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Research School Network: Teaching Reading Fluency at Secondary School Fluency instruction isn’t just beneficial for younger students: It can go a long way in supporting reading at KS3 and KS4, too.


Teaching Reading Fluency at Secondary School

Fluency instruction isn’t just beneficial for younger students: It can go a long way in supporting reading at KS3 and KS4, too.

by Durrington Research School
on the

Earlier this week, Timothy Shanahan wrote a very timely and interesting blog on teaching reading fluency to older students (see here). I say timely’ because reading fluency seems to have become a buzzword of late among school leaders of literacy, especially in secondary schools. This is possibly as a result of anxieties around the potential literacy gaps created by the Covid-19 disruption and so schools are seeking evidence-informed ways to overcome these potential issues in amongst the myriad of other issues that have arisen.

A common misconception is that reading fluency is about reading speed. In fact, fluency comprises three strands: automaticity, accuracy and prosody.

As Shanahan explains, accuracy is about reading an author’s words’, i.e. reading the words that the writer has actually written rather than using one’s own. Automaticity means reading the words accurately without conscious attention’. his is connected to, but not the same, as reading speed: If a reader reads very slowly, their comprehension is likely to be weak because reading slowly makes it difficult to integrate information’. Finally, prosody is all about expression – the pitch, cadence and emotion that you use to translate the words from the page into meaning.

Shanahan then goes on to explain 5instructional activities aimed at building fluency’. Even those these activities may have a very specialist-sounding title, they would be relatively easy to turn into pedagogical approaches for any secondary classroom.


1. Paired Reading

This works by pairing students up and them taking turns to read to each other. The teacher circulates and gives feedback before the pairs create something with the information that they have read, for example a summary or quiz.

2. Repeated Reading
This is when a student reads aloud a short text (Shanahan suggests about 100 words or the first couple of paragraphs). The teacher or another student gives feedback and then the student tries again repeatedly until they are accurate and reading with appropriate expression.

3. Pause, Prompt, Praise.
This activity is better if the partners are not quite at the level required for paired reading. With this strategy, the student reads and makes a mistake they are allowed to get to the end of the clause or sentence. Here there is a pause so that the student can look back and fix their mistake. If they cannot spot the mistake, for example the word they read incorrectly, the partner or teacher gives a prompt to help them. If the mistake is still not clear to the reading student the partner can tell them. Finally, with this strategy it is also important to provide praise for anything done well.


4. Recorded Readings

This is an example of how reading for fluency can be part of homework. Here, students are asked to record their reading aloud so that the teacher can listen back and provide feedback.


5. Chunking

Pre-marking where phrases begin and end in a passage can support students at all levels of attainment with reading. Shanahan suggests that after practising reading the marked texts, students can work on some unmarked texts and note the phrase boundaries themselves.


Making it Work for Secondary Schools


Many may feel that developing reading fluency is very much the domain primary education, but the approaches outlined by Shanahan could not only support struggling readers at secondary, but also develop understanding of curriculum content for all students. The three suggestions below outline how reading fluency activities could be combined and adapted with other approaches to enable student to access and engage with subject content as well.

– Teachers could, and in fact should, link these fluency tasks with comprehension tasks that are completed after the reading practice, for example a quiz on the covered content.

– Repeated reading good for core content that will need re-reading anyway.

– If students are provided with an aim or purpose for reading the material beforehand, for example a question, they could then practise using the prosody of their reading to help identify the key information required from the text.

Fran Haynes

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