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For students, reading fluency is a key element of their education.

When students can read fluently, their comprehension of the text increases, which means they can understand what they are reading more clearly, which leads to more accurate understanding and better retention.

As well as aiding comprehension, reading fluency ensures students are more engaged with the text and more motivated to read. When you can read fluently, the act of reading becomes far more enjoyable. For this reason, fluent readers are more likely to seek books to read for pleasure and academic learning actively. But what exactly is reading fluency, and why is it important?

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What is reading fluency?

Reading fluency refers to an individual’s ability to read accurately and with speed and proper expression. While reading fluency refers both to read aloud and to oneself, it can be most easily assessed by asking a student to read aloud.

If the student reads slowly, stumbles over a word, or divides sentences inappropriately, it may indicate reduced reading fluency. Conversely, if students can read with appropriate speed and add intonation and expression, their reading fluency will likely be significantly higher.

Why does reading fluency matter?

A student’s ability to read fluently greatly impacts their education. The required reading increases significantly when students approach upper elementary school, so that that poor reading fluency can result in students falling behind.

Of course, as students progress through the education system, the amount of required reading increases exponentially. Furthermore, the difficulty of the text students uses increases accordingly.

Students who cannot read fluently will find it much harder to comprehend text. This often leads to students falling behind their peers and missing learning objectives. As poor reading fluency is often reflected by slow reading speed, students will find it harder to get through the amount of reading required throughout their academic careers.

Students with a high reading fluency rate will be able to read the texts required much more quickly, but, crucially, they will have a better understanding of what they are reading. This is typically reflected in attainment levels and achievements, which is why reading fluency is so important.

Identifying reading fluency difficulties

Teachers and parents must identify when students have issues with reading fluency. The sooner that fluency strategies can be used to enhance a student’s reading abilities, the less chance there is of them struggling to complete classwork and homework. Difficulties with reading fluency can present in a number of ways, but the most common are:

  • Taking a long time to read a passage
  • Not react to the text when reading
  • Stilted reading, sometimes with unnecessary pauses between words
  • Moving one’s mouth when reading silently, as if verbalizing the words
  • Stumbling over words, particularly when reading aloud
  • Words are not placed into meaningful units
  • When reading aloud, there is no change in intonation
  • Not taking a break between paragraphs or sentences
  • Gets frustrated when reading

While parents may notice their child’s difficulties via observation, teachers can also use assessments to determine a student’s oral reading fluency. A student may be asked to read aloud, for example, and their teacher will measure how many words they read accurately within a one-minute timeframe.

Although schools may use varying measures of reading fluency, the average expected number of words per minute is as follows:

  • Kindergarten 10 words per minute
  • Middle of Grade One 23 words per minute
  • Middle of Grade Two 72 words per minute
  • Middle of Grade Three 92 words per minute
  • Middle of Grade Four 112 words per minute
  • Middle of Grade Five 140 words per minute

From grade five onwards, a student’s reading fluency should naturally increase toward the average number of accurate words per minute for adults, which is 200-250.

Improving fluency in reading

All students will be taught how to read fluently, although some may require more assistance than others. Fluency strategies are used throughout the school to ensure a child’s reading fluency is average or above or in line with their targets. A variety of reading fluency activities are used in the classroom to enhance students’ abilities.

Three of the most common reading fluency strategies are:

  • Repeated reading
  • Teacher modeling
  • Progress monitoring

Repeated reading

Students are encouraged to read the same material repeatedly until their accuracy, expression, and intonation are enhanced. As students become more familiar with the text, their reading fluency improves, and their confidence is boosted.

Teacher modeling

Teacher modeling can take various forms, including:

  • Audio-assisted reading
  • Peer-assisted reading
  • Teacher-assisted reading
  • Neurological impress

Students with a good sense of beginning sounds and at least fifty sight words can benefit from modeling. However, modeling must be more than simply reading to the student to be effective. Students should be actively involved in the activity and engaged throughout.

It is also important that the modeler’s reading rate doesn’t far exceed the student’s current reading rate. If the modeler reads too quickly, it may become difficult for the student to follow the text and ask questions. While the modeler should have a higher reading fluency than the student, their rate should be appropriate for the student’s needs.

Progress monitoring

Students are more likely to read when monitored, incentivized, and rewarded. Furthermore, their reading fluency is likely to improve more quickly. By setting individual student goals and explaining how their progress will be monitored, you can successfully motivate your students to read. Students must be aware of how you will monitor their progress, enabling them to measure their performance too.

Boosting reading fluency

Reading fluency is critical for all students and is important in later life. This is one of the most important aspects of a child’s early education. By using a range of fluency strategies and assessing progress, parents, teachers, and students can work towards improving fluency in reading.