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Fluency: The Third Reading Component

A realistic picture of young students sitting in chairs with a book in their hands focusing on a teacher directed lesson.

The third essential component of reading is fluency. Most instructors use a fluency assessment to collect baseline data before determining their direction of instruction. I start with a fluency assessment with my school-aged students and move up and down the essential reading component assessments to determine students' placements (check out the resources page to get your free copies).

Fluency is the ability to read connected texts automatically, accurately, and with expression. I've noticed that if my students can't read words automatically, but can read with accuracy, their underperformance may be due to a processing speed-related issue, Dyslexia, or either a language barrier. A Special Education Teacher or Speech & Language Pathologists are good resources to use in this situation. (Now keep in mind, that the National Reading Panel gives a concise sequence for the order of reading. A lot of research has been conducted on the science of reading and the "reading brain." Please don't ignore this). On the other hand, if students are given fluency assessments and they can't read with accuracy and you sense their frustration, a phonics review may be needed.

I don't think using fluency assessments or spending the majority of class time on fluency-related instruction, such as running records or CBMs, should even be considered if students don't know the "code" or "rules" for reading (If you don't know what I'm talking about, please go back and read the second component of reading from this series. I think you're going to like it)! Fluency practice should be introduced after students know how to decode a few words and have had practice reading decodable texts with a few non-decodable high-frequency words. After these few steps have been practiced, students are ready to move on to practicing their fluency (speed, expression, and accuracy) with leveled readers or even decodable texts.

As you may know from my previous blog on phonics, I like to give practical and relatable examples to my students to help them better understand objectives. Modeling how to read fluently is crucial (Thus the reason it's important to read to children often). I model fluency by first telling students that we "read the way we talk." We...don'," so we want our words to flow smoothly when we read. We don't stop in between sounds or words, and when we read we don't stop either. (But please give students grace in this area. Fluency is something that must be practiced consistently. Using the same reader over and over will help with speed and reading with expression).

From my previous post on phonics, you know that I like to use characters to help make things practical and fun for my younger learners. I'm going to be referencing the character Dory again (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read my previous blog about the second reading component). Pretending to speak like Dory, when she speaks "whale," helps us when sounding out words (decoding and phonics). However, when building fluency, we want to do the opposite. Giving two extremes helps students find their "sweet" spot in reading. Again, modeling is a great way to help students understand the meaning of reading fluently.

Fluency assessments are usually timed. Depending on the words read per minute and the accuracy of those words, determine the reading level of the student. Be mindful that students with disabilities, including Dyslexia, may have a hard time reading a ton of words quickly. I don't like timing my students because it makes some of them frustrated and doesn't give a true depiction of their reading level. Use your judgment when determining grade-level placement for students who struggle. At the end of the day, comprehension is the end goal (discussed in the next blog).

Reading A-Z combined three separate reading fluency assessments and came up with recommended average rates of fluency sectioned by grade level as of this writing. They are listed below:

1st grade 50 – 70 WPM (Words Per Minute)

2nd grade 70 – 100 WPM

3rd grade 100 – 130 WPM

4th grade 130 – 140 WPM

5th grade 140 – 160 WPM

6th grade 160 – 170 WPM

To sum this up, having good fluency will help with comprehension. If students can read words with appropriate speed and with accuracy, their comprehension tends to improve. Reading the same fluency passage a few times may help build fluency as well. Don't be afraid to pause on fluency and go back to reviewing phonics skills if students are struggling with word recognition. It's better to stop and go back instead of letting the child continue to struggle, creating even larger gaps in their reading.

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