Developing reading fluency is an essential skill for children, as the ability to read fluently not only develops confidence and reading stamina, but it also supports comprehension. If we read a text too slowly, it is difficult to keep track of what it is about.
For our least experienced readers, decoding each word takes all of their individual attention. In order to move from word reading to comprehension, pupils may need to read the text several times. The DfE Reading Framework indicates that reading fluency is an important factor in developing the skill of reading. Reading fluency refers to the speed at which a reader can decode a text.
Reading fluency is important because if you read slowly with lots of sounding out, it can limit your understanding of the text. Fluency gives the reader the choice to read at a speed that allows comprehension and can be adapted to the purpose of the reading.
Beginner readers do not have a choice about reading speed because they are still engaged in decoding the words on the page. Most children have to decode a word several times in different contexts before it becomes familiar enough to read at a glance. Children with poor short-term memory need to practise decoding many more times before they can read it at a glance. They need to learn to read words at a glance more easily; if they first decode a word by identifying sounds and blending them, they know what it means. The written word is a label for what the spoken word represents. A child, therefore, might be likely to read the word ‘dog’ at a glance, more likely than ‘com’. The more words that children can read at a glance, the sooner they see beyond the words as consisting as a series of letters to decode and can focus on what that word means.
Reading Strategies to Develop Reading Fluency
As well as Guided Reading, there will be some whole class reading strategies to help develop reading fluency. Two examples of these are Readers’ Theatre and Echo Reading.
Readers’ Theatre involves children reading a fiction text with lots of dialogue. During this activity, the speech would be identified for each character. Children would then read and re-read this dialogue as though performing a play script, with a particular character allocated for each child. With the teacher, the meaning of the vocabulary is discussed, as well as the character’s emotions and motives, and the children would be drawing on the context of the rest of the story. This would then be used to decide how the lines in the text should be spoken. After several re-readings, the children perform their extract as a small group. This can be a good way to develop confidence, as well as reading fluency and comprehension.
A second strategy is echo reading. This could be used if as a class you are reading a particular tricky text, or as part of an intervention strategy for pupils who need to develop their reading prosody. In this circumstance, a teacher or adult would model reading the sentence with expert prosody, and the child or children would ‘echo’ the sentence back by rereading, copying the phrasing and emphasis that the teacher had used in their modelled reading of the text.
Whilst both of these strategies are helpful, and they have been proven to help children to read more fluently, knowledge of the child is paramount. In the past, reading with expression has often been used as a sign of being a good reader. However, in my experience, I have witnessed many children who pay so much attention to expressive reading, they forget to accurately decode or focus on the meaning of the text.
Schools need to adopt a ‘keeping up’ approach, rather than relying on ‘catching up’. This involves good assessment practices and extra practice where necessary to ensure all children keep up. This may also include providing extra provision for pupils who do not read regularly or engage in book-related talk at home.
After Year 1, learning in the wider curriculum depends increasingly on literacy. According to the DfE’s Reading Framework, pupils who cannot read well enough do not have full access to the curriculum, and those who fail to learn to read early on often start to dislike reading. You may have examples of children in your school who found learning to read difficult and as they grew older, decided to stop reading or do not choose to read for pleasure; they read less than other children and less often. These children do not accumulate the background knowledge and vocabulary for reading that their peers do. The word rich get richer, while the word poor get poorer.
Director of Training and Research
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