Do you have a student that can decode accurately, but reads slowly? If so, your student may need to read more leveled texts. This is the only proven tactic of all the reading fluency strategies. It is difficult for a young child to read for extended periods of time, because, for early readers, decoding is laborious. However, you can split up their book reading time into 2 or 3 chunks throughout the day. For example, for a Kindergartner, you can have her read 10 minutes before her reading lesson, 10 minutes after, and 10 minutes later in the day. In this post, I’ll go over when you should think about adding more minutes to your student’s book reading time and how to accomplish this successfully.
Teach your student to read with research-based systematic phonics instruction. After that, there is no way to improve her fluency, except increasing her leveled book reading time.
The only way to improve fluency is to have your student read leveled texts. These are books that are not too easy or too hard. They are just right. Books that are too easy do not challenge your student, while books that are too hard can frustrate your student. Make sure your student is reading a text with 92% accuracy or above. This means that out of 100 words, she reads 92 (or more) words correctly. If your student is reading a book with 99-100% accuracy with great ease, fluidity, and fluency, toss it aside. Maybe your student can read this easy book for fun, but not for fluency sessions.
There are tons of gimmicky programs out there that promise to improve your student’s fluency. They don’t work. Some programs claim that if your student simply reads each text in their program’s selection 3x in a row, she’ll improve her fluency. This is not backed up by the science. Reading a text 3x in a row is nearly useless. It’s certainly a waste of time. The child begins to memorize the book. Memorization is not reading. Unfortunately, schools everywhere give beginning readers homework to read the same book 3x in a row on the same day. This is a misguided and even deleterious homework assignment.
Having your student read the same book 3x in a row on the same day will not improve her fluency. Unfortunately, this is one of the least effective, yet most common, of reading fluency strategies.
Sure, your student can read the same book 3x, but each reading needs to be spaced out by at least 24 (ideally 48) hours to prevent her from memorizing it. There are only so many beginning reader books out there. It’s very likely that your beginner will have to read each of these 3x. Just don’t have her read the same book 3x on the same day. Telling a kid to read the same book 3x in a row gives the illusion that she’s improving her reading speed. She isn’t. This sham form of “improving fluency” is actually memorization. Give her a new book (that she hasn’t memorized), and her fluency will drop right back to where it was before.
The only way to improve fluency, thus, is to give your student a steady diet of new texts or repeat spaced-out readings of old texts. Again, repeat readings of the same text can occur after 24 hours. In this way, your student is NOT memorizing. She’s decoding unpredictable words again and again. Schedule daily leveled text reading time, wherein she doesn’t memorize the books, and she’ll read faster. The more time a child reads unpredictable, leveled texts, the faster she’ll read.
In sum, improving fluency is hard. There are no quick fixes. Your student must read unpredictable, leveled texts daily.
What is a fluency session then…it’s when an educator increases the child’s total time spent reading leveled books.
When to think about adding fluency sessions…
You may want to think about extending your student’s book reading time if:
You may want to add a fluency session if your student has ADHD.
If your student is inefficient while reading, looks up and around the room between words, constantly tries to get you distracted, insists on eating a snack while reading books or chatters a lot, you may want to add a fluency session. Maybe you want your student to read books for a total of 20 minutes. If you’re student is talking for 5 of those minutes, she’s actually reading 15 minutes. Since the time your student actually spends reading the words is less than you’d planned, add a fluency session.
Add a fluency session if your student is behind in fluency for her grade level.
If your student is not at least in the 50th percentile for her grade, you should add more daily book reading time (reminder that 50th percentile is the same as median which means half of students are above and half of students are below). For example, if you have a first grader reading less than 29 correct words per minute (cwpm) in the middle of the school year, add a fluency session. If you have a second grader reading less than 50 cwpm in the beginning of the school year, add a fluency session. These kids are below the median for their grade level in fluency. Have them read for longer periods of time each day. To get a sense of if your student is behind, here are the 50th percentiles taken from the extensive Jan Hasbrouck and Gerald Tindal study (2017):
Kindergartner- No data
Beginning 1st grader- No data
Middle 1st grader- 50%- 29 cwpm
Late 1st grader- 50%- 60 cwpm
Beginning 2nd grader- 50%-50 cwpm
Middle 2nd grader- 50%-84 cwpm
Late 2nd grader- 50%-100 cwpm
Beginning 3rd grader- 50%-83 cwpm
Middle 3rd grader- 50%-97 cwpm
Late 3rd grader- 50%-112 cwpm
What about kindergartners?
The data cited above did not cover Kindergartners so here is my recommendation based on my experience working with many struggling readers, including kindergartners.
If you have a Kindergartner reading at least 12 cwpm, you may want to add a fluency session.
Early kindergartners read very slowly. This is normal. To get your Kindergartner reading faster, never say “read faster.” Simply extend their book reading time from 10 minutes a day to 20 minutes a day to 25 minutes a day to 30 minutes a day, as is appropriate. A kid reading below 12 cwpm likely can only concentrate on a text for about 5-10 minutes. Though short, this reading time is intense and very laborious for your student. Hence, you probably want to wait until your student is reading about 12 cwpm before you extend her book reading time. For example, you don’t want to expect a child reading 6 cwpm to read for 30 minutes. This will only frustrate everyone involved. Gently and incrementally increase your student’s book reading time without her noticing very much.
Add a fluency session over the summer.
There’s no reason a child should stop reading over the summer. Make sure your student is reading 20-30 minutes daily over summer vacation. I understand that its important to let kids play, have fun and explore during time off. However, your student can still do all of these things! 20-30 minutes a day is not that long, and when your student goes back to school, you’ll feel grateful that she has not experienced the summer slide in reading.
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