It was in the late 1970’s that educational researchers began to question the practice of reading aloud different tasks as a way to make children more fluent readers. With this approach, every new day saw new challenges reading aloud for struggling readers so that they failed to gain proficiency, and if anything were more likely to develop a dislike or avoidance of reading.
What actually showed greater success with reading fluency, was giving students repeated practice with the same passage.
The general approach is to have a student or teacher pick a passage (a quote, poem, excerpt from a poem) that is 50-300 words long. The teacher or partner reads it aloud, then the student (echo reading). The goal is to have the student read it at a rate of 100 word per minute with no more than 2 miscues per 100 words. If the practice is spread over 2-3 days, it’s not so grueling and students can be encouraged by how much they improve. Downhower suggested that picking a passage that a student can read with 90% accuracy is a good starting point. If a student still struggles after six or seven repetitions, a simple passage can be substitute.
Some students who value speed over accuracy or quality of reading; if so, they should be recorded so they can listen to themselves and the partner can model both good speed and pronunciation. Other prompts include encouragements to understand what they are reading asking them what they read after the 1st or 2nd time through.
Students should also be reading aloud either at home (with a parent or sibling) or with a partner rather than in whole-class round robin style. Round robin causes too much stress for dyslexic students in general, it can precipitate bullying by classmates and make students want to avoid reading all together.
If there has to be repetition is there a way to make it less dreadful or unpleasant?
As a reminder, reading fluency practice doesn’t take the place of structured literacy intervention; it’s only one aspect of reading instruction and particularly can help with students who are trying to make a smoother transition from choppy single word reading to smooth expressive reading with good speed and comprehension.
For more detailed information, read HERE.
One activity suggested by Yopp and Yopp is the BOOK BIT:
“Each student is given an excerpt or “book bit,” to read silently. The teacher circulates among the children and supports any child who may need assistance reading his or her book bit. After reading, each student writes a brief prediction of the text. Then, at a signal, the students move around the room, find partners, and read their book bits to one another. The students may not paraphrase or discuss their book bits: they simply read and listen and then move on to a new partner. Once the students have shared their book bits with several partners, they return to their desks and write a new prediction based on the additional information they have gathered. After writing, the students circulate again to find new partner with whom to share their book bits. The students then write final predictions.”
The strategy requires students to repeat their sentence many times, but there’s a purpose in it and meanwhile it can get students thinking and imagining about what their sentence or sentences might mean, how it fits together with the other “bits,” and then how it might fit together with what they’re about to read. The teacher asks students how the predictions about their texts might have changed over the course of the activity.
Two other clever activities of Yopp and Yopp (they have a book HERE) are their Powerful Passages and Poetry. In the Powerful Passages activity, students pick a powerful passage that is meaningful in some way – whether it’s thought-provoking, personally relevant, interesting, or funny. They can pick it from a book they are reading or from a book that the whole class is reading. They key is that they read the passage to others in pairs that then switch. In this activity, students say why they chose this particular passage and the student who listens gives some comment.
With time, students not only get better with fluency, but they also get better at explaining why they like it. This is a great activity for students who also have word retrieval difficulties. It gives them practice and more chances to get things “right.”
Finally, the poetry activity involved groups of ten students getting a poem that was cut into small phrases. The group was tasked with the job of organizing the phrases into an order that made sense. Although the goal of the activity wasn’t to read aloud, the children kept re-reading aloud the phrases and they reasoned through why certain phrases were to be placed in a certain order. The students were allowed to come up with strategies on their own.
These strategies were designed for groups, but with a few tweaks, they can also be used for fluency practice with a tutor or parent. What is so nice about these activities is that students are encouraged to go deeper with the text, they read aloud passages several times, but they also reason about the interconnection of passages and inferences. For a homeschooling student, a parent could include other siblings, or take a turn at the activity, modeling a possible answer.
Activities such as these are good reminders that reading fluency practice doesn’t have to be simple drill with little literary content.
How do you find a book for your student’s level? Two handy resources are Scholastic’s free Book Wizard and Lexile Find a Book. Click below to check their sites.