Principles for Fluency Instruction

The way you go about helping students to develop their fluency skills will determine whether students become more confident about reading or less. Many people are nervous about speaking in front of groups, and asking students to read aloud in front of their peers can provoke the same feelings of dread. This is especially true for students who are already struggling to read and who do not want to be perceived as stupid by their classmates. Students may be confident to read aloud solo later after they have practiced within a small group.

Conversely, if you follow these principles for instruction, you will mitigate the emotional barriers that can prevent students from progressing, and you can help students become stronger, more confident readers.

We will look at instructional strategies next, but all effective strategies and instructional activities are based on the same four principles, as follows.

  1. Instruction needs to allow multiple attempts.
  2. Instruction needs to focus on small-group participation.
  3. Instruction needs to use high-interest text.
  4. Instruction needs to include feedback and correction.

Multiple Attempts

Providing multiple attempts means letting the student read the same piece of text aloud multiple times. It generally looks like this: read aloud, get correction, focus on fixing any issues, and read aloud again. Repeat as necessary. (You might recognize this as guided oral reading.)

Most students will make mistakes the first time they try to read something out loud. If they get only one chance, they will learn that (a) they are not good at reading aloud, (b) the teacher is more interested in finding faults than in helping them improve, and (c) only perfection is rewarded.

On the other hand, if students understand that they are expected to make mistakes the first time, then they do not have to worry about appearing incompetent. Any errors will not be held against them because they are going to get another chance. Each time a student reads the same piece of text aloud, he or she will get better at it. The student will build his or her skills, develop more confidence, and feel the pride of accomplishing something difficult. So many benefits!

Small-Group Participation

When students read aloud together, they feel safer, they can hear how their fellow students pronounce words, and they have an inherent desire to perform their best. They hear other students make mistakes and recognize that they are not alone in having difficulty. It promotes the ideas that the goal is improvement and that participation leads to learning. This mitigates nervousness, avoidance, and indifference to the task. It is also more fun.

Having students read together as a small group still allows you to provide individual feedback, and the group members can help point out words or phrases that were difficult. They will learn to assess themselves. Students can help one another work through those challenges and can make decisions about expression and pacing. They will work towards a group goal rather than simply trying to get it over with.

Rather than single out students to perform, have students work together. Students will make better progress in phonics, comprehension, and oral language.

High-interest Text

Using interesting text has several benefits. First, students will be interested in what they are reading, and they will want to know the content of the text. This gives them motivation to participate. Second, students are likely to have read something about the topic or other text in the genre. This means they will be more likely to know the vocabulary and recognize the words. Third, students will be more willing to read the text aloud multiple times.

Feedback and Correction

Generally, during the first oral reading of a text, students will make mistakes with decoding, expression, or pacing. They need someone to help them identify the challenging parts and to ask questions about the meaning of the text. They need someone to say, “Let’s try this again.” Most students will want to know how they did, which means you or other students tell them what went well and what needs improvement. That is feedback.

Once students receive feedback, they need help making corrections. This may be in the form of helping them sound out words or modeling how to read the text aloud. It may include assistance in understanding the content or help understanding how to modify the verbal expression. Basically, the teacher or other students help figure out how to decode the text correctly, how to provide appropriate expression, and how to modify the pacing.

Feedback and correction lead to improvement, and you provide both after each attempt at reading text aloud. Students will also appreciate knowing how they are improving.

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