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The Best Thing You Can Do for Reading Fluency

by Sarah Forrest || 28 August 2018

Choppy, hesitant reading got you down? Does your child’s lack of fluency affect her comprehension?

There is a simple trick that you can apply to your child’s reading practice to accelerate his reading fluency. It’s called “rereading”, or sometimes “repeated reading”.  Academic studies and anecdotal evidence from reading professionals and parents alike have proved that it really does work.

Why does fluency a vital reading skill?

Fluency is a vital link between decoding (sounding out words) and comprehension (understanding them). A lack of fluency can cause a bright, highly verbal child to struggle with labored and choppy reading, despite their intelligence.

Of course, the exception to this is beginner readers… it is natural to start your reading journey as a disfluent reader. Your brain, at the start, is concerned with sounding out words rather than recognizing them semantically.

However, with practice reading should become more of an automatic skill rather than a working-memory one. At that point, there is less cognitive load dedicated to decoding, and your fluency naturally develops.

But some readers get stuck.

What causes poor fluency?

As a general rule, fluency problems in readers who are not beginners is linked to:

  • Sight-memorizing words, instead of breaking them apart into their sounds. This leads to guessing, swapping short similar words, and slow reading. The brain is working too hard to remember the visual shape of a given word (often unsuccessfully).
  • Something we call Fluency Block, which is caused by poor activation of a region of cortex called the visual word form area. Children with Fluency Block are excellent decoders, but get stuck decoding words infinitely, without developing semantic recognition.

What is rereading and how do I do it with my child?

But hey! There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is a bright, simple ones. The solution to poor fluency is the same, regardless of the causes above: reread during your reading practice sessions.

Many studies, like this one by Rasinksi (2015), show that repeatedly reading a phrase can help boost fluency. That in turn boosts comprehension too.

There are some practical tips around rereading that we strongly recommend. As a parent or teacher, you have to strike a balance between good repeated reading practice, and not frustrating the child. We recommend the following:

When reading a paragraph, the child should reread any short phrase that is choppy OR has a mistake in it. Any phrase that is read smoothly (for his/her current reading level expectation) does not need to be reread. Do not reread large chunks of text, generally speaking, which can be intimidating and lead to much eye-rolling (!) or even reading refusal. If a phrase is choppy on the second time round, you can ask for a third reread. But keep a lookout for disengagement from the child.

And remember, always congratulate the child for every little success. It makes a difference, perhaps a bigger one than you may even realize.

Sarah Forrest is a Program Adviros for David Morgan Education. After studying Spanish lit at Yale University, she worked at Easyread HQ in Oxford, England. She now lives in the sunny south of the United States with her two children, where she continues her work coaching parents and children through Trainertext visual phonics.