Fluency–the ability to read accurately, at an appropriate pace, and with appropriate phrasing and expression–is a skill that develops over time and with repeated practice. If you’re a teacher in the primary grades, you know the importance of helping increase reading fluency in your students. Think of yourself as a gardener and your classroom as the garden where you work daily to grow and develop fluent readers. There are a number of things you can do to nurture those little readers and help them thrive. So let’s take a quick look at 7 things you can do to grow fluent readers.
Guided Reading is the soil where fluent readers grow!
Fluent readers grow from the rich soil of a literacy rich environment that is comprised of several important elements. Just as a plant thrives best in mineral-rich soil, there are essential elements that help young readers move more rapidly toward reading fluency.
These 7 things will help increase reading fluency for the kiddos in your classroom:
- Frequent Practice
- Learning Sight Words and High Frequency Words
- Understanding of Phonics
- Evaluation of fluency by assessment
- Nurture a love of reading
F: Frequent Practice and Repetition Helps Develop Reading Fluency
Want to know the first step to increase reading fluency? There are actually four. Fluency results from these four things: practice, practice…and more practice! Did I mention practice?
When you plant a flower, you may not think much about the makeup of the soil in which it grows. However; if you’ve taught a science lesson, you know that soil is comprised of minerals, water, air and organic matter. You also know that growth takes time. A flowering plant doesn’t suddenly change overnight from a bulb in the ground into a full-grown plant. Lush blossoms don’t come into full bloom overnight. The same is true with developing reading fluency. It doesn’t happen overnight. Fluency is a skill that develop and grows over time and with repeated practice.
To Increase Reading Fluency:Teach…Model…Practice…Repeat!
Research has shown that repeated oral reading of short text passages builds fluency in young readers. Having your students reread a passage 3 to 4 times can help them master a text and read it smoothly and with accuracy. Frequent opportunities to practice oral reading are essential for development of fluency in young readers. Your Guided Reading block provides opportunities for reading and coaching.
As you monitor students and provide appropriate prompting and direct instruction, you’ll scaffold their learning and enhance their fluency development. Literacy centers and independent reading time help, too. Through interactive read aloud, shared reading, whisper reading, and partner reading, your students will gain repeated practice and increase fluency.
To improve reading fluency, teach a reading strategy and model the skill; then allow the students to practice and repeat it!
L – Learning Sight Words and High-Frequency Words Builds Reading Fluency
Since word recognition is an essential aspect of fluency, a large vocabulary of sight words and high-frequency words is indispensable for fluent reading. Automaticity develops and fluency is enhanced as a student builds an inventory of words he or she can recognize and read on sight. Again, repetition is the key to this skill. The more words a student reads automatically, without conscious attention, the more they’re able to focus on decoding of unknown words. Frequent exposure and rereading moves previously unknown words into a child’s long- term memory bank. So give those kiddos plenty of sight word practice!
Although it’s associated with smooth reading and effortless phrasing, fluency is built one word at a time. And when it comes to building a vocabulary of sight words, repetition builds recognition! I repeat: The key to mastery of sight words and high-frequency words, AND the key to reading fluency is…Repetition!
Teach sight words, give students LOTS of opportunities for practice, and then watch those little readers grow!
U – an Understanding of Phonics is Necessary to Improve Reading Fluency
Phonemic awareness and correct phonological processing are foundational for the building and enhancement of reading fluency. When you help your students learn to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes and graphemes, you’re giving them the tools required for this crucial skill. Your explicit teaching of critical phonetic elements such as vowel teams, consonant blends, and r-controlled vowel combinations will help students develop the decoding skills they need.
It takes time, yet as they build and practice these important skills, your little readers will blossom and reach the point where decoding is automatic and smooth. To increase fluency in the children in your classroom, give them a strong foundation in phonics.
Guided Reading groups allow you to scaffold your students and teach them new phonics skills at the appropriate level. Additionally, Word Work stations during literacy rotation give students additional opportunities to practice the decoding skills they’ve learned during Guided Reading.
As your kiddos begin to grasp the relationships of sounds and letters, learning to recognize and identify words using phonetic rules, their fluency will increase. Just as good soil provides the environment for a healthy plant to grow and thrive, so a foundation of phonological awareness and phonics skills lays the fertile groundwork for reading fluency.
E – Evaluation of Fluency Development by Assessment
Fluency assessments should be administered as part of running records assessments several times throughout the year. Ever had a plant that exhibited telltale signs of disease or blight? Even without a green thumb, you can usually identify some basic problems such as lack of water or too much shade. Other things may take a little more digging. (No gardening pun intended.) You can’t ignore a garden and expect it to thrive, and you certainly can’t ignore a child’s struggle with reading fluency. As you identify and tend to the needs of your students, it will result in fluency growth.
Because frequent monitoring and assessment gives you a gauge of a student’s reading fluency, it allows you to appropriately adjust the level of texts they are reading. An overall reading assessment that includes a running record and comprehension questions will help you determine a student’s instructional reading level.
Start with one level higher than their independent level to find out if that is their instructional level or not. Repeated reading of independent level texts can build fluency, but without the ability to tackle more challenging texts, a student will not progress to a higher degree of true reading fluency. For more on running records, check out this post – When to Do Running Records and How to Find the Time.
After you’ve assessed a student’s fluency, address the student’s needs!
Because every student can get “stuck in the weeds” every once in a while, it’s your job to help dig them out! As you monitor your students’ reading progress through reading conferences, anecdotal notes and quick, informal running records assessments, you’ll see issues emerge that can be corrected with direct, explicit teaching and careful scaffolding of instruction. At other times you’ll identify shared struggles and address them through temporary strategy groups.
Giving your kiddos the specific decoding skills they need for increasing reading fluency does not require a green thumb. However, it does require a patient, engaged teacher who can spot struggles and provide appropriate instructional intervention! Although weeds can choke a plant and prevent growth, a good gardener keeps an eye out for those pesky trouble spots. A good teacher does, too!
N – Nurture a Love of Reading to Grow Fluent Readers
You’ve heard the saying, “Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and in all the nooks.” The same applies to your classroom! Fluent readers grow from the soil of a literacy-rich classroom that includes a variety of opportunities for children to encounter the written word. Of course, that should include an accessible, well-stocked library of both fiction and non-fiction texts on a variety of reading levels. To develop reading fluency, budding readers have to read!
Word Walls, Anchor Charts and Word Splashes also add to the fertile environment that encourages students’ growth in reading fluency. Although Guided Reading provides the main emphasis for teaching reading through Guided Reading level books, your entire classroom should be filled with opportunities to interact with print. Surround your students with opportunities to encounter words. As a result, you’ll nurture a love of reading and help your students build reading fluency.
C – Collaboration
Because growth in fluency involves repetition and practice, collaboration between the teacher, student and parent is essential. Along with frequent assessment, clear communication is also a must. Keep the lines of communication open, and keep parents informed on students’ progress. Although you can’t control a child’s home environment, you can take steps to create strong relationships with students and their parents. This goes a long way toward encouraging reading outside the classroom and creating a fertile learning environment.
Caretakers, teachers, librarians, parents, siblings, classmates, and community members can all encourage a love of reading. Collaboration is a great tool to increase reading fluency in children!
Y – You!
As a Teacher, You Have What it Takes to Help Students Increase Reading Fluency
Last but not least, I’ll close with the final essential element required: it’s YOU! Use your teaching skills to tend the garden that is your classroom and nurture those budding readers. As a result, you’ll see them begin to grow and build reading fluency.
If you’re a dedicated educator who’s committed to the task of teaching children to read, you have a big job. However; it is one of the most important jobs you could ever choose to do. Don’t get discouraged! Hang in there and keep doing what you’re doing! As you model, teach and scaffold your students, giving them the tools they need to read with accuracy, ease and expression, you are nurturing fluent readers.
The world is a better place because of you.
To learn more about how to teach Guided Reading, take my Professional Development workshop, GUIDED READING THAT WORKS! This online Professional Development Workshop for K – 5th grade teachers will take you from feeling confused, overwhelmed, and stressed about your guided reading instruction to feeling energized, well-planned, and refreshingly calm each and every day. Get a step-by-step framework for making your Guided Reading groups run more smoothly and effectively than ever before!