Research School Network: Blog – The Fluency Effect We should all be a bit more Branagh when it comes to developing pupils’ fluency, argues David Windle

Blog – The Fluency Effect

We should all be a bit more Branagh when it comes to developing pupils’ fluency, argues David Windle

by London South Research School
on the

The year was 1994. I was studying Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra for A level English. It was boring. I was bored. My brain could not be bothered to unpick the archaic text in order to find any deeper meaning.

Every time anyone read any of the play out loud in class, all I heard was the sound of distant lawn mowers. None of it made any sense.

Things changed one Saturday night when I caught Kenneth Branagh being interviewed on Parkinson. It did not take much prompting from Parky, to get Sir Ken to start spouting Shakespeare. And I’m very glad too, as suddenly all the words fell into place. It wasn’t Anthony and Cleopatra and it wasn’t the sound of lawn mowers. It was music. It flowed and sounded like it was meant to sound. While I didn’t understand every word, I did understand the overall meaning of the speech and I enjoyed it.

Back in my A Level class on Monday morning, I decided to Branagh’ it – when asked to read some of the play, I didn’t think too much, I let the words flow, even if I wasn’t sure what they meant. Gradually, over some weeks, the play began to make sense and, perhaps more importantly, come to life.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself in front of an unruly Year 5 class – they don’t pay me much attention, preferring to bicker and joke amongst themselves. I am the sound of distant lawn mowers. Except for when I’m reading the class book to them – giving them the full Branagh’ – then they are rapt.

Fluent reading is a powerful tool. Instinctively, we know this. We’ve all experienced being read to fluently and reading fluently to others.

When the reader understands the meaning of the text and can deliver it at the right pace and with the right expression to convey that meaning, the listener is drawn in.

Of course, this is what, as teachers, we want all the children we teach to be able to do too.

The good news is that fluent reading is both the desired end and a means to that end.

Recommendation 2 of the EEF’s Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2 guidance report is that teachers should support pupils to develop fluent reading capabilities. The theory is that, if a child can read fluently, their working memory is free from the burden of decoding word by word and they have, as result, more cognitive resources available for deeper comprehension.

This makes a lot of sense. Something similar can be seen when children are learning phonics in Key Stage 1. As beginning readers, all of their resources are taken up sounding out each word in turn, so they have little capacity to understand the story. However, if you read the story to them, they understand it perfectly.

The guidance report goes on to break fluent reading into three key attributes:

Model of reading

The culmination of accurate reading, with a high degree of automatic word recognition, plus an understanding of the text, is prosody. When someone reads so that the meaning of a text is conveyed through appropriate expression, both the reader and the listener are fully engaged.

The question is, how best to design a reading curriculum which explicitly teaches the skills needed to become a fluent reader? And, secondly, how best to design that programme so that it is accessible and viable for teachers to use in the classroom?

Fortunately, last year, Charles Dickens worked with the EEF to design and pilot a fluency programme to determine exactly those things. This programme would then be trialled in a group of schools to evaluate its impact.

The upshot was our Fluency Focus: looking at reading through the lens of fluency’ programme.

Our aim was to deliver a fully resourced programme which teachers could pick up and deliver without any arduous preparation. As long as they understood the text and the sequence of fluency activities, then everything else was provided: a teacher handbook, a pupil workbook, a sequence of challenging texts and accompanying PowerPoints.

What is in those handbooks and workbooks and PowerPoints I hear you ask?

In the next blog post, I will explain a little more about how we created the programme and the teaching sequence we alighted upon.

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