Research School Network: Structures for effective fluency instruction Stella Jones offers eight things to consider when focusing on fluency


Structures for effective fluency instruction

Stella Jones offers eight things to consider when focusing on fluency

by Shotton Hall Research School
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Fluency is critical to success in reading. Unfortunately, it is not always fully understood, and therefore it is not always fully taught. Fluency doesn’t just happen by chance; it needs explicit teaching. Techniques such as round-robin or popcorn reading – where pupils are randomly chosen to read aloud without affording time to practise – can lead to anxiety and embarrassment for some pupils. Equally, listening to peers’ choppy, disjointed reading does little to improve reading.

Several important structures need to be in place to teach fluency successfully.

1. Providing adequate curriculum time

We need to invest time in teaching fluency so that reading becomes accurate, automatic, and pupils can read words effortlessly. Fluency is often described as part of the big five aspects of reading along with phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and text comprehension. But fluency is also often recognised as a neglected aspect of reading.

2. Selecting quality texts

Picking suitable texts is critical. We need to consider each text’s potential for developing fluency. There is a helpful guide to support text choices on page 27 of the EEF’s KS2 literacy guidance. We also need to use a balance of genres, including non-fiction and poetry.

3. Targeted groupings

Grouping pupils is often more of an art than a science, but it helps to consider pupils’ relationships with each other, their personalities, and their level of patience and tolerance! For me, pairings or triads work best. I find what works best is pairing the:

  • stronger readers with middle attaining readers; and
  • higher attaining readers with lower attaining readers.

I then add pupils with special educational needs to a pair to form a triad. This way, children can learn with and from one another. It is good to keep groupings fluid and provide children with opportunities to work with a range of people.

4. Regular routines

Routines help to create a supportive, positive classroom environment. Within their pairs or triads, it’s helpful to establish a partner A – the more fluent reader and a partner B – the less fluent reader. If there’s a Partner C, they would be the least fluent. Whilst the adult reads, it’s useful for partner A to track the text with a MAGIC FINGER for their pair or triad, who will follow with their MAGNET EYES. Partner A would be the partner to read first during paired or triad reading so that they can model good reading. Finally, ensuring everyone can easily see the text seems obvious but is easily overlooked.

5. Expert modelling

Pupils must hear how a text sounds when it is brought to life through fluent reading. Prosody, like language, is usually acquired as children grow and listen to expert readers around them. Listening to an adult read aloud with prosody – using appropriate stress, intonation, volume, phrasing, smoothness and pace – demonstrates to children how to give meaning to the written words on the page. Prosody is the music and deep sense we infuse when reading the words aloud; children need to hear this so that they can emulate it. To improve pupils’ rapid word recognition, it helps if pupils follow their copy of the text, seeing the words on the paper as they hear them read aloud.

Ultimately, our goal is to develop fluent, independent readers. And to do that, we scaffold pupils’ reading through a gradual release of responsibility from (1) teacher modelling, (2) choral reading together, (3) paired reading, (4) and independent reading.

6. Repeated readings

Meeting new and unfamiliar texts is difficult. Children must grapple with new vocabulary and navigate complex layouts and text structures. Pupils also need sufficient background knowledge to make sense of what they read. Reading a text once – or wide reading – is rarely enough to support fluency. Repeated readings – or deep reading – allows pupils to rehearse, refine and hone their reading. Over time, repetition increases fluency and boosts comprehension. Pupils will also learn to transfer their fluency to reading new, unseen texts.

7. Focussed feedback

To give quality, precise and targeted feedback that directly improves fluency, we must understand the features of fluent reading. Using a model such as the one on page 21 of the EEF’s guidance helps us spot gaps and provide feedback, identifying what improvements need to be made.

Peer feedback is also valuable. Children can learn from and with one another by giving structured, expert feedback. Child-friendly versions of fluency scales are available and, if used well, can be incredibly effective. Activating pupils as learning resources for one another is powerful, and it can also lead to pupils being more metacognitive about their learning.

8. Motivation

A social or shared experience of a text is a powerful platform to develop positive attitudes and build positive self-concepts. All children must experience success. Using the gradual release of responsibility model, children hear fluent reading from multiple readers, the time to practice and repeat. Success grows confidence, which in turn increases motivation. Assisted or supported repeated reading is – in my opinion – the best bet for improving fluency, motivation and confidence.

And finally

These are the structures that I think need to be in place to ensure the effective teaching of fluency. However, selecting great activities through which to teach fluency is also important.

A popular and impactful tool for boosting fluency is Readers Theatre (page 20). This approach is great for engaging and motiving children, as it provides both a performance and a social activity element. It also offers an authentic reason for repeated readings – making it purposeful, meaningful and fun. Read more about this strategy.

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