Recently we were contacted by a student who wanted to improve his reading fluency before attending college.
He had completed a full course of “Wilson and Orton-Gillingham” yet his reading was still slow and effortful.
“Is there anything I can do to improve my reading to help me be successful in college?”
First of all, good for you for looking ahead and preparing yourself for college.
It is possible to get through college with slow effortful reading, but probably only if you’re competent with assistive technology and can listen to all of your books instead of reading them traditionally. Although most colleges and universities are required to make “reasonable accommodations,” schools and individual faculty members can vary, and practical issues – like getting all your readings in time in an audio format – can also affect whether you’re successful in a course.
If you aren’t able to use assistive technology to listen to books, then you will probably have to take a reduced course-load in order to make the quantity of the work manageable. The main downside of this option is greater costs and strain on financial aid.
READING FLUENCY AND READING DEVELOPMENT
After initial success at decoding or being able to sound out and figure out words in print, the next steps in reading development (for instance, upper elementary) may depend more on general language and vocabulary understanding rather than reading fluency in particular. Reading fluency, or the ability to read with good speed, accuracy, and expression, takes on greater importance, however, as students progress into secondary and higher education. By the time students are in college, their fluency may predict which students are likely to be “at-risk” vs. those who are successful. It is like riding a bicycle – you have to be able read with good speed, accuracy, and comprehension to be able to keep reading at the level required for college.
ADULTS CAN IMPROVE THEIR READING FLUENCY WITH REGULAR PRACTICE
In one study of struggling readers in college (reference, free abstract only), a regular practice of reading – 3 weeks of 3 times a week reading sessions significantly improved silent reading fluency over vocabulary practice alone.
In this study, reading passages were taken from Timed Readings (Spargo and Williston). The book contains fifty 500-word passages of 4-13 grade. As an aside, the books are based on quite an old series. Some books in the series can be previewed in Internet Archive.
During a training session for the study, the Repeated Reading group read one passage four times silently, then answered 10 comprehension questions. The Wide Reading group read 4 different passages, answering 3 question for each passage.
The result after 3 weeks of training was an improvement of silent reading rate by about 28% (with wide reading slightly better than the repeated reading condition). Notably, the researchers observed that this improvement was not as marked as other older studies which had longer durations of training sessions. For instance Goldman and Justman (1942) reported 67% gains with 14 sessions, and Fridian and Rosaana (1958) reported 194% improvement with 24 sessions.
Now, these studies were showing the benefit, for the most part, of just practice and repeated reading. Often additional benefit will be gained by a tutor re-assessing your reading abilities, then making recommendations for additional practice or remediation where you fall short. College level reading can be quite complex and the demands vary by subject. It’s possible to have completed a structured literacy course years ago, but need more help now with multisyllabic words, complex grammar, and challenging discourse that you are likely to encounter in college.
We’ve discussed a variety of sites available for free leveled passages. Examples include sites like Readworks.org and CommonLit.org These sites have a wide range of short reading passages that accompanied by comprehension questions.
You can sort passages by genre, lexile level, grade, and more.
Reading Progress is a nifty free tool that allows teachers, tutors, or homeschooling parents to upload or choose an appropriate reading passage, then have the student read aloud while being audio and or video recorded. The program automatically scores the read aloud and highlights words that may be said incorrectly.