Reading Fluency What Every SLP and Teacher Should Know Features
Features  |   April 01, 2009
Reading Fluency
Author Notes
  • D. Ray Reutzel, PhD, is the Emma Eccles Jones Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood Literacy at Utah State University (Logan). His research interests focus on primary-grade teacher knowledge about reading and writing instruction, reading comprehension, and reading fluency. Contact him at
    D. Ray Reutzel, PhD, is the Emma Eccles Jones Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood Literacy at Utah State University (Logan). His research interests focus on primary-grade teacher knowledge about reading and writing instruction, reading comprehension, and reading fluency. Contact him at×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Features
Features   |   April 01, 2009
Reading Fluency
The ASHA Leader, April 2009, Vol. 14, 10-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.14052009.10
The ASHA Leader, April 2009, Vol. 14, 10-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.14052009.10
For many years, the emphasis in reading shifted away from proficient oral reading in the early 1900s and toward silent reading for private and personal purposes in the 1930s. Consequently, the goal of developing fluent oral readers all but disappeared from the reading curriculum. This change was so much the case that it prompted Allington (1983, 1984) to declare reading fluency to be a neglected goal of reading instruction. However, since the publication of the National Reading Panel Report in 2000, developing students’ oral reading fluency has taken center stage in classrooms across the United States (Pikulski & Chard, 2005).
To help students become fluent readers, classroom teachers and speech-language pathologists need to be able to answer four important questions:
  • What is reading fluency?

  • How can SLPs and teachers help students develop reading fluency?

  • How can teachers and SLPs assess reading fluency?

  • What are a few examples of evidence-based strategies that teachers and SLPs can use to provide effective reading fluency instruction and practice?

The answers to these questions will help teachers and SLPs build reading fluency skills in the students they serve.
What Is Reading Fluency?
Reading fluency is defined as reading that demonstrates:
  • Accurate and effortless decoding (automaticity)

  • Age- or grade-level-appropriate reading rates

  • Appropriate use of volume, pitch, juncture, and stress (prosody or expression)

  • Appropriate use of text phrasing or “chunking,” leading to comprehension of what one reads (Rasinski, Reutzel, & Chard, in press)

No definition of reading fluency is complete without including comprehension because fluent readers not only read accurately, quickly, and expressively, but they also comprehend what they read (Samuels, 2007).
How Do Students Become Fluent Readers?
Although there are many effective methods for helping students become fluent readers (National Reading Panel, 2000; Rasinski, Reutzel, & Chard, in press), the following are six key ways in which teachers and SLPs can assist students:
1. Model fluent reading. Students must be exposed to rich and varied models of fluent oral reading (Raskinski, 2003). SLPs and teachers model fluent reading in classrooms and during speech-language intervention.
2. Provide explicit instruction. Students need explicit instruction focused on the various aspects of fluent reading, including how to self-regulate and improve their own fluency (Reutzel, 2006).
3. Offer opportunities to read. Students need many opportunities to read. The National Reading Panel (2000) emphasized the need for students to experience daily reading practice.
4. Supply appropriate texts. Students need access to appropriately challenging reading materials, with support as well as feedback from others. Typically, students should read from instructional-level texts that they can read with 90%–94% accuracy. If a great deal of support from a teacher, peer, or advanced reader is available for students as they read (Stahl &Heubach, 2006), they can read successfully in marginally frustration-level texts, which they can read with less than 90% accuracy but not less than 80% accuracy.
5. Guide students’ reading.Young students are helped by using guided repeated oral reading (GROR) with feedback (National Reading Panel, 2000). GROR includes: a) oral reading, b) repeated reading of the same text three to five times, and c) feedback and guidance during and after reading a text.
6. Monitor students’ reading. Wide reading across different types of texts and genres, such as stories, poems, and information books, helps second- and third-grade students become fluent readers if wide reading (oral or silent) is monitored by the teacher and students are held accountable for the time spent in reading practice (Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, & Smith, 2008).
How Can Reading Fluency Be Assessed?
When assessing reading fluency, teachers and SLPs should consider five different components:
  • Accurate decoding of text

  • Reading rate

  • Use of volume, stress, pitch, and juncture (prosodic markers)

