Research School Network: Reading Fluency Ways to explicitly teach fluency to provide students with the foundations for having strategic reading behaviours


Reading Fluency

Ways to explicitly teach fluency to provide students with the foundations for having strategic reading behaviours

by Blackpool Research School
on the

Charlotte Hindley - Assistant Headteacher and Director of Research at CFAT

The Simple View of Reading highlights the need for a balanced approach to literacy. Due to its strong evidence base, it is widely accepted that children must engage in high-quality systematic synthetic phonics as an effective approach for teaching early reading. Whilst phonics jump starts the process of learning to read, we must not overlook fluency.

What is fluency?

Christopher Such describes fluency as the flow of words when reading; he suggests that reading fluently frees up working memory needed for further comprehension. Fluency is considered the bridge between word recognition and comprehension. The EEF’s KS2 Literacy Guidance Report shone a much-needed spotlight upon fluency highlighting the need for explicit teaching and practice of this skill. Reflecting as a school, we recognised we over-simplified fluency as how many words per minute children read. Whilst this is useful indication of pupils’ automaticity and ability to read words at sight without decoding, it neglected the other key aspects of fluent reading.

The Guidance Report sparked a programme of professional development to support teacher’s confidence to recognise fluent reading as a combination of accuracy, automaticity, and prosody.

Fluency pic

Assessing Fluency

To move beyond assessing words per minute, we used Tim Rasinski’s fluency matrices to develop fluency trackers.

Trackers were used primarily, by teachers, as a diagnostic tool to identify areas where pupils may need further support whilst monitoring progress in pupils’ fluency termly. In addition, the trackers enabled leaders to identify whole school trends linked to areas of focus for the explicit teaching of reading fluency and identify year groups where fluency needed to be a priority for development.

Fluency 2
This fluency Rubric has been adapted based upon the work of Timothy Rasinski to support identification of areas of fluency to be developed and where additional targeted modelling and scaffolding of fluency is required.

Explicit Teaching of Fluency

Children need to be explicitly taught the dimensions of fluency. In every reading lesson, teachers actively model a dimension of fluency with a specific focus upon an aspect of Rasinski’s fluency matrix: expression and volume, phrasing, pace, or smoothness. Teachers not only model how to read with fluency, but also model their thought processes as they do. Teachers model reading the passage twice, using visualisers to ensure children can see the teacher tracking the text with their fluent finger’ to support children in following along.

“When she [the teacher] reads it without fluency it sounds really slow and boring. It’s hard to listen to and understand”

Year 4 child

Initially, teachers model reading without fluency as a WABOLL (what a bad one looks like). Children are engaged by this as the purpose of reading fluently to support comprehension is made explicit as the text is more difficult to follow.

“When my teacher models good fluency, it helps me to know how to read it. I know how fast or slow to read bits to help the listener”

Year 5 child

Teachers then model reading with improved fluency as a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like). Teachers think aloud to reveal the reasons why they’ve chosen to read in that way.

Texts are annotated to reveal to children the choices the teacher makes as expert fluent reader to support comprehension while reading, making explicit the teacher’s thinking aloud.


Peer Feedback in Fluency

Alongside explicit modelling, children must engage in practice. We use fluency rubrics to support pupils to provide meaningful feedback to their peers during this practice. As the EEF Guidance Report suggests, children engage in Repeated Reading: children re-read a short passage from the text until they reach a suitable level of fluency. Each time they read; their partner uses the rubric to provide feedback on their peer’s fluency to guide their improvement. Using the rubric ensures that the feedback is not personal; instead, focused solely on the skills of fluency. When focusing on phrasing, children may say to their partner, this time I would rate you a 2’ because sometimes you paused where you didn’t need to.’ Following further opportunities for low-stakes practice with Repeated Reading, the partner’s feedback would evolve: I would rate you a 3’ because I could see that you were pausing at full stops, and you read New York City’ as one phrase because the words are connected as the name of a place’.

The EEF have ignited a much-needed emphasis on fluency. It is important to note that fluency does not replace but instead provides the foundations for strategic reading behaviours. As a result of the report, our school’s renewed focus on the explicit teaching of fluency has supported staff’s professional knowledge whilst guiding children to reflect and think metacognitively about their own fluency too.

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