a poor reader. In order to establish the direction of the relationship, we would have to do an experimental study that carefully manipulates the amount of reading that the student will do.

Because none of the reviewed studies was experimental, the NRP was not able to make a statement to that effect that encouraging students to read more on their own actually causes them to become better readers. However, the wealth of support from the correlational studies suggests that reading more leads to growth in reading achievement. More research needs to be done to examine the role of increased reading and its impact on both fluency and comprehension. The NRP therefore suggested that sustained silent reading during class time without time set aside for instruction in the numerous skills associated with reading may not be a productive way to spend valuable class time. It is important to note that the Panel did not discourage teachers and others from encouraging students to read more on their own outside of class time.

What is “progress monitoring” in fluency?

Monitoring progress in reading fluency involves taking samples of students’ reading and recording the correct words read per minute. Teachers look for increases in words read correctly per minute from test to test. This measure is highly reliable, valid, and strongly correlated with reading comprehension. Furthermore, it is highly predictive of performance on high-stakes reading tests.

Read more. Teaching Through Reading Frustration.

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