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Fluency Gone Wild!

by Anne-Evan Williams, LGL Director of Educational Development

The Misunderstood Gauge of Reading Ability

Fluency is a hot topic in reading instruction these days, but what is fluency?  In many schools, fluency and speed are synonymous.  More is better.  In some programs, students must read as fast as possible to bypass placement into intervention courses.  In doing so, they often ignore other important factors.  Incomplete definitions such as these tend to result in imperfect instruction that focuses on only one or two areas of reading.

In reality, reading specialists think of fluency as an oral indication of what students are doing while they are reading.  It is an indication of how well they are able to access the text.  Fluency includes attending to punctuation and the emotional tenor of the passage, and to some degree, speed.  But it is the appropriateness of speed that is important, not the rate.  A student who reads too slowly may be having difficulty decoding.  A student who reads too quickly may not be attending to meaning as he reads.  A reading assessment that looks only at fluency--or worse yet, only at speed--ignores these telling indicators of student understanding.  It is an incomplete assessment of the students' reading strategies that fails to diagnose their areas of strength and weakness.  Do we really want students reading quickly at the price of not understanding what they are reading?  Only by developing all of students' reading skills, instead of overfocusing on just one area, are we able to build strong, fluent readers. 

Tags: fluency, reading assessment, reading speed

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