Thursday, March 1, 2007

March 2007, Special Edition: Slower & Steady Wins the Fluency Race


March 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month    

Though Network Superstars is dedicated to celebrating the amazing accomplishments of the volunteers, student image teachers and program coordinators we serve, sometimes we feel it’s necessary to share strategies from our own superstars.  This is one of those times.  The superstar who wrote this strategy is Dr. Grace Chiu (pictured at right), our first Reading Strategies Expert and an absolutely amazing educator.  (Check out her blog, K-12 Literacy Coach.)

Over the past few years, we’ve found that some reading tutors and school-based mentors across the country are led to place an enormous focus on the speed at which a student is reading, timing students on how quickly they read passages.  While it is okay to use timers occasionally for assessment purposes (usually to figure out if a student is decoding too slowly), the practice should not be used constantly because it can mislead students to believe that reading is about how fast they can call out words.

Unfortunately, we’ve found that some tutors and mentors sometimes make speed such a high priority that students miss out on opportunities to focus on the true purpose of reading, making meaning.

What especially concerns us are situations in which students are asked to time one another. While we believe that having a teacher or well-trained tutor or mentor time a student can sometimes be useful, we're very concerned about how children will treat one another in this situation and whether the student being tested is comprehending what he or she is reading.

We don't know how widespread this practice is nationwide, but we’ve tracked it enough over the years that we wanted to share one strategy with you that helps students develop stronger fluency skills without just focusing on speed.

The Strategy


Sources: - Dr. Grace Chiu, America Learns Reading Strategies Expert (and our own superstar)
- Practical Fluency, by Max Brand & Gayle Brand (2006) (get the book)
Topics: Fluency
Grade Levels: Kindergarten – Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: A text your student is reading

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: Does your student read in a choppy, monotone voice? If so, consider using the following prompts and activities to help your student improve her fluency while she reads to you.

A special note on fluency:
Fluency means much more than how fast somebody reads. Fluency is the ability to read in a smooth, flowing, connected way so that it's possible to link words together into meaningful phrases. Constructing meaning (comprehension) is the ultimate goal in improving a student's fluency.
Step 1: Say, "Listen to me read it."

Choppy readers need to hear fluent reading in order to become fluent readers. As your student reads aloud to you, you may want to pause at the end of a paragraph or page and offer to read aloud the same passage, modeling good expression, good phrasing, and normal pacing. Try to be sensitive to your student's feelings when you offer to read the text aloud.  Rather than saying, "Your reading sounds choppy, listen to me," try something like, "I want you to try to make your reading sound as if you're talking normally. Let me read aloud to show you what I mean." [Now read the passage aloud.]

After reading aloud to your student, ask your student: "What did you notice about how I read? How was my voice expressive? [Possible answers: voice got louder, softer, higher, and/or lower as you read; you paused at the end of sentences and other appropriate punctuation; you emphasized certain words.]

If you'd like to listen to a clip of somebody reading with a lot of expression, click here (podcast/mp3 file).

Step 2: Say, "Read along with me." (Doing Paired Reading)

Paired reading is a great way to begin or end any session. It's a form of supported reading that involves two readers, one who is fluent, the other who is less fluent.

Here are some paired reading basics:
Sitting side-by-side, read the text aloud simultaneously for 10 to 20 minutes. While reading aloud together and at the same time, try to adjust the pace and volume necessary to move your student further along.

Whenever your student makes a mistake, give the correct pronunciation quickly so that the flow of reading isn't interrupted or slowed down. If your student struggles over every other word of the text, however, the text is too difficult. Help your student select an easier text.

If you're an America Learns Network member, for more specific directions on how to do paired reading, click here.  For guidance on helping your student select appropriate texts to read, click here.

Step 3: Say, "Read it like you are telling a story."

It sometimes helps to remind students that they are not just reading isolated words, but a story.
Step 4: Say, "Make it sound like talking." / "Read it again and make it sound like talking."

One of the best ways to improve your student's fluency is to reread texts. After your student reads a piece of text out loud, gently point out some of the errors (also known as "miscues") your student made and ask her to note where she feels she read well and where she needs to improve. You might want to read the text that covers the errors out loud so your student can hear you read the text more fluently (see Step 1 for instructions on doing this).

Now, invite your student to reread the same passage two more times. Before your student rereads, ask her to pay special attention to correcting the errors she previously made.

Tape Recorder / Cell Phone Voicemail Extension
If you have a tape recorder or cell phone with a speakerphone available, after practicing the piece of text a couple times, record your student and then play the recording back so she can listen to herself read.  Only record one piece or section of text at a time.  After you listen to it together, ask your student questions such as, "How does that sound? Did we read it too fast or slow? How could we read that better? Does our reading sound like we're talking or do we sound like robots? Should we re-record that line?"

If you're a Network member, check out additional guidance on this activity here.

Step 5: Say, "When you read, remember that you're turning words into ideas."

As we discussed in Step 3, it's important to help your student understand that she isn't just reading a bunch of individual words that don't have any connection to each other. She's reading meaningful phrases that turn words into ideas. For example, the sentence, "What are you doing?" could be choppily read with the four separate words read clumsily after one another; OR, it could be read as one continuous phrase, with one's voice going up on "doing" because you're asking a question.
Step 6: Say, "Pay attention to the punctuation while you're reading."

If your student sounds like a robot, there's a good chance that he or she needs to practice pausing (commas), stopping (periods), and inflecting their voice to express emotion (question marks and exclamation marks).

If you're a Network member, for specific directions on how to introduce punctuation marks, click here.


Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for us by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

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