Sunday, November 28, 2010

Building Reading Fluency

During the second quarter, which officially started a few weeks ago, I’ve shifted focus from teaching phonics to teaching reading fluency, especially with a group of third, fourth, and fifth graders that have mastered the basics, but are still “struggling readers.” Focusing on fluency, the ability to read accurately (quickly and correctly) and with expression, I think, will help them enjoy reading and understand more of what they read as they connect words they read with words they hear.

Fluency, I think, is one of the most difficult qualities to develop in students who are struggling with reading. It comes so naturally to some students, even as it eludes others. I have worked with students who struggle with phonics yet, even as they stumble over words, some aspects of fluency—the rise and fall of their voice as they read, the inflection they give to punctuation, their expression as they read dialogue—is impeccable. Other readers, who can sound out any word presented to them, read in stifled monotone, as if every word is one more step in a torturous journey towards finishing the chapter.

I recently researched the topic of reading fluency and learned that it’s a hard won skill for kids—requiring both repeated reading and reading many different texts. For my students, repeated reading can be challenging and they lose interest quickly, while at the same time, building the ability to read many different texts poses its own challenge as they work to transfer knowledge (word skills, sight words) they used in one text to a book that, on the cover at least, looks completely different.

So, in my group of upper elementary students, whose reading levels and fluency ability are incredibly diverse, I’ve struggled with just how to approach the idea of fluency, and how to get them to practice it in a way that introduces something new for each child. I’ve decided to focus on reader’s theatre with a few different plays, and strategies to teach them the importance of reading fluently.

The guiding questions: How does reading fluency enhance how we enjoy and understand what we read? How does our reading fluency enhance how we communicate what we read to others?

In this unit:

  • I’m focusing on explicit instruction in the components of fluent reading with guided notes on how to read expression—what readers do when they read a period, exclamation point, and question mark, as well as notes on how to read emphasized text (text that is written in italics, bold font, or capitalized letters).
  • As they read, the students will discuss how to read sentences with expression, reading parts of sentences, pausing for commas, and adding voice to dialogue.
  • Twice each week, as a class, they’re going to do Reading A to Z's “zipper reads” procedure, a way of repeated reading that encourages kids to track their own accuracy and word comprehension. Eventually, I will have them graph their progress, so each student can see how their fluency improved over the weeks.
  • As they practice their scripts, they’ll be working towards reading the script for a podcast recording that they can share with their parents, or with another class.

I'm excited to see the growth that the combination of instruction, group practice, and small group work with scripts that are interesting to them (one of the plays is the script of the novel that my fifth grade students are reading, The Best Christmas Pageant Every by Barbara Robinson), and the ultimate goal of helping them hear themselves read, will bring about in this group of students. 

If you’re working on building fluency in your class, don’t start without reading the resources from Reading Rockets, a public television resource with information and strategies.

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