Reading Fluency: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! Part Two

By Dr. Jan Hasbrouck

Definition of Fluency:

reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody, that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read

Reasonable? Appropriate? Suitable? 

The above definition, which Dr. Deb Glaser and I developed for our training manual Reading Fluency: Understanding and Teaching This Complex Skill(2012),states that reading fluency is comprised of reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody or expression. We conclude, along with most educators, that the performance standards for these three components of fluency should, in fact, vary depending on the demands of the task.

“Reasonably” Accurate

Poor accuracy leads to compromised comprehension and requires teacher attention to repair. However, precisely defined standards for reading accuracy have not been scientifically established. Some suggest that, for most reading tasks, we should aim for at least 95 percent accuracy (Rasinski, Reutzel, Chard, & Thompson, 2011).It may be that, for younger emerging readers, acceptable levels for accuracy should be even higher (perhaps 97 to 98%). However, there are circumstances where much higher—even nearly perfect—accuracy is necessary, such as reading the directions required to complete an important task. In other situations, such as recreational reading, the level of reading accuracy is essentially unimportant.

“Appropriate” Rate

Norms for Oral Reading Fluency (ORF)—as measured in words correct per minute (wcpm)—such as those created by Hasbrouck and Tindal (2006) have been established. Researchers generally agree that performance at the 50th percentile of these ORF norms can serve as a reasonable benchmark for determining an appropriate reading rate.

While there is ample empirical evidence that it is important, even essential, for students to maintain wcpm rates minimally at the 50th percentile, there is no research to suggest that pushing students to have wcpm scores above the 50th percentile has any benefit. It is preferable and more accurate to think about ORF scores like we think about blood pressure or body temperature or cholesterol levels: all three of these measures have established “norms,” and there are significant findings from medical research to indicate that it is important for healthy people to maintain their blood pressure, body temperature, and cholesterol at “average” or expected normative levels. Unlike I.Q. or athletic prowess, there is absolutely no benefit to having significantly higher (or lower) scores in these three areas! Likewise, ORF scores can serve as “indicators” of health and wellness, and scores at the “average” level are, in fact, optimal. While the data provided by Hasbrouck and Tindal demonstrate that there are students whose words correct per minute performance is above the 50th percentile, there is no research to confirm a benefit to these students in terms of higher levels of comprehension or motivation.

“Suitable” Prosody 

As with the other two components, there is no “one size fits all” for measuring optimal prosody or “expression.” There are times when we read—especially when reading silently—that expression is of little or no help to our understanding and enjoyment of the text. In silent reading, we simply want a reader to understand and attend to the diacritical markings of periods, commas, exclamation points, and quotation marks provided by the author to assist in the interpretation of the text. In oral reading, prosody is more fully evident. When oral reading sounds as effortless as speech, and mirrors the melodic features of spoken language, we can say that the reader is using suitable prosody.

Fluency Instruction and Intervention

In order to plan appropriate lessons to help develop students’ fluency or to provide intervention to students who are struggling, teachers must assess all the components (accuracy, rate, prosody) as well as the underlying mechanics of fluency (word and text fluency skills and comprehension fluency skills). Then, using the results of these assessments, teachers can plan instruction for students that is appropriate and effective.

Hasbrouck and Glaser (2011) suggest using the “AAA Rule” to guide fluency instruction: Make sure that the instruction emphasizes ACCURACY, AUTOMATICITY, and that students always ACCESS the meaning of what is being read.

Fluency is an essential, but not sufficient, component of successful and joyful reading. Professional educators must have an understanding of this complex skill to ensure that all students achieve solid levels of reading fluency.

Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is an educational consultant with Gibson, Hasbrouck & Associates; an author; and a researcher. She served as the executive consultant to the Washington State Reading Initiative and as an advisor to the Texas Reading Initiative. Dr. Hasbrouck worked as a reading specialist and literacy coach for 15 years before becoming a professor at the University of Oregon and later Texas A&M University. She is the author and coauthor of several assessment tools, research papers, and books, including The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success and The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches. 

References:

Hasbrouck, J., & Glaser D. R. (2011). Reading fluency: Understanding and teaching this complex skill. Wellesley, MA: Gibson Hasbrouck & Associates, www.gha-pd.com

Hasbrouck, J. E., & Tindal, G. (Spring 1992). Curriculum-based oral reading fluency norms for students in grades 2–5. Teaching Exceptional Children, 24 (3). pp. 41-44.

Rasinski, T. V., Reutzel, D. R., Chard, D., & Thompson, S. L. (2011). Reading fluency. In Kamil, M. L., Pearson, P. D., Moje, E. B., & Afflerbach, P. P. (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Volume VI, NY: Longman.

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

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