What Is Reading Fluency? Why Is It Important?

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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

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, in order 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.

Edublox’s Reading Tutor develops the skills that form the foundation of word recognition. 

Foundational skills are the basic skills that need to be taught and developed first and foremost. These skills are the foundations that hold our reading ability together.

Foundational skills include

  • Concentration
  • Visual and auditory perception (also called processing)
  • Short- and long-term memory (both visual and auditory)
  • Decoding and integration of information

Once these foundational skills have been taught and developed, additional skills can then be learned.

These skills may not seem important at first, but are oftentimes the reason why some children battle to learn and grasp new concepts, while others don’t. It is not that some children have special skills and others don’t. It’s a matter of how well their foundational skills have been developed to start with.

Some children are faster at learning these foundational skills, while others may need a bit more time. The key for the slower learners is to keep persevering, and for parents and teachers to ensure that all learners become equipped with these foundational skills.

Edublox is a system of mental exercises designed to teach, develop and improve foundational skills. From small concerns, to larger ones that require more attention, the Edublox system helps learners to build a solid foundation.

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Does your child struggle with reading and learning? Edublox can help:

“Kelly has struggled with learning since she started school. She repeated Grade 2 but despite that and despite her conscientious effort, by the first term of Grade 4, Kelly’s educational assessment revealed that she was 2.5 years behind her peers and also that she had Attention Deficit Disorder.

“Besides learning delays, the most heartbreaking symptom for us was to see her try so hard, yet consistently produce marks well below the grade average. Emotionally, she was suffering. She was anxious, biting her nails and reluctant to read because it was such a struggle which in turn created a vicious cycle. Although she is a friendly, fun-loving child, she would feel uncomfortable even in social situations with friends where she would shy away when there was a need to read things like DVD titles or blurbs or work out the number of lengths to swim during squad training.

“Kelly was accepted into the Remedial Unit at Hillcrest Primary school and it was at an interview that the unit head explained that Edublox would be a vital component of her remediation program. We enrolled Kelly into an intensive holiday course at Edublox in Kloof and followed up with bi-weekly sessions once the third term began. She has absolutely loved it right from the start. She feels safe and accepted in the fun learning environment.

“Kelly’s progress in the past 6 months has been incredible. Academically she has caught up to the point where her reading level is appropriate for her age and her spelling only 3 months behind. Her math mark has increased from 61% (the grade average was 73%) to 78% and her English has increased from 58% (the grade average was 72%) to 80%.

“Very importantly, Kelly’s confidence since starting Edublox in July has grown enormously. She has stopped biting her nails, is reading much more fluently and is now actually asking for books to read! She is now happy to read out loud, advertisements or book titles, without feeling self-conscious and she is also happy to clarify the spelling or meaning of a word whereas before she didn’t feel confident to do so, feeling embarrassed that she didn’t know. Kelly is so proud to report each week, how many blocks she is able to remember and at home, her improved memory is evident in her improved grammar as she recalls the correct words and tenses to use in conversation. She has learned poems and prose for her end of year exams without difficulty. As Kelly’s memory improves, so does her spelling and comprehension. The change and improvement in Kelly both academically and emotionally is remarkable and it is clear that the downward spiral to increasing delays and poor self-esteem has been stopped.

“Kelly still has a small 3 month delay in her spelling level but we feel confident that this deficit will be caught up soon and that she will return to mainstream education, a confident and capable child who will reach her full potential.”

René Pearsall