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Fluency is an essential component of reading; however, teachers tend to overlook it. This may be due to a lack of knowledge as to how to teach students to read fluently, being unaware of the significance of this skill, or struggling to find the time to work on it. Find out more about teaching reading fluency in this 4 part series.

There are a lot of misconceptions about reading fluency and how to teach it. As a result, teachers are making major mistakes with fluency without even realizing it! I’ve been guilty of these mistakes myself, but now that I know better I do better. Hopefully, by sharing what I’ve learned, it will help you avoid making the same mistakes!

Fluency Mistakes Teachers Make

Mistake #1 – Not Explicitly Teaching Fluency

Students do not just naturally learn how to become fluent readers. We must teach them! Just as we provide explicit instruction on how to decode unknown words and comprehend the text, teachers must also teach strategies for fluent reading. By developing students’ awareness of the fluency components, they can begin to independently implement the strategies.

Part of teaching students to read fluently is by modeling fluent reading. During this modeling, students learn how a fluent reader should sound. Students will then begin to imitate this model in their own reading. Incorporating think alouds during reading explains to students how and why you’re reading the text a certain way. Learn more specific strategies for improving reading fluency.

Mistake #2 – Teaching Fluency in Isolation

Some teachers may think they are already teaching students fluent reading by providing isolated practice activities. This may be activities such as sight word phrases flashcards or one-breath boxes. While these tasks can definitely improve automaticity, which does help with fluency, our instruction needs to go beyond that. Fluent reading does not occur in isolation.

Sight words fluency phrases helps students improve automaticity.

Fluency, decoding, and comprehension all work together to convey meaning – which is the main goal of reading. Teaching fluency in isolation can result in students making errors or not reading for meaning. In these situations, students are simply word-calling and not actually reading. Fluency is the bridge that helps connect decoding and comprehension.

Mistake #3 – Not Providing Opportunities for Authentic Practice

Just because we teach students how to read fluently, it does not mean they will automatically begin implementing it on their own. They need ample opportunities to practice fluent reading in an authentic manner. By doing so, they’ll begin to independently implement the strategies during reading. The only way to get better at something is by actually doing it!

While students practice reading authentically, it is important for teachers to provide feedback. This should be specific feedback on what students are doing well or how they can improve.

Students can also self-reflect on their reading fluency by recording themselves as they read. Have students listen back to the recording to determine if they sound fluent. Once again, this goes back to students needing to have a model of fluent reading so they can better self-reflect on their own fluency.

Mistake #4 – Only Assessing for Speed

One-minute reads have become the most commonly used assessment for fluency. (If you’re unfamiliar with this assessment, students read a short passage for one minute. The teacher then counts the number of words read correctly during that minute to determine the WCPM rate, which stands for words read correctly per minute). While this can be a valuable assessment tool, it can also be very detrimental.

One minute reads have become the most commonly used assessment for fluency. Data graphs can be used as a progress monitoring tool.

When only using the one-minute reads to assess a student’s fluency, it does not take all of the fluency components into consideration. It simply serves as a measure of students’ speed when reading. Just because students can read quickly it does not mean they comprehend what is read. And ultimately, fluency should lead to improved comprehension.

Only implementing one-minute reads can lead to student misconceptions about fluency. They begin to equate fluency with speed reading. They will race to read more words within a minute which typically results in more errors and a breakdown of meaning. Obviously, this is not the desired outcome!

Mistake #5 – Round Robin Reading

Round robin or popcorn reading is one of the most common fluency mistakes teachers make during guided reading. During this strategy, students take turns reading aloud to the group. Just say NO to Round Robin Reading!

You may have experienced this type of reading yourself. I vividly remember dreading when teachers made us read aloud to the class. As a strong reader but introverted student, I would count the number of students ahead of me to figure out which paragraph I’d be assigned. Instead of listening to the rest of the passage, I would be frantically practicing my paragraph. It obviously impacted my comprehension of the text since I didn’t listen to a majority of it. Plus I was so focused on being able to accurately read my paragraph, I wasn’t even thinking about the meaning. Then by the time it was my turn, I was too nervous to read the words correctly anyway. Definitely embarrassing and not beneficial to my growth as a reader!

Even though round robin reading is commonly used there is no research to support this strategy. In fact, there are many studies that show the negative impact it can have on students. It is especially detrimental to struggling readers by making them feel humiliated or inferior to their peers. As I mentioned, even as a strong reader my comprehension was weakened by this approach. In addition, only one student is practicing reading at a time. Definitely not the most effective use of instructional time.

Instead of having students read one at a time, teachers can use a choral reading approach. During guided reading, I have all students read to themselves (either silently or as a whisper read depending on where they are developmentally with their reading). I listen to students individually to informally assess their oral reading and provide them with specific feedback. Edutopia has a great article with other alternatives to round robin reading.

Next Steps

If you are guilty of making any of these fluency mistakes, don’t feel bad about it! We have all done things that we later learn were not considered best practices. The most important thing is what you will do moving forward now that you know better! If you need more specific ideas of strategies for improving reading fluency, check out part 3 of the series!

Be sure to share any of your previous misconceptions, teaching tips, or questions in the comments below!

Want to Learn More?

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