Fluent readers are able to read orally with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. Fluency is one of several critical factors necessary for reading comprehension.
Despite its importance as a component of skilled reading, fluency is often neglected in the classroom. This is unfortunate. If text is read in a laborious and inefficient manner, it will be difficult for the child to remember what has been read and to relate the ideas expressed in the text to his or her background knowledge.
Recent research on the efficacy of certain approaches to teaching fluency has led to increased recognition of its importance in the classroom and to changes in instructional practices.
Two instructional approaches, each of which has several variations, have typically been used to teach reading fluency. One approach, called guided repeated oral reading, encourages students to read passages orally with systematic and explicit guidance and feedback from the teacher. The other approach, called independent silent reading, encourages students to read silently on their own, inside and outside the classroom, with minimal guidance or feedback.
Guided oral reading
The National Reading Panel concluded that repeated oral reading procedures that included guidance from teachers, peers, or parents had a significant and positive impact on word recognition, fluency, and comprehension across a range of grade levels.
These studies were conducted in a variety of classrooms in both regular and special education settings with teachers using widely available instructional materials. These results also apply to all students – good readers as well as those experiencing reading difficulties.
[Editor’s note: Here’s an article called “What is Guided Oral Reading?” that explains how teachers can use this instructional method.]
Independent silent reading
There has been widespread agreement that encouraging students to engage in wide, independent, silent reading increases reading achievement. Literally hundreds of correlational studies find that the best readers read the most and that poor readers read the least.
These correlational studies suggest that the more that children read, the better their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. However, these findings are correlational in nature, and correlation does not imply causation. No doubt, it could be that the more that children read, the more their reading skills improve, but it is also possible that better readers simply choose to read more.
In order to address this issue of causation, the panel examined the specific impact that encouraging students to read more has on fluency, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. The studies that were identified that address this issue were characterized by three major features.
First, the studies emphasized silent reading procedures with students reading on their own with little or no specific feedback. Second, the studies did not directly assess fluency or the actual increase in the amount of reading due to the instructional procedures. Rather, only changes in vocabulary and/or comprehension were typically measured as outcomes rather than increases in fluency that could be expected from the increased reading practice. Third, very few studies that examined the effect of independent silent reading on reading achievement could meet the NRP research review methodology criteria (n = 14), and these studies varied widely in their methodological quality and the reading outcome variables measured. Thus, a meta-analysis could not be conducted. Rather, the 14 studies were examined individually and in detail to identify converging trends and findings in the data.
Findings and determination
With regard to the efficacy of having students engage in independent silent reading with minimal guidance or feedback, the Panel was unable to find a positive relationship between programs and instruction that encourage large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement, including fluency.
In other words, even though encouraging students to read more is intuitively appealing, there is still not sufficient research evidence obtained from studies of high methodological quality to support the idea that such efforts reliably increase how much students read or that such programs result in improved reading skills. Given the extensive use of these techniques, it is important that such research be conducted.
It should be made clear that these findings do not negate the positive influence that independent silent reading may have on reading fluency, nor do the findings negate the possibility that wide independent reading significantly influences vocabulary development and reading comprehension. Rather, there are simply not sufficient data from well-designed studies capable of testing questions of causation to substantiate causal claims.
The available data do suggest that independent silent reading is not an effective practice when used as the only type of reading instruction to develop fluency and other reading skills, particularly with students who have not yet developed critical alphabetic and word reading skills. In sum, methodologically rigorous research designed to assess the specific influences that independent silent reading practices have on reading fluency and other reading skills and the motivation to read has not yet been conducted.