[This is an archived article]

Difficulties With Fluency

While the ability to read words accurately is a necessary skill in learning to read, the speed at which this is done becomes a critical factor in ensuring that children understand what they read.

As one child recently remarked, "If you don't ride a bike fast enough, you fall off." Likewise, if the reader does not recognize words quickly enough, the meaning will be lost.

Although the initial stages of reading for many students require the sequential learning of phoneme awareness and phonics principles, substantial practice and continual application of those skills, fluency and automaticity in decoding and word recognition must be acquired as well.

Consider that a young reader (and even an older reader for that matter) has only so much attentional capacity and cognitive energy to devote to a particular task. If the reading of the words on the page is slow and labored, the reader simply cannot remember what he or she has read, much less relate the ideas they have read about to their own background knowledge.

Children vary in the amount of practice that is required for fluency and automaticity in reading to occur. Some youngsters can read a word only once to recognize it again with greater speed; others need 20 or more exposures. The average child needs between four and 14 exposures to automatize the recognition of a new word.

Therefore, in learning to read, it is vital that children read a large amount of text at their independent reading level (with 95 percent accuracy), and that the text provide specific practice in the skills being learned.

It is also important to note that spelling instruction fosters the development of reading fluency. Through spelling instruction, youngsters receive many examples of how letters represent the sounds of speech and also alert the young reader to the fact that written words are made up of larger units of print (like syllables). This insight lets the developing reader know that word recognition can be accomplished by reading words in larger "chunks" rather than letter-by-letter.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.



Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.

Adapted from: Lyon, G. R. (July 10, 1997). Report on Learning Disabilities Research. Testimony before the Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives.


In singing or playing an instrument it supposedly takes 80 run throughs of a piece before it becomes automatic. There is muscle memory inolved also. Reading practice is similar to practicing an instrument or acting or singing. You're not really acting until lines are memorized to the point where little thought is involved in what comes next. Only then is full comprehension realized.

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Our Literacy Blogs

Dr. Joanne Meier
Dr. Joanne Meier
February 14, 2014
"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo