Fluency is the ability to read quickly, accurately, and with prosody. A fluent reader is able to immediately recognize words, correctly decode them, and also apply rhythm, expression, and appropriate pauses with punctuation marks to their reading.
A fluent reader is able to make the reading process appear seamless since the reader is using the occipital temporal lobe of the brain, which has already copied the image of the word and can automatically recall its corresponding pronunciation and meaning (Sprenger, 2013, p. 42). Struggling readers instead rely more heavily on the parietal temporal lobe, which helps them decode the word slowly (Sprenger, 2013, p. 42).
I have observed many students with dyslexia guess words with similar consonant or vowel combinations, which demonstrate that these students do not yet have the foundation of automatic and accurate word recall through the occipital temporal lobe. Instead, these students would benefit from exercising the parietal temporal lobe’s ability to slow down and correctly decode a word. Correctly decoding and repeatedly reading the word (even though it will be more slowly and most likely frustrating at first) increases the likelihood the student will eventually be able to automatically recall the word upon sight.
Teaching fluency is vital for struggling readers, since over-exertion on decoding can lead to less energy spent on comprehension (Vaughn & Linan Thompson, 2004, p. 51). Fluency is the bridge between phonics and comprehension and is where many times students with dyslexia are missing instruction. As I not so subtly keep bringing up, I am a huge fan of the Orton Gillingham method. I had a huge light bulb moment when I realized that I was not balancing this type of multi-sensory instruction with more access to oral reading fluency opportunities. After this, I began incorporating Read Naturally into my reading groups, which I will discuss more in depth below.
–Normalizing error: Before students participate in fluency exercises, I recommend creating a safe, welcoming environment for mistakes. Model making mistakes or provide lessons on growth mindset, so that students understand that making mistakes will help their brains grow! When reading is pleasurable and low-stress, students’ brains will produce more dopamine, which will then create a pleasurable association with the reading process and incentivize students to read more (Sprenger, 2013, p. 120). This is also the core reasoning behind why caregivers should hold and read to their children (Sprenger, 2013, p. 120).
Studies also show that when reading aloud, students will have more activity in their language centers than their prefrontal cortex, where the heavy cognitive lifting occurs, suggesting that students can be more focused on how they sound to their audience rather than understanding the text. (Sprenger, 2013, p. 121). This effect would be undoubtedly magnified if students do not feel supported by their peers and are nervous to read aloud. Fluency tests are not a great indicator of comprehension; however, consistent fluency practice will help with overall comprehension.
–Timed reading and graphing exercises: I am a huge fan of Read Naturally’s programs for building fluency. I have personally used the Read Naturally Encore II program where students will first do a “cold” read and then complete two to three more “hot” reads. Students will graph their progress to see their improvement in accuracy and WPM. There is also an online program called Read Naturally Live.
The Read Naturally program has graphing paper that comes with the program; however, the same concept of timed and repeated readings can be used with leveled texts from Fountas & Pinnel or DRA at a student’s independent or instructional reading level. I will have students time each other using the Running Records Assistant app on my work phone. Providing access to a variety of texts will only further support students having more practice and being more confident in their reading abilities.
Example of Read Naturally Live graph:
–Previewing the text – Students can preview the text by reading it to themselves or reading along while listening to an audio tape, the teacher, or a peer buddy reading the text. While reading beforehand or following along, students can put post-its by “tricky” words, so that they will not need to slow down when they need to go back and read the text. Students may have a “tricky” word journal where they can record the words that are more difficult upon the first read.
How to Integrate Phonics into the IEP Process
To see if a student would benefit from a fluency goal, I would administer an informal reading inventory such as the Jennings or the Johns or a formal reading assessment such as the GORT, WIATT, or Woodcock Johnson (note for formal assessments: you must have an assessment plan signed for academic achievement). I recommend using the app Running Record Assistant, which is free to download on your phone, to easily calculate accuracy and WPM. Also, here is a table to reference WPM by grade level to understand fluency benchmarks.
Sample IEP Goals:
By annual review, with the opportunity to pre-read the text or a phonics warm up, student will be able to demonstrate reading fluency by being able to accurately decode a (insert grade level) text and read at or over (insert WPM) with 90% accuracy on ⅘ occasions as demonstrated by teacher records.
By annual review, with the opportunity to pre-read the text or a phonics warm up, student will be able to demonstrate prosody by applying appropriate expression and pausing for punctuation for a text at a (insert grade level) with 80% accuracy on ⅘ occasions as demonstrated by teacher records.
Note: These goals can be split into different goals for the Native Language vs. English based on the results of assessments. For example, DRA also has reading assessments in Spanish.
Possible Sample Sample Accommodations:
- Opportunities for previewing the text
- Extra time
- Peer tutor
- Access to readings within Zone of Proximal Development
- Audio books/audio tapes
- Masking text
- Larger font texts/magnifying glass
- Access to pointers/highlighters to follow along with the text
Ideas for Centers/Activities
–Read Naturally passages – Students can also use the paper or online version of Read Naturally at a station. Students can be paired heterogeneously or homogeneously. If there are heterogenous groups, one student will be the “student” leader and time and help the student if struggling with a specific word. With homogenous groups, students can have access to the same level text and listen first to an audio CD or the teacher reading the text.
–Reader’s Theater – This activity can be a hit with some students and terrify other students. Finding appropriate parts for each student to be successful is an important part of the planning process and also providing guided opportunities for students to practice before presenting will help students feel successful and thus bolster their Dopamine production while reading!
Sprenger, M. (2013). Wiring the Brain for Reading: Brain-based Teaching Strategies for Teaching Literacy. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons.
Vaughn, S. & Linan-Thompson, S. (2004). Research-Based Methods of Reading Instruction, Grades K-3. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development