The Truth About Reading Fluency

The Truth About Reading Fluency

Very early in the Great Leaps Reading history, we were called a fluency program. This would make sense IF you correctly define fluency. Here are three definitions that are right on point:

Reading Rockets writes, “Fluency is defined as the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. In order to understand what they read, children must be able to read fluently whether they are reading aloud or silently. When reading aloud, fluent readers read in phrases and add intonation appropriately. Their reading is smooth and has expression.”

Tim Rasinski writes that “reading fluency refers to the ability of readers to read the words in text effortlessly and efficiently (automaticity) with meaningful expression that enhances the meaning of the text (prosody). Fluency takes phonics or word recognition to the next level. While many readers can decode words accurately, they may not be fluent or automatic in their word recognition. These readers tend to expend too much of their limited mental energy on figuring out the pronunciation and meaning of words, energy that is taken away from that more important task in reading comprehension — getting to the text’s overall meaning. Thus, the lack of fluency often results in poor comprehension.”

My own definition of fluency is “Fluency is accurate reading (95%+) at a rate commensurate with human speech (120 words per minute +) with correct inflection and full understanding.”

Yet, many in the public have been led to believe that fluency is nothing but reading speed. This is wrong. When I praise recorded success, such as in our Devonte video, we see comments such as, “Reading is more than speed.” That's like telling Lance Armstrong "Bicycling is more than just pedaling." 

These critics seem unable to see in the video the huge growth in such a short time, the intonation, his smile of success and the obvious understanding of the material. Yes, Devonte is reading so fast (about 195 wpm) that it is almost difficult for us to hear and understand. The question needs to be, what is Devonte understanding as he reads at this high speed. Many of us can read silently at 400+ words per minute with complete understanding. Yet, if you tried to listen and understand materials read at such speeds, it would be difficult. I cannot orally read at such speeds. Yet, I can read silently at such a speed with understanding – not skipping words or skimming. 

An example:  if I wrote “Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania” and showed it to you for one second and then hid it – many of you could tell me word for word what I presented. You read every word at a speed of higher than 500 words per minute. Yet, you cannot orally read those words to me in one second – not even close. Going as fast as I could, it took me 3 seconds to get it all out.

When looking at the read/reread intervention, reviewers have not looked at the strong work in design and step-by-step reading development – nope, Great Leaps has been judged as a simple program of repeated speed drills. Left out in these critiques of my work is the phonics section, the innovative work in high frequency word phrases (designed to eliminate high frequency word errors while teaching improved intonation and chunking) and the innovative attack on comprehension. 

Sadly, the incorrect use of the word fluency has led many to not giving Great Leaps its due. Speed is an important component of fluency, but of course speed alone is useless without accuracy and comprehension. 


By Kenneth Campbell

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