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Sound It Out

Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Fluency in kindergarten

July 25, 2012

One of my very favorite kindergarten teachers emailed me last week with the following question:

I have a Big Question for you. How would you assess fluency in kindergarten? Where would you begin? With letter names or beginning sounds or word lists? Or would you wait until a student is reading passages? If you would recommend assessing fluency in kindergarten, what tool(s) would you use?

I am struggling with what is appropriate for kindergartners … and what will result in meaningful information that will help me plan instruction. I'm sure you know that we are in the midst of assessing/documenting student progress using rubrics that reflect growth from fall to spring.

If you have time, I would love to talk with you. If not, would you recommend some sources I can research? Many thanks!

And my response:

To assess fluency in kindergarten, I'd be most concerned with letter naming and letter sounds — whether a child's answers come easily and without confusion or do they come after much thinking and reflection. That's a pretty qualitative way to think about it, but I think that sort of information, in conjunction with an overall PALS score [NOTE: PALS is the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening tool used in Virginia], yields the best information. If a student is reading, I like Tim Rasinski's fluency rubric. The descriptors are written in plain language, and it breaks fluency into meaningful pieces. It considers fluency for the youngest kids, but moves into fluent, instructional level readers. Word lists can be helpful too, for those who come into kindergarten reading. The ones that come with the PALS assessment are trustworthy and well-researched.

At Reading Rockets, we recently launched Start with a Book, and one section of it is about Fluent Kids. It's geared mainly to parents, but you might find some useful resources there as well.

Some teachers use letter and sound charts to provide speed practice with their kindergarten kids (see this page as an example). Frankly I'm not sure how I feel about this practice, as I think it sends a message that "all speed is good speed" when it comes to letters. But, if you wanted to use them occasionally, that link gives you some good resources.

So, to sum it up, I don't think you need to wait until they're reading to assess a K child's fluency. I think fluency on some of the precursor measures (letters, sounds, word lists) is a strong proxy for how they'll be as readers. Does that help? I hope so!

Let me know if there we can explore. For example, it may be helpful to think about where first graders should be by the winter in terms of words correct per minute (WCPM). The standard most educators use is Hasbrouck & Tindal's norms, which suggest that first graders at the 50th percentile will be reading 23 WCPM and kids in the 90th percentile will be reading at 81 WCPM. That's quite a span!

Hope you're having a great summer!


Why would you want the children to know letter names? For children with poor PA this can be a nightmare for them- they just need to know the speech sound to sound pic link. The focus is on hearing the smaller parts in words, blending and segmenting them- and being able to use the sound pics (letter sounds) to then decode and encode. Because we do it so systematically the children are decoding within 3 weeks in Kindy - and as explosed to the whole code through songs, speech sound clouds etc they also learn all the variations very early on. We have a speech sound cloud for every speech sound in the English language- in each cloud are all the representations (the sound pics)All free to use - just download from the Speech Sound Cloud album on the Read Australia facebook page- go to Albums. We use these within songs (songs have every speech sound pic variation- eg all 8 ways to represent the speech sound 'sss' in that song- and an action for each speech sound (not for one letter) There are letter formation phrases that link with our Speech Sound Pics family- who are speak in speech sounds (teddys!)- early on the children decode to them - or they wont understand them! Children are able to discover the code very early on as well as learn it explicitly. eg Oscar discovered a new sound pic for the 'oo' speech sound cloud yesterday- when looking at his Just Juice carton. We looked at the speech sound cloud and there it was- ui. So these children are reading books very early on- and developing fluency and comprehension. Many are now translating to letter names when spelling- they hear the speech sounds, know the sound pics, and then translate to letter names. But it has to be that way around- especially for the 35% or so who come into Kindy with poor PA. So I dont teach letter names at all until that child is ready- and is decoding and encoding.EmThe Reading Whisperer

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"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." — Frederick Douglass