Reading Fluency isn't Sexy Anymore - But it Should Be!

Tim Rasinski
During my week at the Teachers College Reading Institute, I heard one presenter say: "Tim Rasinski says fluency isn't sexy any more.  Complexity is sexy."  I laughed, not knowing really what that meant but found out later in the week when I attended a session led by Tim.  His session was entitled:  Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot!  (It's all about what the "catch" words are in education...and it shouldn't be.)  Tim Rasinski is a professor of Literacy Education at Kent State University, has written over 200 articles and authored or co-authored over 50 books and is a leader in the field of reading research and fluency.  Here's what I learned from Tim:

What makes reading fluency hot??

It is related to comprehension and if you want students to read they need to be fluent, comprehending readers that enjoy reading. You also need joyous readers to have successful readers.

One of the most successful, joyous strategies I use in clinics we run with students is singing.  There has been much research on the benefits of singing but for our purposes we will call it using rythmical words. When working with students I start each day with singing "fluency exercises".  When looking at the words afterwords you work in the comprehension.  You teach them to be thinking about songs they sing and what they mean. Singing is reading!  And it's reading with fluency!

A few years ago, he did a speech about this and he received this letter from a teacher:

So after he received her letter he called her and asked if they could do a study the following year.  She said sure!

She taught her kids three songs a week, always with the words in front of the kids and prompting them to make sure and look at the words.  Becky had lots of ELL kids in her class and they were being assessed by the DRA.  First graders were expected to achieve the level of 16 or 18 and none of her 25 kids were below that expectation.  Eight or so of her students ended up level 24, 26!  Of course this wasn't only because of the singing but you have to ask yourself why students are achieving so well compared to previous classes that different.  The singing was what she was doing different.

This appeared as an article in the Reader Teacher, where she is the first author and he is the second on "Bringing Back the Joy of Singing in the Classroom".  Fluency is important but we need to work on it in a joyful way.  Singing makes us happy! 

I got into reading fluency myself as a teacher.  I worked with Title 1 and Special Ed kids.  I had an interest in teaching kids that struggle.  I was doing the best I could with those first kids but no matter how well they comprehended what I read to them their fluency was not improving.  I began reading new articles coming out on fluency while working on my Masters Degree and I discovered that the materials I was being given at school addressed comprehension, phonics and everything except fluency.  I began trying my own things with my students to improve their fluency and they took off!

There was really nothing on the market you could buy for fluency until The National Reading Panel came out and said fluency was HOT!  But it was hot on and off because misunderstandings with oral reading, speed reading and fluency only being important in primary grades kept teachers confused.  If students don't get fluency by second grade they need help with that.  It's essential. 

What’s Hot in “Reading Today” comes out every year.  Reading Fluency:  2009 - 2012  came out as not hot!  That's what made me mad enough to write this article:  “Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot!  Common Core Standards labels fluency as one of the foundational skills.  Finally.

Tim Rasinski is the author of Word Ladders, a word game for skills practice with word work and building for K - 6.  He likes the idea of having fun and playing with words as you learn. 

Here are his Building Blocks of Fluency
Model Fluent Reading - read aloud, point out things you do with your voice and character
Assisted Reading - shared reading, paired reading, audio reading (listening center, close caption hearing)
Practice - practice, practice, practice, wide reading (read a story or chapter and talk about it and do extension activities....mediocre reading) deep reading (repeated reading of same thing)

What would motivate a reader to read something more than deeply or repreatedly?