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.