Improving Reading Fluency

Improving reading fluency in young readers….that was the challenge for me when I was hired at an elementary school in Douglas County School District as a Literacy Specialist and was tasked with creating a school-wide reading intervention program with eight paras and 150 students on an Individualized Reading Plan (ILP) (now called a READ plan in Colorado).  Many of those 150 students had issues with reading fluency.  At this point in my career, I had never specifically worked with struggling readers.  I had taught high school English back in the early 80s with no training in my teacher prep program in how to help struggling readers.  Oh yes, I did teach a class called “Remedial English”, but all that meant is I was given a different set of books.  I don’t remember much of what I did in that class 24 years ago! Flash forward to 2009 and I had to do some quick study on how to help these readers.

The next eight years was an incredible growth opportunity for me as I learned new methods, techniques, and programs for helping struggling readers.  I took many classes, read books and journal articles and most importantly, learned from other teachers and the students in our reading intervention program. My passion became helping those struggling, non-fluent readers become not only proficient readers but also passionate readers.

MHE Reading Intervention program
Here’s our reading program in full swing! Photo by Jan

What I saw in working with many older struggling readers is that some had somehow not been able to master phonemic awareness and phonics skills successfully, and that was impeding both fluency and comprehension. Others had mastered those two elements but their struggles with fluency made them discouraged and not a fan of reading.  I tried many different methods, some successful, some not.  To save you, the hard-working teacher time, here are my favorite resources and methods for helping non-fluent readers.

  1. Assess the student using a benchmark (or interim) assessment…and one that preferably has national percentiles.
    You will not be able to show progress unless you get this first benchmark. I used either the AIMSWeb curriculum-based measurement (CBM) for oral reading and recorded how many words were correct in on minute.  You can also use the Reading a-z fluency passages.   With an AIMS account, you can access their oral reading norms to find where in relation your student is compared to other students at the same age.  Many teachers at my schools relied on these norms to help us make many decisions, including possible Sped testing, or removal from the intervention program.
  2. Once benchmarking is done, you can determine if intervention and progress monitoring is needed.  For students not entering intervention or receiving progress monitoring, more data will be gathered at the next interim assessing period.  For students who need intervention, you need to set up progress monitoring.  We used the AIMSWeb progress monitoring passages and used either their browser-based scoring system to keep track of scores/percentiles, or created a spreadsheet to keep track.  If you are doing this as an interventionist, it is important to keep classroom teachers in the loop with this data so they can share with parents.

    With my tutoring students, I use a Google Drive Spreadsheet to keep track of results and share with parents and their classroom teachers.  Here’s a blank template for you! (If you’ve never created graphs from the data entered, here is a screencast to help you!)Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 1.33.01 PM

