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Improving Reading Fluency

Good literacy skills are not only a child’s foundations to academic success but are also the building blocks to fulfilling future careers and rewarding lives. Therefore, it is imperative that as educators we aim to equip children with the literacy skills they will need throughout their lives.

However, as the EEF rightly pointed out; can be difficult to know where to start. There are thousands of studies of primary literacy teaching out there, most of which are presented in academic papers and journals. Teachers are inundated with information about programmes and training courses, all of which make claims about impact.

(From: Education Endowment Foundation (2017), Improving Literature in Key Stage 2: Guidance Report.)

This blog post will focus on one skill within literacy, reading fluency, and will present evidence for two approaches which can be implemented within classrooms, and interventions, to improve children’s reading fluency.

What is reading fluency and why is it important?

In order for a child to become a skilled reader, multiple different reading skills must be taught, practised and embedded. The figure below shows Scarborough’s Reading Rope and provides a useful illustration showing the strands of reading and how they interweave to form a skilled reader. The two main components of reading are word recognition and language comprehension. The three strands of word recognition weave together to form reading fluency and the figure illustrates how word cognition must be secure in order for these skills to combine with language comprehension skills to develop a skilled reader.

Figure 1 from Education Endowment Foundation (2017), Improving Literature in Key Stage 2: Guidance Report.

A fluent reader can read quickly and accurately using the appropriate intonation and stress. Fluent reading is necessary as it allows a child’s cognitive processes to be freed up. The child no longer needs to focus their cognitive resources on decoding and recognising words, allowing these cognitive resources to be used on comprehending the text. Developing reading fluency takes times and children need to be explicitly taught how to read fluently, rather than simply being encouraged to practise reading on their own.

Two approaches for improving reading fluency

Both of the approaches presented here are taken from the Education Endowment Foundation’s Guidance Report for improving literacy in Key Stage 2. Both approaches are supported by moderate evidence. Although there have been numerous studies, both observational and experimental, into teaching reading fluency there is only one which compares long term follow-up effects. Therefore, the long term outcomes for these approaches is relatively unknown.

Guided Oral Reading Instruction

The first approach for improving reading fluency is guided oral reading instruction. This approach requires fluent reading of the text to be modelled by an adult, or a peer who is a confident, fluent reader, then the child reads the same text aloud. The adult or peer will then provide feedback on their reading, giving them a chance to read it aloud again if necessary.

A study by Vaughn et al (2010) used the guided oral reading instruction approach in order to develop reading fluency in learners who had difficulties reading and were at risk of not reaching the required expectation. The study aimed to measure the impact of the intervention compared to two different groups. The first group was children who were also at risk of not reaching the required expectation but did not receive the intervention, and the second group was children who were on track to meet the expectation. The intervention ran for an extended period of time and was split into phases focusing on developing different elements of reading. During the first phase, which focused on reading fluency, the study used peers, who were fluent readers, to guide the pupils who were not fluent readers. The results of the study found that children who received this intervention outperformed children of a similar ability who did not receive the intervention. Children showed improved performance on word attack, spelling, comprehension, and phonemic decoding efficiency. However, the study found that the intervention was not enough to close the gap between children who were at risk of not reaching the expected level and children who were on track to meet the expected level.

Repeated Reading

The second approach is repeated reading. For this approach, the pupil re-reads a short and meaningful section of a text until they reach a suitable level of fluency.

A study by Gorsuch and Taguchi (2010) found that, when using assisted repeated reading, learners developed their own reading strategies even though they were not given explicit instruction on developing these strategies. Learners reported feeling more motivated to read after completing a repeated reading intervention and reported increases in both their reading fluency and reading comprehension. Overall, the study concluded that using an assisted repeated reading intervention of moderate length and intensity developed learners as independent readers. This study is also interesting as it focused on Vietnamese learners who had English as an additional language. This makes the study particularly relevant in our setting of Exceed where we do have many learners with English as an additional language.

However, before carrying out these approaches to build reading fluency it is important to assess whether the child is ready to develop their fluency. The pupil may need more time and input to develop one of the strands of word recognition, such as decoding and phonological awareness, before trying to weave the strands together and develop fluent reading.

How can I implement these approaches in my classroom?
  • Pair up fluent readers with non-fluent readers to implement the guided oral reading instruction approach. Ask the fluent reader to read a short passage, then allow the non-fluent reader to read the same passage.
  • Work with your fluent readers to give them the skills to effectively read with non-fluent readers. Build your fluent readers ability to give feedback on reading to their peers.
  • When reading with a child 1:1 use the repeated reading approach. Instead of getting children to read a book or part of a book, choose a section of the book for them to repeatedly read until they are fluent.
  • Model fluent reading to all children, read aloud to your class so all children can benefit from hearing what fluent reading sounds like. Even your fluent readers can benefit from observing how you use intonation, stress and expression while reading.

Education Endowment Foundation (2017) Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2, London: Education Endowment Foundation

Vaughn et al (2010), Response to Intervention for Middle School Students With Reading Difficulties: Effects of a Primary and Secondary Intervention, School of Psych Rev. 39(1): 3-21

Gorsuch and Taguchi (2010) Developing reading fluency and comprehension using repeated reading: evidence from longitudinal student reports, Language Teaching Research, 14(1): 27-59