• Mr D

Focus on Fluency

It was a long while ago when we first picked up on the positive benefits of teaching reading fluency in the classroom. In our first post here we introduced some basic ideas to help integrate some fluency into lessons but now we'd like to delve a little deeper and share our thoughts further.


What do we need in order to be able to read?

What happens when a link is missing?

I loved this explanation on Solomon Kingsnorth's blog taken from Jane Oakhill's book 'Understanding and Teaching Reading Comprehension'. Read the following passage.

Now read the text again, but with the title ‘Building a Snowman’. Feel different? This is the difference that background knowledge makes. This is what happens when a link is missing.


We also tend to take for granted how deeply complex the English language is: we have 44 phonemes, 47+ units of sound, and 170+ spelling alternatives (graphemes) compared to the 24 phonemes and 40 graphemes in Spanish. As adults, when we read, much of our working memory is taken up with inferences, clarification and predictions. None of this is possible if our long term memory does not activate prior knowledge/stories, vocabulary and the ability to read fluently.


What is fluency and how can it develop reading?

Fluency is the bridge between decoding and reading comprehension.

According to the EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) 'Fluent readers can read quickly, accurately, and with appropriate stress and intonation'. They also state the following:


• Fluent reading supports comprehension because pupils’ cognitive resources are freed from focusing on word recognition and can be redirected towards comprehending the text.

• This can be developed through: guided oral reading instruction—teachers model fluent reading of a text, then pupils read the same text aloud with appropriate feedback

• Repeated reading—pupils reread a short and meaningful passage a set number of times or until they reach a suitable level of fluency.

• It is important to understand pupils’ current capabilities and teach accordingly. Most pupils will need an emphasis on developing reading fluency, but some pupils may need a focus on more basic skills, such as decoding and phonological awareness.


The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2002) stated: "With primary grade readers (grade 2), about 70% of the variation in reading comprehension is due to variance of fluency. That is, if we could make all the kids as fluent as the best as the second-grade readers, 70% off the differences in their reading comprehension would go away."


This does diminish over time, and Timothy Shanahan (2015) pointed out that by eighth grade, this may only account for 25% of differences. This is because eventually more children finally reach levels of fluency for mature reading. The more words per minute the better until a ceiling is reached of between 150-170 wcpm. So then, the earlier we can get our primary-aged children fluent, the better.


How is fluency achieved?

Fluent readers have honed three key skills which can be practiced regularly in the classroom: accuracy, speed and prosody. They are also skills which can be improved when practiced repeatedly and transferred from one text to another. More so than reading skills (e.g. inference, prediction, summary) which are highly dependent on prior knowledge. The classic baseball study by Recht & Leslie (1988) explored how poor readers with a good knowledge of baseball scored much higher than good readers with no knowledge of the sport. Here, knowledge becomes the deciding factor on how to score well on a comprehension test.


Accuracy

• The ability to recognise words quickly, accurately and without effort.

• Cognitive resources can attend almost entirely to reading comprehension

• Without the achievement of reading automaticity, the cognitive load required to decode words leaves insufficient space in working memory for reading comprehension


Here's a short interlude to show the importance of accuracy when reading, courtesy of Sir Stephen Fry!



Speed

• According to Shinn (1998) and Fuchs et al (2001), reading speed is an accurate and powerful indicator of overall reading competence.

• Jason Wade (2019) suggests target oral reading speeds (as a guide) for Years 1-4 as follows:

End of Year 1 - 50 wcpm

End of Year 2 - 90 wcpm

End of Year 3 - 110 wcpm

End of Year 4 - 125 wcpm

End of Year 5 - 140 wcpm (Our assumption)

End of Year 6 - 150 wcpm (Our assumption)

• SATs tests (remember them) have become increasingly lengthy with the 2019 paper reaching 2194 words (2018/1484 words, 2017/1915 words and 2016/1788 words) and so fluency, along with reading skills, is potentially being pushed from above as well.


Prosody

• Intonation, rhythm, and emphasis given to words and sentences when reading out loud.

• Character voice, intonation, tone, volume, pause, pace and clarity are all part of prosody and children should be taught these terms and explicitly practice and explore them when reading aloud.


What does a good one look like?


How can we improve these skills? - R, R, R

  1. Read aloud - Consider how many opportunities each child gets to read aloud in a week? Is it just once in guided reading groups? Is it a few sentences each day in whole class reading? Is it one-to-one? One of the strategies I use is to allow all children to read aloud to partners whilst I circulate the room. That's 15 children reading at once and I can drop in on many whilst they can also get feedback from their peers. A child reading silently does not allow for feedback and so mistakes go unchallenged. Feedback here is the key. Also, children listening to stories is NOT cheating! Audiobooks and teachers reading aloud is not only NOT cheating, it models how to read fluently. Listening comprehension is highly correlated with reading comprehension. Reading your class book for 30 minutes a day is not only a privilege, it's also incredibly important.

  2. Read Challenging Texts - We developed our Reading Reconsidered Spine to help classes and children explore challenging texts from the '5 Plagues of Reading' (Lemov 2016) and so using archaic texts, complex narrators or passages with non-linear time sequences are more difficult to navigate without practice and support. This is different to independent reading where the '5 mistakes/misunderstandings on 1 page' rule is quite useful as to whether a book is too easy or too hard.

  3. Repeat - To read fluently, passages need to be read more than once and better each time, with support. This might be supporting how to read punctuation correctly, using character voice, emphasis on words to enhance meaning or simply to help improve accuracy.

Resources

The Mega Book of Fluency

This book is packed with ideas to help improve all these areas of fluency from reading famous speeches with expression, to fun games to help with punctuation. It also has a really useful rubric for assessment as well as further extensive research and ideas for families at home.


3-Minute Reading Assessments

This is American but can be amended for the U.K. and has an alternative rubric, along with scores and set texts for children to read. It removes the issues of comprehension 'reading skills' largely based on prior knowledge and focuses solely on how well a child can read fluently, giving scores for each area and therefore a target to work on in whole class reading or through fluency intervention.


Reader Theatre Scripts

A huge bank of simple playscripts that can be printed off and read in class to support fluency. The number of children needed for each script is in brackets and they can be practiced, improved and roles swapped as a fun 20 minute fluency activity in the classroom.


The Poetry Foundation

Whilst The Mega Book of Fluency has a range of tongue twisters and rhymes, nothing quite beats learning high quality poetry off-by-heart. Here, the Poetry Foundation have created a search engine for children's poems. We suggest every class learns one every half-term and keeps practicing them year-on-year, developed in conjunction with a reading spine.


Fairy Tale Fluency

We've developed a large range of 'no-prep' resource packs to teach fluency in LKS2 and UKS2. They are based on archaic versions of unusual fairy and folk tales and aim to guide teachers and children through a series of activities such as The Word Wizard, Expressive Ernie, Smooth Reading Sabrina and The Vocal Villager, along with simple lesson plans to cover a range of fluency skills which can be transferred from one text to another. We have 15 weeks worth of Fairy Tale Fluency resources now on our site so login and take a look! We've also now added baseline and final reading assessment cards that children can use.


Some other great blogs about fluency include:

The Reading Ape: https://www.thereadingape.com/single-post/2019/06/02/Express-yourself-Prosodic-reading-and-why-it-is-so-important

David Didau: https://learningspy.co.uk/reading/is-reading-comprehension-even-a-thing/

Research School: https://researchschool.org.uk/bradford/blog/9-things-you-didnt-know-about-being-a-fluent-reader/


We hope this has been useful,

Mr D

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