Reading fluency is an important focus of literacy teaching, and can be thought of in two different but complementary ways:
- Reading fluency has a qualitative definition, referring to the quality of students' reading. This includes the use of rhythm, phrasing, intonation, naturalness, and use of voice (for different characters/moods);
- Reading fluency also has a quantitative definition, referring to the accuracy (number of errors, compared to number of correct words read) and the rate (number of words read per minute).
Quality and efficiency together are indicators of fluent reading, and are necessary for reading achievement, but not sufficient.
The case for fluency
It is an important goal for children to become accurate, efficient, and therefore fluent readers. Facilitating repeated practice of reading aloud is key to developing fluency. The goal for all children is for decoding to become easy and automatic, so they can free up their attention to focus on the meaning of the text.
While easy and automatic reading allows readers to attend to the meaning of texts, fluency alone does not indicate good comprehension. As noted by Afflerbach, Pearson and Paris (2008), ‘fluent reading begins with strategies that integrate intentions, actions, and goals, and fluency increases with repeated practice’ (p.369).
Theory to practice
Early readers spend much of their attention and effort on decoding words, which will inevitably affect their speed and efficiency. As students become more familiar with basic graphemes, and build up a bank of automatically recognisable words, their reading rate increases.
Fluency is dependent upon the ability to decode the text (including phonemic awareness, phonics and vocabulary abilities), and fluent readers work with meaningful units such as phrases and clauses as they read. Readers become more fluent when they can quickly and accurately decode the text with ease. Once reading fluency is developed to an automatic/proficient level, readers can focus much less on decoding and more on the comprehension of text.
What other areas of literacy relate to fluency?
Fluency is related to other decoding focuses, including phonological awareness and phonics. This is because accurate and timely decoding of unfamiliar words helps to improve the fluency of reading.
Another area which supports fluent reading is vocabulary knowledge (including morphology) because familiarity with a variety of words (and word parts, i.e., morphemes) can help to read these words with greater ease and fluency.
Finally, awareness of sentence structure (grammar) and punctuation is also linked to fluency (particularly rhythm, phrasing, and intonation). This is because knowing how to break sentences into appropriate phrases, and including pauses at different punctuation, is a key component of the qualitative aspects of reading fluency.
Research into fluency has examined the role that it plays in contributing to comprehension. In a review of research into this area, Konza (2016) examines three key areas which contribute to fluent – accuracy, rate and prosody (expression) – and which enable students to engage in meaningful and enjoyable experiences of reading (cf Kuhn & Stahl, 2000; Rasinski, Rikli, & Johnston, 2009 as cited in Konza, 2016). Rasinski and Samuels (2011, p. 95) note that when readers develop fluency, ‘they are able to devote their finite cognitive resources to the more important task in reading – that is, comprehension’.
Grammar and punctuation
Another component of the teaching of fluency is the teaching of grammar and punctuation. This can include (but is not limited to) the following:
- Discussing word types: noun, adjective, verb, adverb, preposition, determiner etc.
- Explaining differences between commas, full stops, colons, semi colons, exclamation points.
For more information, see:
Opportunities for developing reading fluency include:
Links to Victorian Curriculum - English
- Read texts with familiar structures and features, practising phrasing and fluency, and monitor meaning using concepts about print and emerging phonic, semantic, contextual and grammatical knowledge (Code VCELY152)
- Read texts with familiar features and structures using developing phrasing, fluency, phonic, semantic, contextual, and grammatical knowledge and emerging text processing strategies, including prediction, monitoring meaning and rereading (Code VCELY187)
- Read familiar and some unfamiliar texts with phrasing and fluency by combining phonic, semantic, contextual and grammatical knowledge using text processing strategies, including monitoring meaning, predicting, rereading and self-correcting (Code VCELY221)
- Read an increasing range of imaginative, informative and persuasive texts by combining phonic, semantic, contextual and grammatical knowledge, using text processing strategies, including confirming, rereading and cross-checking (Code VCELY256)
- Read different types of texts for specific purposes by combining phonic, semantic, contextual and grammatical knowledge using text processing strategies, including monitoring meaning, skimming, scanning and reviewing (Code VCELY287)
Links to Victorian Curriculum - English as an Additional Language (EAL)
Reading and viewing
- Follow text with finger while reading
- Recognise capital letters, spaces and full stops
- Adopt the teacher's intonation patterns when reading familiar texts
- Sub-vocalise when reading silently
- Recognise that full stops and question marks separate text
- Read familiar texts with some fluency
- Use developing knowledge of English to predict some words or phrases
Reading and viewing
- Revisit familiar texts to develop accurate and fluent reading
- Understand the function of spaces, capital letters and full stops
- Demonstrate reading-like behaviour
- Recognise the function of capital letters and full stops, and use them
- Reread familiar texts to increase accuracy and fluency and to enhance understanding
- Self-correct with guidance
- Understand simple punctuation when reading
- Adapt speed when reading an unfamiliar text
- Modify intonation when reading aloud, to differentiate questions, exclamations or dialogue
- Self-correct pronunciation
- Understand main ideas in a text and extract specific details
- Apply knowledge of letter–sound relationships to deduce the pronunciation of new words
- Read on when encountering unfamiliar words
- Self-correct a range of aspects of speech
- Vary speech to add meaning to texts when reading aloud
Abbott, M, Wills, H, Greenwood, CR, Kamps, D, Heitzman-Powell, L & Selig, J (2010), The combined effects of grade retention and targeted small-group intervention on students’ literacy outcomes, Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 26(1), pp. 4-25.
Afflerbach, P., Pearson, P., & Paris S. G. (2008). Clarifying differences between reading skills and reading strategies. The Reading Teacher, 61(5), 364 - 373.
Konza, D. (2016). Understanding the process of reading: The big six. In J. Scull & B. Raban (Eds), Growing up literate:Australian literacy research for practice (pp. 149-175). South Yarra, Vic. : Eleanor Curtain Publishing
Rasinski, T.V. & Samuels, S.J. (2011). Reading fluency: what it is and what it is not. In S.J. Samuels & A.E. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (4th ed.) (pp. 94 - 114). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.