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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. This means they are able to 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 are able to read fluently, the act of reading becomes far more enjoyable. For this reason, fluent readers are more likely to actively seek out books to read, both for pleasure and academic learning. 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 reading aloud and to one’s self, it can be most easily assessed by asking a student to read out loud.

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

Why does reading fluency matter?

A student’s ability to read fluently has a major impact on their education. The required reading increases significantly at students’ approach upper elementary school, so poor reading fluency can result in students falling behind.

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

If students are unable to read fluently, they will find it much harder to comprehend text. This often leads to students falling behind their peers and missing their learning objectives. As poor reading fluency is often reflected by slow reading speed, students will also find it harder to get through the amount of reading that is required throughout their academic careers.

Students with a high rate of reading fluency 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 one of the reasons why reading fluency is so important.

Identifying reading fluency difficulties

It is essential that teachers and parents 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
  • Having no reaction 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 towards 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 school to ensure a child’s reading fluency is average or above, or in line with their own targets.

There are a variety of reading fluency activities that 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 ability to read it fluently improves and their confidence is boosted too.

Teacher modeling

Teacher modeling can take various forms, including:

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

Any student who has 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, if it is 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

When students are monitored, incentivized, and rewarded, they are more likely to read. Furthermore, their reading fluency is likely to improve more quickly. By setting individual goals for students and explaining how their progress will be monitored, you can successfully motivate your students to read. It is important that students are aware of how you will monitor their progress, as this enables them to measure their own performance too.

Boosting reading fluency

Reading fluency is critical for all students and is important in later life. Due to this, it 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.