Oral reading fluency describes the ease with which a person can read a passage of text aloud. This is a particularly important benchmark for children who are developing their reading skills, or for students learning English as a second language. There are several ways to measure oral reading fluency. There are also recognized teaching practices to address fluency problems.
Why Oral Reading Is Important
Reading a passage aloud is a particularly good way for a teacher to assess a student’s overall reading ability, and provides a forum for guidance and feedback. This is according to a 2000 report from the National Reading Panel, a project of the National Institutes of Health. Silent sustained reading in the classroom increases focus, but it may not address fluency problems in the same way that reading aloud with feedback can. The degree of fluency a student shows also gives an indication of how well he understands the text, in addition to just recognizing the words.
Results from students in older grades and into high school show why oral reading fluency may be so key. A study in 1995 by Gay Su Pinnell measured the relationship between oral reading fluency and silent reading comprehension in a sample of fourth-graders. This found that nearly half had not yet achieved a minimal level of reading fluency to allow them to concentrate on the meaning of a text, rather than merely decoding words. Researchers believe that once students enter high school without this automatic word recognition skill, they must apply so much of their energies to merely decoding text, that their ability to learn content is severely affected.
In 2004, researchers Jan Hasbrouck and Gerald Tindal at the University of Oregon collected data on oral reading fluency among children in grades one through eight. They compiled their research into a table of Oral Reading Fluency Norms. Fluency in this system is based on words read correctly per minute. For instance, a child in the spring semester of first grade is said to be reading aloud at grade level if she can read an unpracticed text at 53 words per minute or faster. By the fall semester of eighth grade, students should be reading at 133 words per minute or faster. If a child falls 10 words or more per minute behind this standard, he is assessed as need fluency training.
The DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency method was developed by Stan Deno and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota. This gives teachers a series of texts that can be used to test students. Students read aloud for one minute, and the teacher gives a score, based on words omitted and substituted or significant hesitations. DIBELS also incorporates a test that measures how well a student can retell a passage she's just read. This is used to test comprehension. The overall goal is to identify children who need additional support to develop fluent reading.
Teachers implementing a fluency training program can include several different strategies. Teaching phonemic awareness is key–this is the skill of recognizing separate word sounds on the page and translating them into speech sounds. Students may also need to be coached on how to decode unfamiliar words. They may need to work to improve their overall vocabulary, and they may need to work on individual words to increase the number they can recognize at first sight.
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