  3. The Reading a-z passages can be used in different ways too!  First, I will print out three copies (or you can use these handy dandy dry erase pocket holders, bought from a Groupon deal, to save paper!)  I will have the student do a cold read and record the time and number of miscues (although sometimes I don’t time it if my focus is on word attack skills). Next, we go over the errors with the student so she can see what she missed, substituted or mispronounced (This is SO important to do!) Then, she reads a second time, again recording the miscues and time and going over the miscues. If the time and/or miscues are lower….a Class Dojo or Edmodo badge for her!  Next, you guessed it…we repeat this all over again.  These repeated readings are SO important for increasing fluency!  By practicing using the passages this way, chances are much better that she will perform better on progress monitoring and/or benchmark assessments. Below, you can see that my 4th-grade student, on the left, went from 5 to 0 errors after the 3rd reading. My 2nd-grade student went from 11 to 0 errors! I used the dry erase pocket holders and had the student underline the words they miscued on to draw their attention back to the word on the next reading.  (Sorry about the glare from the overhead lights!)
  4. Stopping at every miscue? Analyzing miscues? Okay, you may think I am heartless…but with kids who consistently miscue in a reading passage, I will sometimes wait until the end of a sentence or paragraph to stop them, but most often I will stop them immediately after they make a miscue.  Why?  Because there are many reasons a reader will miscue. Many are just word calling and not making meaning out of the words they are reading. Their brains start going faster than their mouth and the brain will quickly substitute a similar word.  If you wait too long, the moment is lost…the brain and mouth have moved on. Next comes the miscue analysis…also so important!  Below is a sample running record form from Reading a-z. 1520706540Check out this video for some guidelines and click HERE for a blank running record form (Reading a-z also has blank ones available.  Cathy Collier, in her blog: The W.I.S.E Owl has some great information on TYPES of miscues.
  5. When they are still struggling….it’s time to check into vision issues. I wonder how many students have struggled in school because of vision issues?  I’m not talking about the eyesight issues diagnosed by optometrists, but ones that may go undetected for years, such as visual tracking or eye teaming problems.  In the last ten years, many optometrists and ophthalmologists have partnered with vision therapy experts to offer service to children (usually at some high fees, but check with your vision insurance).  However, one benefit of seeking professional help is possible assessment with a Visagraph that tracks and records the movement of both eyes. It’s really similar to a benchmark or interim assessment; it provides the data needed to set up a plan of interventions and progress monitoring. I invited someone to come in on a professional development day and demonstrate this amazing machine, and I can safely say it “wowed” my audience of veteran teachers. In addition, the student (in the photo below we used a teacher as a student) gets to wear those really cool sci-fi type goggles!IMG_1148
    I worked with several students over the years who had visual tracking issues, and it was beneficial to team with the occupational therapist at my school for some ideas that I could easily do during my small group time.  Most OTs are willing to teach you and your class some simple eye warm-ups to get the eyes to team together better. In addition, Reading Plus offers online intervention and instruction where students read text using a guided window that moves across the text, graying out most of it and focusing on just the words being currently read. The speed decreases or increases depending on assessment results. In addition, the iBalance component helps increase reading speed, stamina, and visual tracking skills. I’ve also found that giving students some color overlay strips, or even just a white index card with a solid black line at the top can help kids track text better.  In my tutoring “super backpack”, I always carry a few visual tracking aids for students who need this! Finally, here are a few more accommodation ideas from Understood.org.

    6. Reader’s Theater…need I say more?  Hmmm….let’s see, students practicing reading text over and over – of course, that will practice not only oral reading fluency but also reading expression! You can find plenty of scripts available online, such as this site, which not only has scripts but many lesson resources on using RT in your classroom.  My favorite place to find RT scripts is Reading a-z; high-quality scripts and many are multi-leveled so your students are not always in the same group with same level readers. (Note: There is a yearly fee to join Reading a-z).  Don’t forget poetry! Reading poetry, especially ones with a rhythm and rhyme helps to increase fluency. Get kids to learn and memorize favorite poems and then host “Open Mic Night” at a Poetry Cafe in your classroom!

    7. Reading aloud…not just you, the teacher, reading aloud (but you do serve as that model for good fluency), but your kids reading aloud to each other and kids in younger grades! Again…REPEATED READING! Students can choose their favorite read aloud to share with the class in a “Reader’s Chair”.  You could film or audio record kids reading their favorite read-aloud books, and post on the school’s website to serve as bedtime stories for other kids! Some of the best books for reading aloud AND improving fluency can be found at THIS site.  Dr. Seuss books are perfect for developing fluency skills; in fact, I think my daughter perfected her fluency by memorizing The Foot Book.  Silly Sally is another good choice; so are nursery rhymes. Please add your ideas for fun/fluency practicing read-aloud books in the comments below!

    By the way, becoming a fluent reader often takes a strong growth mindset attitude from students. I will be posting more information in the future on this topic in your classroom, but be sure to check out my last blog on math activities you can do to develop growth mindset!  Also, check out a past blog on literacy tools for your classroom! Looking for some consulting or PD for your teachers on any of the topics I write about? Check out more information HERE!

Author: Jan Anttila

I recently retired after 25 years of teaching (yay!) I started my own tutoring and consulting business and am now anxious to share my passion for teaching and many lessons, projects and activities I did with my students over the years, as well my current practices for tutoring.

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