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Reading Fluency: Building a Bridge to Comprehension

Reading Fluency: Building a Bridge to Comprehension
Shari Robertson
April 21, 2008

In 2000, the National Reading Panel published the results of a comprehensive analysis of the research literature undertaken to identify instructional strategies that consistently led to reading success. After examining data from more than 10,000 empirical investigations, five skills were identified as being the most critical in developing strong literacy skillsin other words, "what works" in teaching children to read successfully (NICHD, 2000). These five areas of concentration have been adapted by many schools and other educational entities as the foundation for building their reading programs: (1) phonemic awareness, (2) phonics, (3) fluency, (4) vocabulary, and (5) text comprehension.

In their position statement regarding reading, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA Ad Hoc Committee on Reading and Written Language Disorders, 2001) assert that speech-language pathologists play a critical and direct role in the development of literacy for children and adolescents with communication disorders. While the notion of directly addressing written language may be somewhat new to some SLPs, most understand that reading and writing depend heavily on oral skills. In fact, increasing phonemic awareness, vocabulary knowledge, and text comprehension has long been a part of traditional intervention protocols for children with language and/or articulation problems.

However, the concept of reading fluency is somewhat less familiar to most speech-language pathologists (SLPs). Although well-versed in fluency related to expressive oral language, the impact of an individual's ability to read fluently on written language and comprehension is not a traditional part of most university training programs. Consequently, this paper will provide an overview of the components and importance of reading fluency to children with communicative disorders and provide suggestions for addressing this important skill in therapeutic contexts.

Defining Reading Fluency

Reading fluency is made up of three key elements that include reading text aloud with a high degree of accuracy, at an efficient rate, and with appropriate prosodyor expression (Rasinski, 2003; Tyler, 2002). Fluent readers recognize the majority of the words they read automatically (without the need to decode each one separately) resulting in a quick and effortless delivery. Readers learn when and where to pause and match their reading and breathing to natural breaks in the text. As fluency increases, reading more closely resembles the natural rhythms of a typical conversation (Kuhn & Stahl, 2000). As a result, the oral reading is smooth and easily understood by the listener.

Very few readers start off as fluent readers. Think about how new readers struggle when asked to read an unknown passage aloud. Their performance is generally marked by long pauses, false starts, a slow pace, and little or no intonation as they struggle to decode each word as they come to it. Questions, statements, or exclamations, typically marked by intonational changes in competent readers, all sound the same (labored!) because the reader is usually not even aware of the type of sentence he or she is reading. I have often suggested that first grade teacherswhose job it is to listen to their students struggle through oral reading day after dayprobably deserve some sort of "combat pay!"

shari robertson

Shari Robertson

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