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Fluency in oral reading refers to the ability to read connected text aloud with accuracy, speed, and appropriate phrasing.
Generally speaking, as oral reading skill increases, so does reading comprehension. One reason for this might be that when Word Recognition becomes automatic a reader can dedicate more cognitive resources to understanding what he or she is reading. Conversely, when a reader has to spend time decoding words, that reader is devoting cognitive resources to Word Analysis instead of comprehension.
Adult beginning readers' Fluency, as measured by their reading rate (or speed), is frequently poor,RR and, consequently, their comprehension may suffer.
The aim of all reading instruction is to increase the level of Silent Reading Comprehension. In order to be able to devote attention to the meaning of sentences and paragraphs, learners have to be fluent readers. Hesitations caused by a need to decode unfamiliar words interrupt the flow of the author's intended meaning. Fluent reading requires that word reading ability be automatic for the particular reading level being assessed. Researchers have found high correlations between oral reading Fluency and reading comprehension.RR
Fluency across NRS Levels
Many ABE and some ASE learners have poor reading ratesRR and, consequently, their comprehension may suffer. Adult learners at all levels can experience difficulty with Fluency and rate but for somewhat different reasons.
Beginning Level (GE 0-3.9) readers read slowly because they must decode or sound out most words, rather than quickly recognizing them by sight. As their decoding improves and they become "unglued from print" as Jeanne Chall puts it,RR their reading rate gradually increases and their reading sounds smoother and more fluent.
Intermediate Level (GE 4-8.9) readers also read so slowly that their comprehension is adversely affected. Those who are native English speakers may still be having trouble decoding unfamiliar words. Because they rely on context to decode unfamiliar words, their reading is marred by many repetitions and self-corrections.
Non-native Speakers of English (NNSE) occasionally read slowly, but they usually do so for different reasons. They are able to decode unfamiliar English words, but they slow down to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words and unfamiliar grammatical features.
Adult Secondary Level (GE 9-12) readers usually read familiar texts with adequate speed and Fluency, but their lack of experience with the longer sentences and unfamiliar vocabulary of academic texts can slow their reading once they enroll in post-secondary education.
Attention to punctuation helps the reader to chunk words and phrases. Getting the phrasing right brings a rhythm to the text, and understanding the rhythm helps the reader understand the author's intended meaning. Appropriate intonation is an important aspect of fluent reading and an indication that the reader is paying attention to meaning.
"Successful decoding requires the reader to translate printed words into their spoken equivalents, whereas successful Fluency requires the reader to connect the flow of printed text to the flow of spoken language....The fluent translation of the flow of print to the flow of spoken language enables the reader to attend to the meaning rather than to the features of the printed text. Fluency is vital to comprehension, which is the main goal of reading."RR
"[I]t is important for teachers to assess adult readers' Fluency. [O]ral reading, not silent reading, is one of the most important methods used to teach Fluency." The ability to bring spoken language rhythm to the text through appropriate phrasing is also a major component of fluent reading.RR
Listening to your learners read will tell you a lot about whether they comprehend a particular passage. No matter how bright a learner is, if she/he is not reading easily and with expression, there is not enough attention being focused on meaning. When assessing Fluency, select a passage at the learner's independent reading level.
"The National Assessment of Educational Progress Fluency study ... calculated speed and accuracy but performed most analyses on the basis of a four-point pausing scale. This scale provided a description of four levels of pausing efficiency with one point assigned to readings that were primarily word by word with no attention to the author's meaning, to four points for readings that attended to comprehension and that paused only at the boundaries of meaningful phrases and clauses."
Approaches to instruction
Fluency instruction may benefit learners at all levels.RR Practicing fluent oral reading at a mastered level of Word Recognition and Word Meaning will help learners understand the close relationship between speech and print. They will see that there are markers in text that help bridge some of the differences between written and spoken language. Teachers can ask readers to read aloud as if they were giving a talk or acting in a play because reading to an audience highlights the communication conventions of spoken language.
Repeated reading is a process where the teacher models oral reading and the learner then reads the passage repeatedly until some measure of Fluency is reached. It is effective provided there is guidance and feedback during the successive readings. Repeated reading has been shown to be effective in increasing Fluency and comprehension for both adults and children.RR
Other approaches to "repeated guided oral reading" from the National Reading Panel (NRP)RR are:
- Paired reading
- Shared reading
- Collaborative oral reading
- Assisted oral reading
- Neurological impress
The role of readability levels in instruction
To get the best results from instruction, teachers should use materials whose readability presents an appropriate level of challenge—not too easy and not too hard—for both silent reading and oral reading.
- For independent silent reading, use text that is at or only slightly above a learner’s tested grade level. For in-class Silent Reading Comprehension, use text that is a grade or two above tested level.
- For oral reading, use text that is slightly below the learner's tested level for practicing Fluency and expression, and use text that is a grade or two above tested level for practicing reading with accuracy.
With texts for which the readability was determined by the publisher, all you need to do is pull the right text off the shelf. But if you want to use texts that are not already leveled (e.g., novels, newspapers, magazines, Web sites), don’t guess about their readability based on print size or your intuition, because readability can fool you! Instead use one of the readability formulas, available below, to establish the readability of any text you might be considering for instruction.
"Readability" is a way to express the level of difficulty of a passage. It is usually expressed as a grade level equivalent—e.g., 9.5, which would mean that the passage or text would be accessible to an average ninth grader. Some publishers provide the readability level for their texts, but there are formulas available to estimate readability for unleveled texts (see below).
Download Four Popular Readability Formulas
- Flesch formula [PDF]
- Fry formula and grade level graph [PDF]
- Gunning Fog index [PDF]
- SMOG readability formula [PDF]
Find out more about Fluency and suggestions for instruction
McShane, S. (2005). Applying research in reading for adults: First steps for teachers. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
Following is the summary from Chapter 5 of Applying Research in Reading for Adults:
Fluency Tips in a Nutshell
- Use a Fluency measure with beginning and intermediate-level readers to get an initial assessment of reading speed, accuracy, and expression. (You may need more than one measure to address these different aspects of Fluency.)
- Use guided repeated oral reading techniques to build reading Fluency. A learner may read aloud to, or in unison with, a teacher or tutor, who provides modeling and assistance.
- Audiotapes allow adults to work independently on repeated oral reading.
- Preparing for "performance reading"—classroom presentations or reading to children—gives adults an authentic reason to re-read text.
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