Research School Network: Reading Fluency in the Secondary classroom Deliberate work on reading fluency can have benefits at Key Stage 3 and beyond, explains Steve Trafford.


Reading Fluency in the Secondary classroom

Deliberate work on reading fluency can have benefits at Key Stage 3 and beyond, explains Steve Trafford.

by Greenshaw Research School
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What is Reading Fluency?

Fluency can be defined as the ability to read with accuracy, automaticity and prosody (or expressive reading).

Fluent readers add expression to their reading – pauses, emphasis, intonation and inflexion – all of which help to aid understanding of the text’s meaning.

By contrast, many struggling readers tend to read in a stilted, fragmented, monotone style. Crucially, those who read in this way often also struggle with comprehension: all of their cognitive energy is being used to decode and pronounce words, blend phrases and work out syntax, leaving nothing left to comprehend the text and interpret meaning.

Professor Timothy Rasinski calls fluency a critical bridge between word recognition and comprehension’. By developing students’ reading fluency then, we can help to free up their cognitive energy so that they can focus on the often tricky task of comprehension, as well as the higher order tasks that build on this, such as analysis and evaluation.

Professor Timothy Rasinski calls fluency a ‘critical bridge between word recognition and comprehension’.

How does fluency development support readers?

It is crucial to remember that fluency work is not just about reading aloud. In developing students’ fluency, although many of the activities involve reading aloud, we are looking to ultimately support the way students read in their head: fluent oral reading leads to fluent silent reading.

Take the opening sentence from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a text which presents a high level of challenge not just through the sometimes archaic and obscure vocabulary, but also in its use of long, complex sentences:

Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.

When you read this sentence in your head, you place emphasis on certain words, adding intonation where appropriate, as well as pauses (not just when punctuation is used).

Doing this effortlessly and automatically helps you to comprehend this long and challenging sentence, tracking and combining the ideas through the different phrases and clauses.

Where does fluency work fit in with reading instruction?

Like many schools, here at Greenshaw High School we have spent significant time developing strategies to support students with reading comprehension across all subjects.

With lots of these strategies now successfully embedded in our day-to-day teaching, we are now looking at fluency as an extra piece of the jigsaw that can support students to be successful in their reading.

Many teachers will immediately associate reading fluency with primary school; however, students in Key Stage 3 are just as likely to benefit from (and need) these activities to support their reading.

Arguably, these activities can also be worthwhile at Key Stage 4 as well: the kind of activities outlined below can enhance the teaching of a soliloquy from Macbeth for example, or a poem from the GCSE Anthology.

We are now looking at fluency as an extra piece of the jigsaw that can support students to be successful in their reading.

What kinds of classroom activities help students to develop reading fluency?

In our approach to reading fluency, we have drawn upon the work of London South Research School, as well as the strategies recommended by the EEF.

A lesson aiming to develop reading fluency will follow a typical outline, with clearly-defined activities. It is important that before doing these activities, students have a good understanding of what the passage is about (a situation model’) and have had a chance to learn and practise challenging and unfamiliar vocabulary.

The typical lesson activities are as follows:

Modelled Fluent Reading:
The teacher reads the passage with their most expressive, fluent and prosodic reading.

Text Marking:
Students mark the text for short pauses (/), long pauses (//) and emphasis (pupils underline). It is critical that these pauses do not just follow punctuation, but also consider phrase boundaries, a powerful concept that can help students tackle challenging texts with longer, more complex sentences.

Echo Reading:
The students read chorally, in response to the teacher’s reading, looking to mirror the teacher’s intonation and expression. This can be by sentence, or by phrase if it is a longer, more challenging sentence.

Paired reading:
Students then read the passage to each other in pairs – we aim for three run-throughs from each student. This is important because it allows students to master the passage and read it in a fluent and expressive way. Rasinski suggests that over time, these gains are then transferred over to new, unseen passages.

In Part Two, coming later this term, we will look at how Reading Fluency development work can be implemented within existing curriculum structures, and look further at the benefits it brings to students in the classroom.

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Steve Trafford

Deputy Director, Greenshaw Research School and Head of English, Greenshaw High School

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