Research School Network: GUEST BLOG: Reading Fluency – Why and Why Now? Rebecca Cosgrave from Devon Education Services on the importance of reading fluency

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GUEST BLOG: Reading Fluency – Why and Why Now?

Rebecca Cosgrave from Devon Education Services on the importance of reading fluency

by Kingsbridge Research School
on the

There won’t be a school in the country that isn’t familiar with reading fluency, but do we all share an understanding of what it is and where is fits in our curriculum and pedagogy? At Devon Education Services, we have been working closely with HFL Education for several years now to develop our understanding of reading fluency and particularly to develop their model of reading fluency as an intervention across KS2 and 3. This work has led us to some observations and reflections which we’d like to share.

It is about so much more than reading speed

In delightfully blunt fashion, Professor Tim Rasinski states that:

…fluency is reading with and for meaning, and any instruction that focuses primarily on speed with minimal regard for meaning, is wrong.” [I]

Many, if not most of the students we assess at the start of intervention read fast…some really fast! When you look at their assessments across accuracy, rate and comprehension, it is clear to see that their speed is no reflection of understanding. David Liben notes that It is important at the outset to make clear that fluent reading in itself does not guarantee comprehension. Disfluent reading, however, nearly always guarantees lack of comprehension, especially so with the more complex texts…”[ii]

Reading fluency is automatic, expressive and prosodic reading that supports and reveals the meaning of a text as the reader reads. Many students have now made great progress with decoding with automaticity, but there is a significant group who have not smoothly progressed to develop expression and prosody.[iii] This can be hard to spot unless a teacher takes the time to listen to students reading aloud and notices what that reading suggests about the student’s understanding. 

Timothy Rasinski offers a very useful assessment tool in the form of a Fluency Rubric which can support this process.

Too many students don’t have fluency, and as a result, they just don’t get’ reading

The reading fluency intervention developed by HfL Education, which we have been running in Devon for three years, shines a spotlight on those readers who just don’t seem to be getting’ reading. 

They don’t understand well. 

As a result, they don’t enjoy reading.

As a result, they don’t read much.

As a result, they understand less. 

Targeting reading fluency breaks this downward spiral. Once students have improved their fluency, and therefore begun to develop understanding, we hear comments like:

I get it now! The way I read out loud is how it should sound in my head!’ – Y6 pupil

The brilliant HFL model of intervention is based on the idea that you can get children to fake it til they make it’ with reading. If they can read so it supports and carries meaning, then the understanding is easier to secure.

Clean Shot 2024 01 11 at 14 59 57 2x

Evidence based intervention with a focus on fluency can transform readers

The HFL Reading Project has a seven-year pedigree and very impressive outcomes which we have been able to replicate in Devon. The active ingredients of the intervention are simple yet effective in the way that are combined into a rigorous programme with high quality texts and authentic meaning-making at the core:

Clean Shot 2024 01 02 at 11 17 39

In Devon we regularly see spectacular outcomes from the 8 week intervention. In 2021/2, Pupils made an average of 20 months progress in reading comprehension. Pupils average gain in standardised score in reading comprehension was +11 and in reading accuracy +9.

But most importantly, children transform and begin to see themselves as readers: I feel like such a better reader since the first one we did. On the weekend, I asked Granny to read with me because I wanted to read. I would have never done that before but I actually quite like reading now.’ – Y6 pupil during final YARC assessment. Using the YARC (York Assessment of Reading Comprehension) assessment pre and post intervention.

We should be integrating more fluency into all our teaching

In many ways this is the key reflection. Too many children are reaching Y6, 7, 8, 9 and beyond without the reading fluency to enable them to access the increasingly complex texts they are encountering. Awareness of the role that fluency plays in reading comprehension and enjoyment is a key lever, together with teachers feeling confident to integrate strategies to support fluency into their day-to-day lessons. 

One idea which may support the development of fluency in all teaching is consider the balance between the reading experiences we offer. Tim Rasinski and others have distinguished between:

Wide reading where we read a text, discuss/​respond to it, then move onto the next text. This is perhaps more typical of classrooms and can be a response to perceived pressures of coverage’. And:

Deep reading
, or repeated reading, where a text is read several times until a level of fluency is achieved and a deeper level of understanding is secured. This is perhaps less common in classrooms as it requires confidence to linger on a text, secure in the knowledge that this will yield greater benefits in the long run.

Reflecting on the types of experiences we offer students with texts might be a useful starting point, whatever key stage we work in and whatever subject. Recent work with colleagues in KS3/4 as part of the Right 2 Read Project led by the Kingsbridge Research school led to English teachers reflecting on how they teach the poetry anthology requirements for GCSE. One colleague shared how deep’ reading of a few of the poems meant that students tackled the other poems faster, with greater confidence, fluency and understanding.

There are many resources to support teachers starting with the EEF Reading Fluency guidance. HFL Education have some fantastic blogs and resources as well as access to their Fluency project training, and the team at Devon Education Services can also support with access to local Reading Fluency Intervention projects and bespoke training.


Contact Rebecca.​cosgrave@​devon.​gov.​uk for more information

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