In reading, we refer to the ability to read effortlessly as fluency. This is one of the five domains of reading that must be developed in order for any child to become a good reader. It is usually defined as the rate (words per minute) and accuracy of an individual's reading. But it is much more than that. It is the ability to read naturally, in a way that promotes understanding of the written word. It is the ability to see a story in the whole and allow it to move one's mind to a different place...it is flow.
Fluency, and more descriptively flow, is perhaps the most overlooked area of reading. Some of what we do in the classroom can undermine fluency, causing students to agonize over every word instead of feeling the language. What can we do to increase flow? Read on...
Master the Code
Decoding is a prerequisite of fluency. Any reader who is still struggling to sound out basic words will not be able to become a fluent reader. Be sure to address this issue as quickly as possible.
Model the Music of Language
Certain books can feel like music when read aloud. A parent, teacher or other older reader can model the beauty and music of good literature. For younger children try reading simple, rhyming books together. Be sure to focus on the cadence and rhythm of the words. Feel the beat of the book. Try different tempos. Encourage your listener to join in.
Avoid Round Robin Reading
It is very common to see groups of students taking turns reading paragraphs or portions of text in a classroom. This tends to slow down reading for many students. We read must faster in our brains than we do with our mouths. Readers need to be able to read silently, as quickly as their brains will allow. Instead of round robin reading, teachers can ask students a question about the text and have them read to discover the answer. In this way they set a purpose and then allow students to read at a comfortable pace.
Although you want to avoid the practice of round robin reading, it is often necessary to assist younger readers with phrasing. Pick a few sentences to practice with individual readers. Have them glide their fingers under the text as they read it with natural inflection. Repeat a chosen sentence several times until they get it. Be sure to reiterate that this is what good readers do. Have readers describe this feeling of reading naturally, as one might talk.
Use Fluency Charts
Once readers have mastered the code, you will want to encourage reading whole words quickly, without the need to pick out individual sounds. The use of fluency charts can be helpful in this process. Pick about 10-20 words that readers already know. Arrange 100 words (the 10-20 words repeated) randomly on a page (landscape format). Have pairs of readers read all of the words as quickly as possible. One reader will time the other. This can become a friendly competition. They will work diligently to increase their word recognition speed in this way. Eventually, you can extend this strategy to include phrases so that readers will practice reading chunks of text quickly instead of just single words.
Provide Opportunities for Sustained Silent Reading
It is critical that ample time be provided for independent reading...with no strings attached. Children should be able to select books that interest them, at reading levels that are comfortable. Teachers, parents or other adults need only provide time. Even in infancy, parents can set the stage for sustained silent reading. Of course little ones will wiggle and move and try to eat the books. But if you persist for a few minutes each day, your baby will eventually sit and listen to a story on your lap. By the age of two, most children will enjoy reading with a grown-up for at least a book or two. By the age of four, most children will be able to sit and "read" a book independently. It is very common to see children of this age making up large chunks of text to match the pictures. For children in kindergarten through second grade, 10-15 minutes of independent reading is about right. Little by little, they will become more independent in selecting and actually reading what is on the page. Third through fifth graders should be expected to sustain reading for about 20-30 minutes. At this point, children should be legitimately reading what is actually on the page. Once children reach middle school, this can be increased to up to an hour.
Make reading part of your daily routine. For very young children in the home, making reading part of the nighttime ritual works very well. This can be continued in the home throughout an entire lifetime. In the classroom, teachers can establish a portion of the day for sustained, silent reading. Right after lunch works well for many children to assist with the transition back into formal learning.
In order to maximize sustained reading time, distractions should be minimized. Turn off audio and video devices. If your child is reading on a computer or other device, disable Internet access. Make reading time a part of your daily routine.
Reading is a Gift for a Lifetime
Children who are assisted in becoming fluent readers tend to enjoy reading for a lifetime. Help all of the readers in your life to go with the flow.