Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers

Edward Kame'enui

Dr. Edward Kame'enui is director of the Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement at the University of Oregon.

Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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An Interview With Edward Kame'enui

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Fluency and comprehension…
The reason we want children to be fluent with the code, with reading, is that they spend a great deal of energy. They spend a great deal of time focusing on the individual letter/sound correspondences, the words and so on. They won't be able to get through the text and comprehend the text.

We know there is a robust, a high, correlation between reading fluency and reading comprehension. In fact, the correlation is in .80+. If reading comprehension fails, typically it fails because children are not able to do the kind of reading of words, word recognition is in jeopardy. They're not familiar with the sounds of the language. They don't have the phonological awareness that they should have. They're not familiar with the writing system in such a way that they can read fluently.

So what we want to do is make sure that all the basic foundational skills with word reading, with phonological awareness, with alphabetic understanding are intact before we move into getting kids to be fluent with the text. So we want to build on those foundational skills.
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Fluent reading vs. reading well…
There are children who may read very fluently but in their fluent reading may not comprehend the text they're reading. I think it's important to understand that the percentage of children who are not able to comprehend text when they read text fluently is a very small percentage. Sometimes we refer to those children as hyperlexic children. They're able to read fluently, but not able to comprehend the text.

For the most part, though, kids who read fluently are able to comprehend the text because they can take the cognitive resources and really focus on the apprehension of the language, the comprehension of the language. But for the most part, fluent reading and focusing on the fluent reading is very important. And it's important that we understand how to structure that. For example, we expect kids at the end of first grade to read about 60 correct words per minute. That's kind of the 50th percentile norm that we expect kids to do. Which means that if kids are reading at about 60 words a minute they comprehend the text.

In second grade we expect kids to read about 90 words per minute. At the end of third grade we expect them to read 120 words per minute. All these fluent reading rates tell us when kids are meeting those standards they're likely comprehending the text. And so, that's an important test of standards that we use to make sure kids are reading fluently.
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Something to strive for…
Fluency is both a way of indexing, of getting a sense for how kids are reading and whether or not they're being successful, but it's also an outcome, it's also something we want to strive for. And the way to think about it is think about kids doing a motor test, think about kids riding a bike.

And once you start riding a bike you need enough momentum on that bike to be able to gain speed. And once you gain speed then you're off and you're rolling, assuming you can do all the other things that are necessary to riding a bike.

So fluency is no different. You have to have some momentum with the text that carries you along. If you're not facile with the text, if you're not reading the text in a way that you can move through the individual letters and so on, then you're not going to be fluent and most likely you're not going to comprehend.
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