The Power of Fluency: What it is and How to Teach It

Written by Gen 

Where does fluency teaching belong in K-8 curriculum? According to research, it belongs all over it. And, in as few as 5-10 minutes of instruction per day, fluency, and therefore comprehension, can be improved for students of all grade levels!

What is fluency?

In order to understand why we should spend time teaching fluency, it’s important to take a moment to define it.

Let’s begin with what it’s not: Fluency is not fast reading. Through her research, Marie Clay (2016) found that reading is a complex task. Since fluency is part of the reading process, it seems fair to suggest that fluency is also multidimensional. The research and conclusions of Rasinski and Smith (2018, p. 7) supports the idea of  the complex nature of fluency, “It’s not speaking or reading fast; rather, fluency is speaking and reading with expression that reflects and adds to the meaning of the oral or written message.”

Why teach fluency? 

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It turns out that fluency significantly impacts comprehension and can increase test scores in older students. Clay (2005) describes the reading process as a meaning making activity. This suggests that if one is not making meaning, one is not actually reading. (This is really making you scratch your head about some reading assessments, isn’t it?) On the matter of fluency, Clay (2016, p. 121-122) has this to say, “…reading speed and reading fluency are linked to increasing improvement of reading test scores in older readers…But this does not mean that trying to be a fast reader will make you successful…reading successfully enables the reader to become a fast reader!” Rasinski and Smith (2018) echo this sentiment from their own research, “In order for readers to read a passage with good expression and rhythm, they have to be comprehending the meaning of the passage.” Clay’s work has determined that reading is complex, therefore it is fitting that Rasinski and Smith (2018) have also found that fluency is complex and that there is reciprocity between fluency and comprehension.

How do we teach fluency? 

Megabook of Fluency

After participating in a Twitter Chat (#G2great) hosted by Dr. Mary Howard and featuring the authors of The Megabook of Fluency, Timothy Rasinski and Melissa Cheesman Smith, I quickly ordered the text and enjoyed it so much I read it in the better part of a week (I might have been able to finish in just a day or two, but… you know… kids).

Rasinski and Smith lay out more of their research and conclusions as well as many different ways to authentically teach the different facets of fluency in their new book, The Megabook of Fluency. Using the acronym, EARS, Rasinski and Smith describe the Vocabulary of Fluency as:

Expression: Prosody, Intonation, Tone, Monotone, Stress

Automatic Word Recognition: Automaticity, Pace/Rate, Words Correct Per Minute

Rhythm & Phrasing: Phrasing/Chunking, Pausing

Smoothness: Accuracy, Self-Correct

Here is my interpretation of fluency instruction based on this information: while your first instinct may be to take each of these categories and create explicit lessons to teach them each in isolation, I will ask you to resist that urge! Teaching fluency is like teaching someone how to do any complex process, for instance how to drive a car. You wouldn’t teach someone how to drive by spending a day only teaching how to use the brakes, right? So, while you may highlight a particular facet of fluency during a lesson, it should not be taught in isolation from the other dimensions. The list above is not a teaching checklist. The goal is to have a reader who integrates all of the facets of fluency to aid in understanding and to use meaning to aid in reading fluently, so all dimensions of fluency should be modeled and encouraged at all times, with the possible emphasis on one or the other.

Since fluency is a complex system, assessment is important to determine which dimensions need to be highlighted. Like other parts of the reading process, we do not want to waste time teaching students something they are already demonstrating. The Megabook of Fluency also contains a Multidimensional Fluency Scale to help guide your choice of emphases.

The Megabook of Fluency is comprised of information, lessons, lesson materials, and assessment tools for teaching fluency, and each lesson integrates many or all of EARS. The lessons take no more than 30 minutes with many of them taking just 5-10 minutes. These lessons are suitable for whole-group or small-group lessons and the book contains everything you need to get started. I highly recommend that you add this resource to your repertoire.

If students’ comprehension can be influenced by daily fluency teaching in just minutes a day, what are we waiting for?

Sources:
Clay, M. M. (2016) Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals. Parnell, Auckland: The Marie Clay Literacy Trust.
Clay, M. M. (2005). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Rasinski, T. V. & Smith, M. C. (2018) The Megabook of Fluency. New York, New York: Scholastic Inc.

One thought on “The Power of Fluency: What it is and How to Teach It

  1. Glad to see you talking about fluency in terms of prosody rather than in terms of speed. We do not need a nation of auctioneers, we need a nation of storytellers. Like you, I’ve found the Megabook of Fluency to be an amazing resource. This was a nicely done piece!

    Liked by 1 person

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