He inhales words. I have no idea how he does it. He has been reading for five years, and I still have no way of imitating what he does when he reads out loud. He starts sentences just fine, but about halfway through the sentence, he is gasping air in and still reading. His sisters and I will be sitting there listening to him read some verses from Psalms, and we will have no idea what he said. It is not that he is incapable of reading. He is eight and reading “Tom Sawyer” for school right now and demonstrating excellent comprehension. He just cannot read out loud.
Maybe you have a child in a similar situation. Maybe she says the wrong words. Maybe he reads too fast. Maybe she sounds like a robot when she reads. Maybe he pauses in all the wrong places. Maybe she rushes through the punctuation and runs out of air. Maybe he reads all the right words, has the right pace, but is monotone. All of those issues have the same root. They demonstrate a struggle with fluency.
What is fluency? Fluency is made up of accuracy, rate, phrasing, and expression. A struggle with accuracy is what sends most of us to intensive lessons in phonics. It is being able to read the word that is actually there. Rate is how fast, or slow, a reader reads out loud. It is the most common “dipstick” in education to decide whether a child is reading on grade level or not. Phrasing relates to how well a child “reads” the punctuation. Do they pause at the right times for air, or are they rushing through commas and periods and breathing in the middle of a phrase? Expression is the fine-tuning of fluency. It is what takes a reader beyond monotone and into acting out the story with their voice. It is changing your tone for the scary or sad parts and changing your voice for different characters. After phonics, fluency should be the next goal of reading instruction.
(Note: Many would say that comprehension is the next goal after phonics instruction. I agree that it is important. I would just argue that truly great fluency requires comprehension in order to execute expression. It is a “which comes first: the chicken or the egg” kind of situation.)
How do you teach fluency? There are several excellent strategies. I will address one here and bring up others in later blog posts. If you want to hear about them all now, you can sign up for the e-mail list. You will receive my chapter on fluency for free at that time. If you want even more information on teaching reading, my book is available on Amazon.
My first recommendation for a child struggling with fluency is choral reading. Choral reading is just what it sounds like. It is when you read together with your child “in chorus.” The trick to making this work is that you must read with fluency no matter how your child is reading. You want him to keep up with your pace, learn to pause at punctuation, and to exercise expression. Invariably, especially when you first start doing this, your child will start off strong with the first few words and then tail off by the end of the sentence or paragraph. When this happens, finish the section, and then have him repeat it over again with you. It is alright to do this as many times as you need. I mean, if he wants to play the same video game over and over again, surely he can read the same thing over and over again! Use your best judgment. You do not want to breed frustration or embarrassment or drag out every reading lesson for three hours. There are times that it is perfectly acceptable to just pause, point to your place, and have him rejoin you. The main idea is that kids need a model to follow. Be that model so that he can start to hear and feel what fluency is.
When should you use choral reading? You cannot overuse it, so use it whenever you want. There are some naturally excellent times to use it, though. I recommend it at the start of each reading lesson so that reading starts out on the right foot. I also recommend it on those days that you need to get through a lot of reading material in a shorter amount of time. It keeps your child reading but means you can move the pace along as needed. Finally, I highly recommend it any time a child is resistant to reading out loud in a group. Reading with you takes the pressure off. Taking the pressure off means that the child can focus on the skill and not what others are thinking about his skill. Time and time again I have seen this lead to an increase in confidence that has turned some of my most reluctant readers into enthusiasts.
...a self-avowed "Wander Woman," homeschools her three children while traipsing the globe with her Army Chaplain husband. Her third greatest passion, falling below her love for God and family, is empowering other parents to teach their children.