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What Is Reading Fluency? Why Is It Important?

Fluency is the ability to read “like you speak”. Hudson, Lane, and Pullen define fluency this way: “Reading fluency is made up of at least three key elements: accurate reading of connected text at a conversational rate with appropriate prosody or expression.” Nonfluent readers suffer in at least one of these aspects of reading: they make many mistakes, they read slowly, or they don’t read with appropriate expression and phrasing.

Over 30 years of research indicates that fluency is one of the critical building blocks of reading, because fluency development is directly related to comprehension. Here are the results of one study by Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, and Jenkins that shows how oral reading fluency correlates highly with reading comprehension.

Measure Validity Coefficients
Oral Recall/Retelling .70
Cloze (fill in the blank) .72
Question Answering .82
Oral Reading Fluency .91

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To interpret this type of correlation data, consider that a perfect match would be 1.0. As you can see, oral recall/retelling, fill in the blank, and question answering are all above 0.6, which indicates there is a strong correlation. But oral reading fluency is by far the strongest, with a .91 correlation.

Why are reading fluency and reading comprehension so highly correlated?

When a person attempts to speak a language in which he has not become automatic yet, he will necessarily have to divide his attention between the content of his message and the language itself. He will therefore speak haltingly and with great difficulty. As explained in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, “if the skill on the primary task is automatized, it will not be disrupted by concurrent processing on the secondary task because automatic processing does not take up attentional resources. If, on the contrary, the skill is not automatized, it will be disrupted by concurrent processing of a second skill because two skills are then competing for limited attentional resources.” This also applies to the act of reading. The reader, who is unable to read fluently, is forced to apply all his concentration to the reception of the message, and therefore has “no concentration left” to focus on meaning. However, readers who can read fluently are able to focus their attention on meaning.

Children need to develop a fluency in word recognition so that they can concentrate on the meaning of the text. However, to develop their word recognition and thereby improve their reading fluency, one must first recognize that human learning is a stratified process. Consider, for example, the fact that one has to learn to count before it becomes possible to learn to add and subtract. Suppose one tried to teach a child, who had not yet learned to count, to add and subtract. This would be quite impossible, and no amount of effort would ever succeed in teaching the child to add and subtract. This shows that counting is a skill that must be mastered before it becomes possible to learn to do calculations. In the same way there are also skills that form the foundation of word recognition. These foundational skills must be developed before the child will be able to identify words automatically, so that he can focus his concentration on the meaning of the text.
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Developing foundational skills –

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