  • Well-developed phrasing or chunking of text

  • Reading comprehension

In recent years, educators have begun to discuss how to assess reading fluency efficiently and reliably(Kuhn & Stahl, 2000). One of the simplest and most useful reading fluency assessments is the one-minute reading sample (Rasinski, 2003). A readily available form of the one-minute reading sample is found in the Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) subtest of the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) (Good & Kaminski, 2002).
The number of words read correctly in one minute is considered by most researchers to be one of the best indicators of reading rate (Rasinski, 2003). Hasbrouck and Tindal [PDF](2006) compiled ORF rate norms from a large number of reading rate scores.
Zutell and Rasinski’s (1991) Multidimensional Fluency Scale (MFS) is a qualitative, practical, non-proprietary measurement of students’ oral reading fluency that provides information about volume and expression, phrasing, smoothness, and pace. To assess a student’s expression, SLPs and teachers listen to a student read a one-minute sample and then rate the student’s volume, phrasing, smoothness, and pacing using five different four-point rating scales (see Figure 1 [PDF]).
These approaches can help SLPs and teachers assess multiple components of a student’s fluency, such as accuracy, rate, and expression. Reading comprehension can be assessed by asking a student to answer a variety of literal and inferential questions about the one-minute sample or to retell what was read.
What Are Evidence-Based Strategies for Fluency Instruction?
There are many effective and evidence-based ways for teachers and SLPs to provide fluency instruction and practice. Fluency-oriented reading instruction (FORI) is a format for providing a whole-class reading fluency lesson (Kuhn, Schwanenflugel, Morris, Morrow, Woo, et al., 2006; Stahl & Heubach, 2006). In a FORI lesson, students read a selected text orally and repeatedly over the course of a week. On the first day, the teacher reads the selected text aloud while the students follow along with their own copies. The teacher then leads a discussion about the text, alerting students to important ideas for comprehension.
Over subsequent days, students orally re-read the selected text several times using echo-,
choral-, and partner-reading (for ideas on how SLPs can integrate these strategies into intervention, see the sidebar). Students are also encouraged to practice the text at home daily for 15–30 minutes. The final day of a FORI lesson culminates with extension activities such as a conversation group, writing activity, or student-generated inquiry project (Stahl, 2008).
Guided Repeated Oral Reading (GROR) involves repeated oral readings of the same text three to five times with feedback from an adult or skilled peer reader. The National Reading Panel (2000) analyzed 51 studies involving GROR with feedback and found uniformly positive effects on students’ reading fluency. Teachers and SLPs play a central role in supervising students’ repeated practice readings of text by giving students specific feedback about their individual accuracy, rate, and expression.
Partner and assisted reading have been found effective in promoting reading fluency development (Osborn, Lehr, & Hiebert, 2002). This evidence-based reading fluency strategy involves two students reading the same text aloud in unison for mutual support or alternating with one student listening and providing feedback and the other student reading. Assisted reading involves a student listening to a recorded book while reading along or reading a computer-displayed book multiple times for practice. To increase effectiveness, teachers and SLPs should monitor and provide feedback to student pairs as they practice.
Readers’ theater is yet another evidence-based approach for increasing students’ reading fluency and oral language fluency and expression (Rasinski, 2008). In readers’ theater students rehearse by repeatedly reading a script to prepare for a later performance for peers or other audiences. Students are assigned parts or roles for performing the reading of the play’s text.
Martinez, Roser, and Strecker (1999) researched the effects of readers’ theater compared to a control group over a 10-week period in two second-grade classrooms. Results showed an average 17 wpm gain for the readers’ theater group compared to the control group’s 6.9 wpm gain.
Other researchers reported striking results for the use of readers’ theater. Griffin and Rasinski (2004) provided three years of data that indicated that fourth-grade students made more than two years of gain in reading achievement during a single year when readers’ theater was a regular part of the classroom reading program. Students found readers’ theater to be an engaging and motivating way to practice reading texts to fluent levels. SLPs can use readers’ theater during intervention sessions to address speech-language and fluency goals.
Much has been learned about the nature of evidence-based reading fluency assessment, instruction, and practice for classrooms, clinics, and homes. Despite these advances, many questions remain unanswered. In the years ahead, researchers will unravel even more of the complex interactions among the social, cognitive, and text-based factors that play a part in supporting the development of students who can read, want to read, and comprehend what they read.
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April 2009
Volume 14, Issue 5