This week I was in a professional learning session with the Literacy Specialists in our district and they shared a great resource with me called the Teaching Reading Sourcebook. It is a very large book and basically has everything you need to know about reading instruction. Effective reading instruction typically involves several components of reading. The Teaching Reading Sourcebook lists the components of reading as Word Structure, Early Literacy, Decoding and Word Recognition, Reading Fluency, Vocabulary and Comprehension. Each of these components is needed for students to become proficient readers and be able to make meaning of what they read.
As I flipped through the book, I landed on a page about fluency. I started reading some of the information about fluency instruction. As a former teacher of students with reading disabilities, I reflected on how I taught reading to my students. I knew the importance of all of the other components of reading and had a pretty good lesson plan to work on those each day, however, I probably had not focused enough on helping my students become more fluent readers.
So what is Fluency? What does it mean to be fluent? Merriam-Webster states: The Latin word fluere, meaning “to flow”, gives us the root flu. Words from the Latin fluere have something to do with flowing. When someone is fluent in a language the words flow out of her or him. It made me think of a personal example I would like to share to help us consider why fluency is such an important component in reading instruction.
Two years ago, my husband and I spent almost a month in France. About a year before we made the trip, my husband started studying Rosetta Stone to learn French. He is kind of a language geek, so it wasn’t really that far fetched. He had studied German, Russian and Spanish previously. He actually became quite good at using the correct pronunciation and just the right intonation to speak French. I was thankful that he learned as much as he did because we stayed in several places in France where they did not speak any English. This is what I realized. Although he had the correct pronunciation, intonation and correct recall of words, when asked a question, he had to think too much about the answer. So, his answers were sometimes halting. He also didn’t have the automatic recall of the words, phrases and sentences he needed to be able to comprehend what others were saying to him.
There are three components of reading fluency, per the Teaching Reading Sourcebook. They are accuracy, automaticity and prosody. Accuracy and automaticity are pretty self-explanatory. However, you might not be familiar with prosody. Prosody is reading with expression. Unfortunately, what I discovered in France was that my husband wasn’t fluent because he only had two of the three necessary components for fluency. His word recall was accurate enough and he had a good sense of the intonation or expression needed to speak the language. He did not, however, have automaticity. He was not able to quickly recall and call the words he needed for a conversation. That really limited his “flow” when speaking. All three components of fluency are also needed in reading. It has to flow for students to be able to comprehend what they are reading.
Looking back on my years of teaching struggling readers, I wish I had been more keenly aware of the importance of fluency and its impact on comprehension. The Reading Rockets website has lots of great strategies to help build fluency skills in students and thanks to the Teaching Reading Sourcebook, I have pages and pages of information about fluency and how to teach it.