Saturday, September 1, 2018

Fluency Fun for Fall (and Why Fluency is So Important!)

Hi, Teaching Friends!

Fluent reading is a behavior we need to expect of even our newest readers. There's one BIG reason ... fluency is essential to comprehension ... but do you know that there are a lot of other good reasons to teach fluency?

"But, wait!' you might say, "They're just getting started! Does fluency really matter when they're brand new readers? How can we possibly get them to read fast?"

Yes, getting your newest readers fluent right from the beginning definitely does matter! Here are a few reasons why:

*   Fluent reading boosts comprehension. The reader who needs to stop frequently to decode or who is still struggling with sight words can't hold the meaning of what he or she is reading. When the comprehension falters, the reader can no longer use meaning as a primary cue source.  It's a downward spiral that you don't want your readers to get caught in!

*   Fluent reading motivates students to read more.  As an adult, do you sometimes find it harder to force yourself to do something that you struggle with, or that you just plain don't want to be bothered with?  It's the same for our new readers. Children who struggle with reading tend not to want to read.  They get frustrated and so they read less. Less practice = less success ... another downward spiral!

*   Fluent reading makes reading fun.  Think about a Piggy and Gerald book being read word-by-word, without expression or phrasing or attention to the punctuation. Boring, right? But read fluently, they're fun! When readers have fun reading, they want to read more. And we know that "the more you read, the better you read", right?

*   Reading fluently ... or not reading fluently, is a habit. We definitely want to start out all of our newest readers out with the habits of successful readers!

As important as all of this is, nobody said that it would be easy.  Let me share a story about teaching fluency.

When I taught Reading Recovery, problem solving was a part of every lesson. We constantly evaluated what each child needed to advance to the next level. I knew just what this particular child needed - she needed to read faster!  She needed expression, phrasing, pace, and smoothness. But, try as I might, I could not get this child to read faster. Along came my Teacher Leader. Now, I loved and admired this lady dearly, but she could be tough!  When she took over part of my lesson with this little girl, she tapped a long and manicured nail on the book, looked this little one dead in the eye, and said, "Read it FASTER."  It's not like I haven't tried that prompt over and over, I smugly thought to myself.

But when Eileen said it, I guess the girl believed her more than she believed me. Or maybe she scared her (heck, even I was kind of scared!). But after a moment, she read it faster. And whenever she slowed down, Eileen tapped again and gave her the look - faster! 

That technique likely won't work for every child.  Pushing a student to read faster too soon could backfire, causing him or her to guess or neglect critical decoding details.

That being said, it sure worked that time. I learned to be firmer and to have higher expectations. That little girl jumped two levels within the following week, continuing to read not just at a faster pace, but with big improvements in smoothness, expression, the whole fluency picture!

What are the takeaways for your fluency instruction?  

*    Have the consistent expectation that your new readers can and will read books at their independent level with fluent pace, expression, and phrasing.

*    Be insistent and consistent in your fluency instruction!

*    Continue to model expression in your read-alouds.

*    Use shared reading as an opportunity to practice expression and reading the punctuation by having your students join in on refrains.

*    Provide your students with frequent opportunities to reread familiar books.

*    Consider temporarily dropping a child back a level or two to allow them to focus on fluency.

*    Use a listening center for your students to read along with online read-alouds, propelling them through the text.

*    Look for opportunities throughout the day for all readers to experience success in fluency, like the freebie below!

Here's a little autumn activity that will give your young readers a bit of extra fluency practice. Try it in a fall literacy center! Click the picture to download your copy.

Happy Teaching!

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