What is reading fluency, anyway?
Reading fluency is the ability to read with sufficient ease, accuracy and expression so that one can focus attention on the meaning and message of the text.
What causes difficulty with reading fluency?
The most common cause of reading dysfluency is difficulty with word recognition, when students stumble on particular words or lack word recognition automaticity. Reading comprehension is disrupted by anything that impedes the mapping of print to language, e.g., unfamiliar vocabulary may lead a reader to misinterpret the usage or meaning of a word, lose the thread of a sentence, or fail to identify the contextual significance of other words in the passage.
How does one assess reading fluency?
Reading fluency is most commonly assessed by listening to children as they read aloud. When readers lack fluency, their oral reading sounds choppy or hesitant, lacking the accuracy, rhythm, and flow that indicates confident understanding of the text.
Why is Oral Reading Rate, measured in correct words per minute, a good measure of fluency?
The advantage of measuring fluency in correct words per minute is that it provides an objective measure that can be used to gauge and monitor growth over time, though naturally, there is a natural limit to appropriate rate. In today's classrooms, reading fluency is often assessed by measuring the number of words a child can read correctly in one minute. The reason this works is that difficulties and errors take time, effectively reducing the number of words that can be read before the minute is up. The greater the number of difficulties encountered while reading a passage, the more time it will take to complete the passage.
If reading rate and reading comprehension are strongly correlated, does that mean that children should be taught to read as fast as they can?
In short, no. The emphasis should always be on reading for comprehension, not reading for speed. Students who read most closely to what the author intends in terms of prosody and expression have a deeper comprehension, on the whole, than those who read strictly for speed. Research shows that when reading silently, readers take time to reflect and review. In this way, silent reading is indeed different from oral reading. Nevertheless, any words or constructions that prove troublesome when reading orally can also pose difficulty when reading silently. A major goal in engaging students in read-aloud activities is to help them develop the skills and attitude to notice and conquer rather than avoid such challenges.
Additional Resources on Fluency
Effective Fluency Instruction and Progress Monitoring
Professional development guide on fluency instruction practices.
Chapter 3 of the National Reading Panel's 2000 report on Teaching Children to Read
This report discusses the nature and importance of fluency and evaluates research efforts on techniques for improving reading fluency.
The Fast ForWord® program is an online reading intervention that uses the principles of neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to rewire and improve – to treat the underlying cause of language and reading difficulties, once and for all.