by Timothy Rasinski, PhD
January 5, 2023
Reading fluency is the ability of readers to read words in text automatically and with a level of expression and phrasing that reflects the meaning of the text. Since the publication of the report of the National Reading Panel (2000), reading fluency has been recognized as a critical competency for success in reading. It is often viewed as a bridge between phonics or word decoding and comprehension. Research indicates that many children who struggle in reading have not adequately crossed that fluency bridge – and, as a result, comprehension and overall reading proficiency suffer (White, et al., 2021).
Key elements of fluency instruction include modeling fluent reading (read aloud to students), assisted reading (students read a text while simultaneously hearing the same text read to them by a partner, group, or recording), wide reading (students read a text one time and then move on to a new text), and deep or repeated reading (students read one text multiple times until they are able to read it with a degree of fluency). Research has shown that each of these instructional tools can promote fluency as well as improve overall reading proficiency. Typically, teachers focus on fluency by either focusing primarily on one or two of these instructional strategies, or, over the course of multiple days, tap into a different strategy each day.
Given that fluency is often neglected (often in lieu of additional phonics instruction) and because so many of our struggling readers exhibit significant difficulties in fluency, it may be helpful to think of fluency instruction synergistically. By synergistic fluency instruction I mean a regular instructional routine that contains all the elements of fluency instruction mentioned previously. In this way, the benefits from each of these instructional elements interact with one another to produce an effect together than they would if used individually – the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
The Fluency Development Lesson (FDL) is one such synergistic approach to systematic, direct, and intensive fluency instruction. The FDL is a single lesson that employs short reading passages (poems, story segments, or other texts of between 50-200 words) that students read and reread over a short period of time. The goal of each Fluency Development Lesson is for students to achieve success in reading the text for that lesson. The general format for each 20-minute lesson follows:
As you can see in the above overview, each lesson contains fluency (and other) instructional components. Done on a regular basis (3-5 times per week), the results of using the FDL can be significant and substantial. Indeed, the National Reading Panel (2000) identified the FDL as a promising approach for improving fluency in struggling readers. In one study of fourth-grade struggling readers provided the FDL over four months, these struggling readers made twice the gain in reading fluency (words read correct per minute) and nearly three times the gain in comprehension over what would be normally expected (Disalle & Rasinski, 2017). In our own university summer reading clinic for struggling elementary and middle grade students, we have found consistent gains, well above what would normally be expected, for word recognition, fluency, and comprehension (Zimmerman, et al., 2019). Indeed, a systematic review of fluency interventions such as the FDL used with learning-disabled students found that regular implementation of such interventions produced gains in both fluency and comprehension. Indeed, in a review of studies of fluency interventions on learning-disabled students, Stevens, Walker, and Vaughn (2017) found that multi-component interventions such as the FDL produce gains in fluency and comprehension for struggling readers.
The goal of any reading instruction routine or intervention is improvement in comprehension and overall reading proficiency. In as much as reading fluency is the bridge from word decoding to comprehension, and significant numbers of our struggling readers fail to cross that bridge, fluency interventions such as the FDL offer great promise for improving reading outcomes for the students we worry the most about.
DiSalle, K., & Rasinski, T. (2017). Impact of short-term fluency instruction on students’ reading achievement: A classroom-based, teacher-initiated research study. Journal of Teacher Action Research, 3, 1-14.
National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read. Report of the subgroups. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.
Rasinski, T. V. (2010). The Fluent Reader: Oral reading strategies for building word recognition, fluency, and comprehension (2nd edition). New York: Scholastic.
Rasinski, T., & Cheesman Smith, M. (2018). The Megabook of Fluency. New York: Scholastic (Winner of the 2019 Teachers’ Choice Award for the classroom).
Rasinski, T., & Young, C. (2023). Build Reading Fluency: Practice and Performance (2nd edition). Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.
Stevens, E., Walker, M., & Vaughn, S. (2017). The effects of fluency interventions on the reading fluency and reading comprehension performance of elementary students with learning disabilities: A Synthesis of the research from 2001-2014. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50, 576-590.
White, S., Sabatini, J. Park, B., Chen, J., Bernstein, J., and Li, M. (2021). The 2018 NAEP Oral Fluency Study. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Zimmerman, B.S., Rasinski, T.V., Kruse, S.D., Was, C.A., Rawson, K.A., Dunlosky, J., & Nikbakht, E. (2019). Enhancing outcomes for struggling readers: Empirical analysis of the fluency development lesson, Reading Psychology, 40(1), 70-94.
Timothy Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University and director of its award winning reading clinic. He also holds the Rebecca Tolle and Burton W. Gorman Endowed Chair in Educational Leadership. Tim has written over 250 articles and has authored, co-authored or edited over 50 books or curriculum programs on reading education. He is author of the best selling books on reading fluency The Fluent Reader and The Megabook of Fluency. Tim’s scholarly interests include reading fluency and word study, reading in the elementary and middle grades, and readers who struggle. His research on reading has been cited by the National Reading Panel and has been published in journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, The Reading Teacher, Reading Psychology, and the Journal of Educational Research. Tim is the first author of the fluency chapter for the Handbook of Reading Research, Volume IV. Tim served a three year term on the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association and was co-editor of The Reading Teacher, the world’s most widely read journal of literacy education. He has also served as co-editor of the Journal of Literacy Research. Rasinski is past-president of the College Reading Association and he has won the A. B. Herr and Laureate Awards from the College Reading Association for his scholarly contributions to literacy education. In 2010 Tim was elected to the International Reading Hall of Fame and he is also the 2020 recipient of the William S. Gray Citation of Merit from the International Literacy Association. In a 2021 study done at Stanford University Tim was identified as being among the top 2% of scientists in the world. Prior to coming to Kent State Tim taught literacy education at the University of Georgia. He taught for several years as an elementary and middle school classroom and reading intervention teacher in Omaha, Nebraska. Tim is a veteran of the United States armed forces.
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