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Building Fluency: A Fundamental Foundational Skill

By: Judy Zorfass, Alise Brann, PowerUp WHAT WORKS
Learn about specific strategies you can use to differentiate instruction to help your students overcome fluency problems, as well technology tools that can support development of fluency skills.

Introduction

According to Professor Bridget Dalton — a national expert on reading development from the University of Colorado — a reader is fluent when he or she can read with accuracy, speed, and understanding. The English Language Arts (ELA) Common Core State Standards call for students to be able to "read grade-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings." Dalton further explains that "to read aloud with expression requires an understanding of the text's meaning beyond simple decoding of individual words."

A growing research base points to the importance of teaching fluency. The recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Science — Improving Reading Outcomes for Students with or at Risk for Reading Disabilities (Connor, Alberto, Compton, and O’Connor, 2014) — found that helping students become fluent readers might increase their levels of comprehension. For teachers, and especially those who teach struggling students with learning difficulties, this is very much a shared goal.

Strategies to help students

Teachers know that students who struggle with fluency can experience a variety of difficulties. They may, for example, ignore punctuation and read slowly in a monotone voice, or they may read in choppy start-and-stop rhythms. Often, such readers also have difficulty monitoring understanding and self-correcting.

There are specific strategies you can use to differentiate instruction to help your students overcome these problems. For example:

  • If students are reading slowly and in a monotone voice, have them increase their rate and add dramatic expression.
  • If students are reading too fast without pausing for punctuation, have them slow down and pause appropriately to reflect punctuation.
  • If students are reading accurately and at the right speed but without expression, have them vary their voice to communicate the character, plot, and tone of the text.
  • If students are reading without stopping to self-correct miscues, teach them self-monitoring and word recognition strategies to self-correct.
  • If students are reading without understanding, model think alouds, showing them how to draw on textual information and prior knowledge.

Technology's role

A variety of technology tools can support your students’ development of fluency skills. Tools with audio and video recording capabilities and digital texts with embedded supports can support students with learning disabilities and struggling students. Audiobooks, e-books, and your own live readings are especially helpful. The following two short videos below provide some relevant ideas for using technology.

In the classroom

Mr. Lam’s approach in the classroom is a good example of how a teacher can translate ideas about teaching fluency — supported by technology —into practice. Mr. Lam is a second-grade teacher who is addressing fluency on multiple levels by: 1) modeling and demonstrating, 2) incorporating repeated readings and paired readings, 3) teaching strategies for word recognition in context, and 4) embedding formative assessment throughout the learning process. He draws on a range of technology tools and materials that are universally designed to provide his diverse students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. Below is an example of his plan for a lesson on repeated reading.

Mr. Lam will ask the students to read a text three times and discuss how their reading of the text improved during this exercise. He plans to integrate a range of technology tools, including:

  • PowerPoint slide shows to model and guide practice with preloaded guides and work logs
  • An interactive whiteboard to display digital resources and student work
  • A PowerPoint presentation on student devices to allow students to create fluency logs
  • Microphones and headsets to allow students to record their reading, play back the recordings, and self-assess their progress

His lesson plan (below) is divided into what he will do before, during, and after reading. As you will see, he spends a great deal of time in the "before reading" segment of the class providing the needed supports for his struggling students.

Before Reading

  • Display a PowerPoint of the repeated reading strategy.
  • Have students reflect on fluency progress to set the stage for repeated reading.
  • Take note of the different ways in which students feel they are improving.
  • Introduce the repeated reading strategy.
  • Model the repeated reading strategy.
  • Self-assess the first reading of the text.
  • Model it a second time, showing improvement in reading.
  • Evaluate progress with the students.

During Reading

  • Provide directions for student practice.
  • Have students repeat read with a partner or on their own.
  • Monitor students' performance and provide individualized assistance.

After Reading

  • Guide a discussion on fluency progress, prompting for rate, accuracy, and expression comments.
  • Project a document to take notes on student reflection on performance.
  • Ask for connections to comprehension.

More teacher resources on fluency

This article draws from the PowerUp WHAT WORKS website, particularly the Fluency Instructional Strategy Guide. PowerUp is a free, teacher-friendly website that requires no log-in or registration. The Instructional Strategy Guide on fluency includes a brief overview that defines fluency and an accompanying slide show; a list of the relevant ELA Common Core State Standards (Foundational Skills); evidence-based teaching strategies to differentiate instruction using technology; more case studies about Mr. Lam; short videos; and links to resources that will help you use technology to support fluency instruction. If you are responsible for professional development, the PD Support Materials provide helpful ideas and materials for using the fluency resources. Want more information? See www.PowerUpWhatWorks.org.

Judy Zorfass, Alise Brann, PowerUp WHAT WORKS ()

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