What every teacher should know
Reading 101: A Guide to Teaching Reading and Writing
Portrait of a Struggling Reader: Felicia
Felicia is one of those kids that her teacher, Laura, can't quite figure out. When Felicia is reading aloud, she usually manages to get almost all of the words right — often on her first attempt. However, she gets each word after a very long pause: Laura can see Felicia moving her lips as she tests out each and every word before she says it aloud.
Laura had all her students read the same text aloud to her one-on-one. The record of Felicia's oral reading showed 95% accuracy – technically in the top third of the class – but it took Felicia three times longer than the lowest reader in the class to finish the story. "Once… upon… a… time… there… lived… a… giant… the… giant… was… tall… a… boy…"
Felicia's reading sounded like the puttering of an old jalopy.
When Laura's other students read, they read in phrases, or sentences, or whole stories. They read fast enough for a listener to follow the story line. But no matter what Felicia reads, she always reads word by word, and it's always painfully slow.
Laura had never actually seen Felicia finish any book she'd started. Every day, her students read for 10 minutes independently before lunch. Every day, Felicia picks up a new book and reads the first few pages. When Laura calls the students to line up for lunch, Felicia immediately shuts her book and put it back on the shelf, while the other children either bring their books with them or leave their books open on their desks so they can pick up where they left off after lunch. The next day, it's a different book, and just the first few pages again.
Laura's not sure exactly what the problem is, and she doesn't know what she can do to help Felicia.
What is Felicia struggling with?
Felicia's primary struggle is with fluency.
Fluency includes the speed and accuracy with which a child reads, and the expression and phrasing of their oral reading.
Felicia doesn't read the way she talks. She treats connected texts as lists of words to identify. You can tell she is struggling with fluency because she reads so slowly.
Struggling with fluency is often a by product of struggling with alphabetics — when a child does not have efficient decoding skills, her reading is necessarily more effortful and slow. Difficulties with fluency can lead to difficulties with comprehension. For example, as Felicia listens to herself read, she may not be able to "hear" a story because she is so focused on reading each word.
When children struggle with fluency, they often benefit from repeated readings in instructional or easy level books, and feedback from a skilled teacher in guided oral reading situations. Felicia is not getting this repeated exposure to books because she picks up a new book every day. For Felicia, reading the same book three days in a row would be more valuable independent practice than reading three different books in three different days.
Read more about this area of difficulty and how to help children who struggle with fluency: Target the Problem: Fluency.