Getting Reading Fluency Instruction Right
All teachers responsible for providing reading instruction to their students are likely aware of the importance of fluency. More than 20 years ago, the National Reading Panel (NRP) included an entire chapter on fluency in its groundbreaking report (NICHD, 2000). In that chapter, it stated that fluency is “a critical component of skilled reading…often neglected in classroom instruction” (p. 3-1). Fast forward to today and I think most of us would agree this is no longer true. Most teachers are including fluency in their reading lessons. Some say we may have gone a bit overboard.
To get fluency instruction right, we all need to understand why fluency is such an essential component of skillful reading, why many students struggle to acquire fluency in their reading, and how to best provide the most effective instruction, and if necessary, intervention to help all students succeed. A good place to start is with a clear definition of fluency.
The NRP defined fluency as “the ability to read a text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression” (p. 3-5). I find this definition problematic because it suggests fluent readers read fast, and listing this as the first component of fluency suggests it is the most important component. We know this is incorrect. My colleague, Dr. Deb Glaser, and I have defined text reading fluency as “reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable expression that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read” (Hasbrouck & Glaser, 2019, p. 10). This definition expands upon the NRP definition and puts accuracy as the first component of fluency. Accurate reading is the foundation upon which we can help a student build fluent reading. We also connect fluency directly with comprehension, knowing it is necessary but certainly not sufficient for skillful comprehension.
We have also learned that measuring aspects of fluency—accuracy and rate, i.e., automaticity—provides valuable information to teachers to help determine whether students are on track in learning to read. Using assessments such as Acadience® to determine students’ First Sound Fluency (FSF), Letter Naming Fluency (LNF), Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF), and Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) can efficiently provide important information to teachers to guide many classroom decisions including grouping and interventions.
I will be presenting more about reading fluency next week in a webinar called “Reading Fluency: The Key for Comprehension.” I hope you’ll join me for this conversation, where we will have a question-and-answer session to address your inquiries. You can register for the webinar here.
Hasbrouck, J. & Glaser, D. A. (2019). Reading Fluency: Understand. Assess. Teach. New Rochelle, NY: Benchmark Education.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). (2000). Report of the national reading panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups (NIH publication No. 00-4754). Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office.