May 24, 2019

Fluency Does Not Equal Fast

Teachers use a variety of terms to describe their instruction and outcomes they hope to support in students. One of the terms often used by teachers is fluency: the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with expression. Parents will most often hear about fluency when they’re talking with a teacher about their child’s reading: fluency is important because it connects word recognition with comprehension.

Lauching child with open book on a lakeside dockFluency is Much More Than Speed

But sometimes students get the idea that fluency means fast. It is up to parents and teachers to teach them that fluency is much more than speed. It’s true that one component of fluency is reading with the right speed to maximize comprehension. (Think about how you typically read complicated directions at a slower rate than we do the latest People magazine, for example.) But in addition to rate, fluency is about phrasing and expression, or prosody. Students can improve their fluency by using punctuation to enhance their phrasing and prosody.

These are complicated terms, but parents can help some students grasp these skills with minimal effort. One way to teach these skills is to show your student examples from books you have previously read aloud to them. You can use a sentence or two to illustrate the concept, and since the books are familiar, students can focus on the teaching point without wanting to hear the rest of the story.

Getting Through Content with Phrasing

Phrasing is about chunking groups of words together. Parents can show examples from familiar books to demonstrate how they can move from reading word by word to make themselves read smoothly. Then highlight what you’ve done. Read all the way to the period. Read all the way to a comma or dash.

Prosody Is Expressive

As we explained before, prosody is all about expression. Parents can show their students examples from familiar books to demonstrate how they can use punctuation clues to make our reading expressive. For example, when they see a period, they should make their voice rather neutral. They can take a cue from a question mark, and use intonation that reflects inquiry. When they notice quotation marks, they can change their voice to sound like the character.  These hints help students pay attention to punctuation and match the intensity of the words on the page.

Font, text size, and word meanings also help with expression. When a student sees that an author has made words bigger or smaller, they should make their voices louder with big words or quieter with small words. Thinking about the words they read will help them read with the right pace and expression.  They should read “She tiptoed into the deep, dark, dark, woods” more slowly and menacingly than they read “She ran as fast as she could to catch the bus before it pulled away from the curb”.

Enjoy the Journey!

Depending on the age and readiness of your child, you can talk about all of these concepts as they come upon them in their reading or you can just focus on a few each time you sit down with them to read. Find time to share the fun of reading with your children this summer!

Melissa Scherkenback is a Grant Wood AEA Elementary Literacy Consultant