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Reading Fluency in High School: Beyond Rate and Accuracy

by Natalia Harrison

The early elementary years are often dedicated to intensive reading instruction as teachers look to move students from learning to read to reading to learn. Unfortunately, not all students make this transition as easily as others, and while remediation often continues through elementary school, for some, reading fluency remains a challenge and area of relative weakness. As these students enter middle and high school, fluency instruction is usually put aside in order to focus on comprehension. I would argue, however, that regardless of grade or reading level, fluency and comprehension should continue to be taught together. This is well-supported by the research of Timothy Rasinski who states that fluency is the bridge between phonics and comprehension and as such, strong readers tend to hear themselves when reading silently (Rasinski 2012). 

Traditional reading fluency programs focus on rate and accuracy. Attention is seldom given to prosody or reading with intonation and expression. However, with the new push for science and evidence-based reading instruction, Rasinski argues that we should no longer consider commercial reading programs that focus solely on rate and accuracy to be as effective, citing the work of Cassidy and Cassidy (2009). They urge for the lense to shift from how quickly and accurately a student can read to providing instruction and feedback in their ability to read with appropriate expression.   

Addressing fluency at the high school level can be a tough sell.  Although most reading in secondary school is done silently, research shows that practicing expressive reading orally can translate to improved silent reading comprehension (Rasinski, 2012). I would not suggest that this necessarily be done in isolation from traditional fluency exercises, but rather that prosody become a measured component of all structured reading fluency practice.

When addressing reading fluency at the high school level, I like to use Rasinski and Samuels’ MAPPS strategy (outlined in chapter 4 of What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, 2011), which stands for Modeling, Assisted reading, Practice, Phrasing, Synergy. Each area serves as a method of instruction that goes beyond rate and accuracy to provide support for reading fluently. 

  • Modeling: Teachers frequently demonstrate modeling through reading material aloud in class. The challenge, though, is that it needs to be intentional. Educators should use student errors to inform the text that is being modeled. For example, if a student is struggling with pausing for punctuation, you might read a passage where you model positive and negative examples of this and how it impacts understanding. The teacher does not always have to serve as the model, you might watch videos of comedians, actors, poets, news hosts, politicians, or orators.
  • Assisted reading: Also called choral reading, when students engage in assisted reading, the teacher and student read in unison. Alternatively, this can be done for homework without the need for the teacher by utilizing YouTube videos with closed captioning on, listening to a podcast while reading the transcript, or following along to an audiobook with the print version.
  • Practice: Ideally reading fluency practice is both deep and wide. Traditional fluency programs promote students reading the same short passage multiple times over a set amount of days. I encourage teachers to engage in repeated readings, but to also take part in pre-reading activities and vocabulary development connected to the topic of the passage. Going beyond just what the words say to explore what the words mean can support students’ comprehension skills in addition to their fluency. I would also advocate strongly for offering feedback with regards to prosody during this oral reading practice. Rasinski also offers an excellent multidimensional fluency scale, which can serve as a great supplement when providing feedback on fluency (Rasinski, 2016). 
  • Phrasing: Focusing on phrasing, or the ability to chink words into phrases, during fluency practice encourages students to apply expression and tone using punctuation as a guide. This strategy can be as technical as you’d like, but I suggest looking for natural ways to chunk passages. Again, Rasinski offers a list of Fry Instant Phrases, which can be helpful. The teacher and student can always work together to chunk a passage into phrases. For example: //Sally told Jim / he was the smartest person / she had ever met./ Although he was surprised,/ he couldn’t help / but agree./
  • Synergy: All of these elements come together to deliver reading fluency instruction that is meaningful and productive. While there is room for traditional reading fluency programs and addressing each of the MAPPS strategies individually, within this instructional model, I encourage you to think outside the box and utilize student interests to drive the content. When working with older students, you might consider using a college-level textbook, application requirements, appliance instructional manuals, wildlife guides, or government documents. 

Through the use of the MAAPS strategy, students are provided with both a variety of instruction and a variety of feedback which serves to develop the full picture of oral reading development. This, in turn, supports a student’s silent reading and comprehension skills. As the demands for reading, particularly reading for learning, increase, students with targeted fluency practice will be better able to tackle longer and denser texts. 

References 

Natalia is an academic advisor at Landmark High School.  In her 13 years at Landmark, Natalia has taught in the Language Arts, Study Skills, and Expressive Language departments.  She also teaches graduate level courses in Dyslexia Studies through Southern New Hampshire University’s online program.  Natalia graduated from The University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in English, and she earned her master’s degree in special education from Simmons College.

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