Future Reflections                                                                        Spring/Summer 2003

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Promising Practices
Fluency: Helping Your Child Read and Understand


This is a publication of the Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) project. FAPE is one of four projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education to reach parents, administrators, service providers, and policymakers nationwide with information about implementing IDEA �97. A primary goal of FAPE is to ensure that children with disabilities receive a quality education. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is a FAPE Community Partner. For more information about FAPE publications contact: PACER Center, Inc., 8161 Normandale Blvd., Minneapolis, MN 55437. (952) 838-9000 voice;� (952) 838-0190 TTY; (952) 838-0199 fax; (888) 248-0822 toll-free; Web site <www.fape.org>; e-mail: <[email protected]>.

Editor's Note: The advice in this paper applies to Braille readers, too. It might help, therefore, when reading it to substitute the word �Braille� for �print,� and �touch� for �vision.� For some additional suggestions for parents of Braille readers, please see the editorial note at the end of the paper.

In order to be a good reader, your child must be able to do two things at the same time:

1.) decode the words on the page and

2.) understand what the words mean.

Early reading instruction focuses on teaching a child how to read single words. But being good at reading single words is not the only skill your child needs. Once your child has become good at decoding single words, he or she needs to learn to read easily, becoming a fluent reader.

Fluent readers have moved beyond decoding single words well. Fluent readers read quickly and accurately. They can read with expression. They tend to separate sentences into groups of words based on the meaning. They also tend to read many individual words automatically. They can understand what they are reading. This is the ultimate goal for reading.

It is hard to understand what you are reading when you are not a fluent reader. Researchers believe that everyone has a limited ability to pay attention when learning a new task. So, if your child needs to use a lot of attention to decode single words, there is little left over to use understanding what he or she has read. Once decoding single words becomes automatic, attention can then be turned to meaning. Fluent readers can begin to enjoy the meaning of what they read. They can move beyond learning to read. They can now read to learn.

Ask your child's teacher about your child's reading level. Your child will be ready to work on becoming a fluent reader when he or she is reading on the 2nd or 3rd grade level. If your child is working to become a fluent reader, there are some things that you can do to help.

Encourage your child to do more reading.

Research tells us that the best way to become a better reader is to spend more time reading. Anything you do to encourage your child to spend more time with print will help make him or her a better reader. Reading aloud to your child while he or she watches the page is also helpful. On occasion, turn on the captioning while your child is watching TV. Write simple notes to your child. The more your child reads, the more automatic reading will become. Try to be creative with reading material. Keep in mind that ANY reading is better than no reading.

Reading new materials or re-reading familiar materials both help improve fluency.

Researchers have tried to figure out what types of reading material are best for improving fluency in reading. Fluency seems to improve based on the amount of time spent reading. It does not matter whether this time is spent reading new things or re-reading favorite selections. If he wants to, allow your child to re-read his favorite book one more time. It may not be interesting to you, but it is helping your child become fluent.

Read aloud not only to your child, but WITH your child.

Research has shown that you, as the parent, can serve as a good model of a fluent reader for your child. Read out loud together with your child. This is sometimes called choral, paired, or assisted reading.

Let your child pick something interesting to read. At first, you will take the lead and your child will follow you. Point to the words as you pronounce them. Read clearly and with expression. Go at a pace that is comfortable to your child. Let him or her follow along with your voice and point to the words that you are both saying. If your child wants to read a bit alone, let him. Step in when he struggles over a word. Pronounce the word correctly and begin reading aloud together at the start of that sentence.

This method is multisensory: it combines your child's senses of vision [or touch] and hearing with the motor activities of speaking and pointing. Done on a regular basis, this activity can help your child make big gains in fluency. While it is not always as effective as reading with a person, some children will be able to benefit from the multisensory activity of reading out loud with a recorded book-on-tape. Books-on-tape are available in many neighborhoods at the local library.

Good fluency instruction includes learning about the rhythm and expression of our language.

You or the voice of the speaker on a book-on-tape is a role model for reading with expression. By listening to expressive reading at a good pace, your child is learning how to group words into meaningful phrases. Good skill at rhythm and expression help readers understand and enjoy what they are reading.

As a parent, you can help your child become a better reader. You can do this by making reading fun and surrounding your child with text. Remember, as a developing reader, your child must do more than learn to decode the words on the page. Your child must also learn how to understand what he or she is reading.

For more information

Kuhn, M.R. & Stahl, S.A. (2000). Fluency: A Review of Developmental and Remedial Practices. CIERA Report #R2-008, Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement.

Available in print from: CIERA/University of Michigan, School of Education, 610 E. University Ave., 1600 SEB, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, (734) 647-6740 voice; Web site <www.ciera.org>.

Available online at <www.ciera.org/ciera/publications/report-series>.

Additional References

Berliner, D.C. (1981). Academic learning time and reading achievement. In J.T. Guthrie (Ed.) Comprehension and teaching: Research Reviews (pp. 203-226). Newark, DE. International Reading Association.

Carbo, M. (1978). Teaching reading with talking books. The Reading Teacher, 32,


Chall, J.S. (1996). Stages of reading development (2nd ed.). Forth Worth, TX:


Chomsky, C. (1978). When you still can't read in third grade after decoding, what?

In S.J. Samuels (Ed.). What research has to say about reading instructions (pp. 13-30). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Dahl, P.R. (1979). An experimental program for teaching high speed word recognition and comprehension skills. In J.E. Button, T. Lovitt, & T. Rowland (Eds.), Communications research in learning disabilities and mental retardation (pp. 33-65). Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.

Heckelman, R.G., (1969). A neurological-impress method of remedial reading instruction. Academic Therapy Quarterly, 4(40), 277-282.

Heckelman, R.G., (1986). N.I.M. revisited. Academic Therapy, 21, 411-420.

Hollingsworth, P.M. (1978). An experimental approach to the impress method of teaching reading. The Reading Teacher, 31, 624-626.

LaBerge D., & Samuels, S.J. (1974). Toward a theory of automatic information processing in reading. Cognitive Psychology, 6, 293-323.

Mathes, P.G., & Fuchs, L.S. (1993). Peer-mediated reading instruction in special education resource rooms. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 8, 233-243.

Perfetti, C.A. (1985). Reading ability. New York: Oxford University Press.

Samuela, S.J. (1979). The method of repeated readings. The Reading Teacher, 32, 403-408.

Stanovich, K.E. (1984). The interactive-compensatory model of individual differences in the development of reading fluency. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 32-71.

Topping, K. (1987). Paired reading: A powerful technique for parent use. The Reading Teacher, 40, 608-614.

Young, A.R., Bowers, P.G. & MacKinnon, G.E. (1996). Effects of prosodic modeling and repeated reading on poor reader's fluency and comprehension. Applied Psycholinguistics, 17, 59-84.

From the Editor: Here are a few special pointers for parents and teachers of Braille readers: 1. learn enough Braille so that you can write short notes and help with early reading problems; 2. buy or borrow print-Braille storybooks for read-together time; 3. register your child with your regional library for the blind and physically handicapped so you can borrow Braille books and books on tape; 4. find or create opportunities for your child to do paired reading with a competent blind Braille reader�adult or older student; 5. locate Braille copies of chapter books (these are the next step up from beginning reader books), and then buy or borrow the same book in print so that you can assist your child and/or enjoy reading the book together. For resource information about how to implement these suggestions, contact the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314 ext. 360. Web site: <www.nfb.org>; e-mail: <[email protected]>.

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