We often see young students working on their read-aloud skills with teachers, but we rarely see these strategies practiced with upper elementary or secondary students. Some students may struggle with reading words automatically even after years of reading instruction, which affects their ability to read connected text with ease and fluency. Briefly listening to students read aloud for even as little as one minute provides a window of insight into the students’ reading ability.
Why Fluency Is Important for Older Students
Fluency is the ability for students to read connected text accurately, at an appropriate rate, and with expression that incorporates the ability to change one’s pitch and stress, as well as attending to meaningful phrasing and intonation. Research shows that fluency is not only beneficial for young readers but also plays a significant role in upper elementary and secondary students’ reading and overall reading development.
Even after students have attained a more proficient level of reading, students with reading difficulties may have persistent challenges with decoding multisyllabic words in the higher grades. They may misread a word, replace words with another real word that has a different meaning, or skip the word altogether. These miscues are only revealed during oral reading activities and can be easily overlooked during sustained silent reading which becomes more prevalent in the older grades.
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A Focus on Fluency Beyond Accuracy and Rate
Beyond accuracy and the rate of reading, it is essential for teachers to help develop students’ expression and prosody, for example, by chunking words into meaningful phrases. Pausing at meaningful points in a sentence can be driven by students’ understanding of morphology, syntax, and punctuation. The ability for students to appropriately chunk their words while they read helps them make sense of text. Furthermore, reading the text with appropriate emphasis that matches the context of the words is essential for comprehension (for example, reading sentences emphatically if it is an argument between characters or with excitement at a climactic point of the plot).
Effective Fluency Strategies for Reading Intervention
To get started on implementation with your older students, here are eight research-based fluency strategies you can use during reading intervention:
1. Oral Cloze reading (whole group and partner)
Teachers read the text aloud and intentionally omit key words. Students follow along silently and say the missing words together as a class. This same method can be done with a reading partner. The oral cloze reading helps students stay engaged and actively listen for comprehension while attending to individual words that carry meaning.
2. Modeled fluent oral reading (teacher-led and audio)
Teachers read the text aloud with emphasis on expression and intentional pausing. Modeled reads can also be done via audio through eBooks or audiobooks while students are following the printed text. Especially for older students who need additional supports for grade-level texts across other subject domains, providing audiobooks helps students access the content independently.
3. Assisted reading
Similar to modeled fluent oral reading, students are listening to the modeled reading but are actively reading aloud the same text at the same time. Assisted reading can be effectively conducted through audiobooks at computer stations in the classroom while students are simultaneously reading the text.
4. Guided oral reading
Students read a text aloud with feedback and explicit guidance from the teacher. Providing error correction for the students either at the point of word reading difficulty, at the end of the sentence, or at the end of the paragraph is paramount to reinforce appropriate word reading strategies and phrasing that will aid in text comprehension.
5. Recording of oral reading
Especially as providing feedback on each students’ read aloud can take considerable time, having students record themselves reading text segments so teachers can provide feedback at a later time is also effective. Particularly for older students who may feel embarrassed reading text aloud in class, having these recording activities performed at home is an option that carefully considers students’ social and emotional side of reading. In addition, having the students listen to their own recordings provides metacognitive feedback and can also serve as motivation when they hear a later recording and notice how much they have improved.
6. Repeated oral reading and timed repeated reading
Students read through the same text multiple times. Students may become bored from the repetitive task, so timing the repeated reading and providing goals are effective for student motivation. This allows the students to see concrete and immediate progress, as each read should produce a faster rate. When students meet their goal of reading a text a particular number of times or begin reading the text at a designated rate (measured by words correct per minute), students move onto the next passage.
7. Partner reading
The students read a section of text, for example one page or one paragraph, and a partner will read the next section of text in an alternating fashion. The partner can be an adult (at school or at home) or a peer. This builds students’ reading stamina particularly with longer texts or books. Students are actively engaged throughout the process, but alternating reading texts aloud allows for sufficient cognitive breaks needed for students to persevere through longer texts.
8. Prosody development
Explicit instruction on prosody development is needed so students can focus beyond word reading recognition and rate of reading. Prosody elements include intonation, volume and stress, smoothness, phrasing, and expression. Incorporating these prosody elements into some of the strategies above help make each text reading activity more comprehensive.
Assessing the Third Critical Factor of Fluency: Prosody and Expression
Assessments pertaining to fluency most often encompass accuracy and rate. Measuring prosody is often neglected because it requires a rating scale that at times may seem subjective and dependent upon the expertise of the assessor. However, students’ improvement in prosody has shown benefits in students’ reading comprehension, and therefore, warrants adequate instructional attention, for both younger and older students alike.
The Multidimensional Fluency Rubric as shown below provides teachers with a method to assess and monitor students’ prosody development.
Effective fluency strategies for reading intervention requires educators to attend to students’ fluency beyond accuracy and rate through incorporating explicit instruction and accountability on the development of prosody and reading with expression – ultimately helping our older students become more skillful, fluent, and expressive readers.
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You can find additional articles on oral fluency by Dr. Amy Endo on the blog, including What is Oral Fluency? and Optimizing Literacy Instruction with Oral Reading Fluency Assessments.
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