Parents can help their children develop fluency skills by giving them lots of practice reading aloud. The goal is for kids to be able to read without hesitation or false starts and with the good inflection that can come only with understanding the text. Better fluency leads to better comprehension.
Skilled teachers encourage fluency in two ways – with vocabulary exercises that build a child’s familiarity with words, and with lessons that are specifically designed to speed up a child’s decoding ability.
Dr. Barbara Foorman of the University of Texas notes, for example, that with young children, teachers will first
teach letter-sound connections. Then they’ll focus on groups of letters such as prefixes and suffixes and then on bigger chunks of words.
"The teacher is trying to move the child to larger and larger units so he can quickly and automatically
recognize the word at a glance and be able to pay attention to the meaning of the story," she explains.
Research being done at the University of Massachusetts on eye movement shows that good readers don’t hunt around a page but instead decode one word at a time as their eyes move methodically across the text. Good readers seldom backtrack and are highly systematic. Younger, less skilled readers, on the other hand, spend more time on each word. They leap ahead shorter distances and they back up more often.
Many kids become fluent readers through reading practice. But some have decoding problems that need to be diagnosed
as early as possible. Not only is it important to help struggling readers so they can comprehend text, but difficulties now will
often turn kids off to reading later.
Strategies that work
The third program in the Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers television series, "Fluent Reading," introduces parents, teachers, and researchers who are using strategies that work in helping kids decode quickly and achieve fluency.
- One key to fluency is recognizing that words like bat can have multiple meanings. Cathy
MacDonald works with struggling readers in an afterschool program called RAVE-O at Salemwood Elementary. This program for
second and third graders directly targets fluency. As an example, the kids place the word bat in the center of a web and
fill the spokes with words and phrases related to baseball or fruit bats. Thanks to these lessons, Ms. MacDonald’s students
are developing a rich knowledge of words, which in turn helps them to become more fluent readers.
- At Suddoth Elementary School, Tina Scholtes teaches her first graders about the handy spelling
pattern "ight." They are learning that changing the first letter of a word – from fight to might to bright –
creates new words that are still easily recognizable. These students are moving beyond letter-by-letter decoding. By learning to read common letter groups at a glance, they’re taking a big step toward fluency.
- The Johnson School has many first graders at risk of reading failure, so the school district has
stared an innovative volunteer program called Book Buddies. Reading tutors work with at-risk kids twice a week to read books,
drill phonics, and play phonics games. Book Buddies has put together everything researchers know will help struggling readers: parental support, systematic phonics, good children’s literature, and lots of individual attention. Students are selected for Book Buddies because they are behind their peers, but thanks to community help, a remarkable 85 percent of them read at grade level by the end of the year.
- At Fort Pitt Elementary School, a second grader named Azeeza gets reading help from a different type of book buddy – a computer. "The Reading Tutor" is part of a new wave of computer software now being used to supplement classroom instruction. Azeeza reads aloud to the computer, and when she gets stuck, the software sounds out a tricky word or offers a variety of clues. The computer provides Azeeza with infinitely patient practice and assistance in oral reading.
- Students are referred to the nonprofit Stern Center for individualized reading help. Becka, for
example, has difficulty comprehending what she reads because she is a slow decoder. She is, however, a very bright student –
she reads at the 12th percentile but does math at the 97th. Frequent assessment and lots of individualized instruction are helping Becka become a reader.
What you can do
Encourage your child to read aloud to you every day. Be a patient listener. Gently help him or her over the rough spots. For
practical strategies you can use today, see our Parent Tips. Or send a fun and
encouraging e-card to a special reader in your life.