Fluency, one of the English/LA foundational skills in the Common Core, is an important reading skill. Since fluency is directly related to comprehension, primary teachers need strategies and resources to help improve fluency skills in young readers. In this post, I’ll define fluency and provide a simple, downloadable tool for teachers to use to support fluency practice with primary students.
The 3 Dimensions of Fluency
Although many popular fluency measures skew toward measuring speed, fluency is actually multidimensional. Fluency, in a multidimensional framework, includes 3 dimensions: accuracy, automaticity, and prosody. I’ll briefly unpack the 3 dimensions as shown in the image.
1. Accuracy – the ability to accurately decode words
3. Prosodic Reading – The ability to use proper expression and also comprises all of the variables of timing, phrasing, emphasis, and intonation that speakers use to help convey aspects of meaning and to make their speech lively.
You’ll notice that each dimension is numbered. The sequence is intentional; here’s an explanation. First (1), readers must be able to decode the words accurately. Second (2) , as the decoding becomes accurate, reading becomes automatic and effortless. And, finally (3), students can add expression once they automatically decode the text. Expression and phrasing come last. That’s why fluency strategies typically included some type of repeated reading so that students becomes accurate and automatic when they read. Expression is the finishing, albeit important, touch.
Oral Reading Fluency Defined
When defining fluency, it is helpful to keep the three dimensions in mind. My preferred definition of fluency is the following:
def. Oral reading fluency is the ability to read with accuracy, (appropriate) speed, and proper expression.
Keep in mind, at the heart of fluency is comprehension. A fluent reader reads and comprehends at the same time.
Freddy Fluency: A Visual Aid for Primary Students
Providing a good model of oral reading is one of the best ways to promote fluency naturally. Students have the benefit of hearing a model reader orally read text at an appropriate rate while adding expression as indicated by characters, the information, and punctuation.
Young readers often struggle with fluency. Repeated reading, echo reading, choral reading, and reader’s theater are strategies that enable students to read text repeatedly until they become automatic, expressive readers. (I’ll unpack each of these as well as appropriate resources in another post.)
In order to provide a visual reminder when working on fluency, a second grade teacher (see image) created Freddy Fluency. Each time students read chorally, or rehearse reader’s theater scripts, the class refers to Freddy Fluency to review prosody – how both expression and punctuation impacts fluency. A brief description follows:
Red Light – Stop for punctuation such as periods, question marks, and exclamation points. Think about how punctuation affects your voice and expression.
Yellow Light – Commas and dashes tell the reader to briefly pause when reading.
Green Light – A good reader doesn’t read too fast or slow, too loud or soft, or read like a robot without any expression at all. An expressive reader reads so others can understand him/her easily.
Fluency is an important foundational skill that improves with practice. Provide your students plenty of practice with varied types of text. Keep in mind that poetry, choral reading selections, songs, and reader’s theater scripts are especially well suited for fluency practice.
Feel free to download Freddy Fluency, make him yourself, and use in your classroom to help young readers think about and improve their expressive reading.
You can also visit the fluency section in the Teacher’s Toolkit which has direct links to scripts, rubrics, and more tools to help teacher integrate fluency regularly within a balanced literacy classroom.
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