I sat at my guided reading table with a student who couldn’t comprehend the text he just read. He had a high correct words per minute score and a high accuracy percentage – what was I missing? Focusing on fluency in guided reading.
He read too fast to even understand what happened in the book. He had no idea that the main character lost her dog and that’s why she was sad. I knew I had to go back and explicitly work on fluency with my young readers to build that strong reading foundation.
Did you know that fluency plays a big role in reading comprehension? Students who read with a choppy voice, don’t pay attention to punctuation, or read too fast will have a harder time comprehending the text. Fountas and Pinnell say in Guided Reading,
“Fluency plays an important role in becoming good readers. Good readers are fast, efficient problem solvers who use meaning and syntax as they quickly and efficiently decode unfamiliar words.”
We must focus on practicing and assessing fluency to help our young readers move forward successfully.
But First, What is Fluency?
Fluency has three basic elements: automaticity, accuracy, and prosody.
- Automaticity means the students easily and quickly recognize words without having to stop at each word. As students progress, it means they can think ahead to automatically recall decoding strategies and apply them as they go.
- Accuracy refers to reading the words correctly.
- Prosody refers to reading with expression, the inflection in tone, and in phrases rather than single words at a time.
These are big words to basically say that fluent readers sound like their talking voices. They sound like they are talking, don’t have long pauses, and can change the expression in their voices.
3 Ways to Assess Fluency during Guided Reading
Both formal and informal assessments can serve you well to understand where a student has strengths and weaknesses in his or her fluency skills.
Ask, “What do you sound like?”
This simple question helped my students self-reflect on their words. Once I taught them these simple three examples, they could identify how they sounded and what they needed to improve on.
- Do you sound like you’re on a roller coaster? “RollerCoasterReadersTalkSoFastThatThereAreNoBreaksInTheirSpeech.TheySoundOutOfBreath!”
- Do you sound like a robot? “Robot. readers. stop. after. every. single. word. and. don’t. have. any. expression.”
- Do you sound like you do when you talk on the phone? This ideal reading voice means students are reading fluently.
After listening to students read at the table, ask “What do you sound like?” and show them pictures of the three choices.
Let them tell you. Even young readers can self-reflect! Then discuss why they made the choice that they did and how to improve.
Try a Self-Checking Rubric
Students can also use a simple rubric to grade themselves on their fluency. You can get a FREE RUBRIC to use from my store. Students can check off which areas they did well in and which needs improvement. There are two different options to pick from.
Use Running Records
Running records show how a student reads a text. I always make sure to completely fill out the record and jot down some anecdotal notes on each student.
Accuracy plays a role in determining fluency. If a student has too many errors, they are not reading with fluency. In levels A-J, we want accuracy to be 90% or higher. For levels K-N, it should be 95% or higher.
Use the note space to write how the student sounded when they read: robot, roller coaster, or talking on the phone. You can also write if they read word-by-word, in short phrases, in whole sentences, etc. While this may be an informal assessment, it’s helpfulness can exceed many formal assessments. Check out my favorite tips for running records HERE.
*Guided Reading has a great rubric for fluency evaluation. Grab the book and check it out. It goes into detail about what fluency looks like in terms of phrasing, evidence of syntax and punctuation awareness, and rereading for problem-solving.
4 Ways to Improve Fluency in Guided Reading
Practice With Fluency Phrases
Fluency phrases are short phrases or sentences of high frequency words. Many teachers use words from Fry’s First 100 list and create phrases for students to practice. You can make this as fancy or as simple as you want.
On the simple side, one way to implement this is to write several phrases on notecards. Before reading the text at the table, have students take turns reading a phrase as a warm-up. You could also give each student a set of notecards to read independently.
Fluency pyramids are similar to fluency phrases and can be done as a warm-up in guided reading. Take a short sentence with high-frequency words and write one word of the sentence on the first line. Then two words on the second line, etc. Finally, students will read the pyramid. Like fluency phrases, you can make something very creative, type them up, or write them on notecards.
Preview New Vocabulary
During the brief book introduction, be sure to point out any words that are unexpected. For example, if the picture is of a girl, but the word is her name “Esther”, you need to have students practice that word. Tell it to them, have them point to it, and have the students find it elsewhere in the book if it appears more than once.
Reread a Text
Because students have already processed the entire text, decoding and comprehending the meaning, rereading a text allows them to focus on fluency. On a second or third read, they should be able to recognize the new vocabulary and read in phrases. You can have students reread the previous text during the warm-up time in guided reading.
How to Track Fluency
If you want to track fluency in your classroom with a display, check out Fluency Races. It motivates students to progress in their reading fluency by challenging them to get to the next level. This unit has:
- Directions on how to use it and classroom picture examples of the display
- Data folder pages
- First 100 Fry phrases/words for practice in the classroom or to send home
- Race cars for the students to move up the road as you track their fluency
- Number cones to place along the road (0-200, in increments of 10)
- A finish line for the end of year goal
I personally used this system in my classroom and had excellent results. My students loved the incentive, and I loved watching their reading fluency improve throughout the year in a visible way.
Once my student practiced with some fluency phrases during guided reading, his fluency improved. I had to remove the focus from solely accuracy and speed to also include expression. I found that when we also tracked fluency in a fun way, he (and my other students) found excitement in improving fluency. Try it out and let me know how it goes!