Fluency: Research Adapted from National Reading Panel Report, 2000
The National Reading Panel Report(2000), noted the many different definitions of fluency that involve speed in word recognition, freedom from word recognition errors and automatic information processing from text(LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Harris & Hodges, 1995 Thurlow & van den Broek, 1997). In addition to automaticity and speed in word recognition, though, the NRP(2000) noted that part of fluency also is the ability to group words in appropriate phrases. Regardless of a specific definition, most educators know fluent readers when they hear them. Fluent readers do not stumble over words, they read effortlessly and with expression. Their reading sounds like oral language. Adams(1990) referred to fluent reading as the most salient aspect of proficient reading.
The theoretical base for conceptualizing fluency most likely began with LaBerge and Samuel’s Theory of Automaticity(1974). They argued that fluent reading was a complex skill which required mastery and automaticity of many components of reading. Once these components had become automatic, then readers’ selective attention could be focused on higher cognitive processes, resulting in more focus on comprehension and less focus on decoding. While LeBerge and Samuels primarily discussed fluency related to connected text and speed and accuracy in recognizing words as well as connected texts(Fuchs, Fuchs., Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001; Good, Simmons & Kame’enui, 2001) The critical question for teachers is: How is fluency improved?
Fluency develops over time through supported and repeated reading practice. Fluency develops as students are able to recognize words “by sight”, decode unfamiliar words, and construct meaning more actively and rapidly. It is important for teachers to understand that “sight words” are not just the small number of irregular words they directly teach students, but eventually all words become sight words as they are repeatedly read correctly in text. It is the students’ ability to recognize very large numbers of words “at a single glance” that is one of the most important factors underlying the development of reading fluency in the early elementary grades.
Fluency has often been referred to as the most neglected aspect of the five components of reading. Indeed, of the three handbooks of reading research published from 1984 to 2000, not one chapter has been written about fluency(Barr, Pearson, Mosenthal,& Kamil, 1991; Pearson, Barr, Kamil & Mosenthal, 1984; Kamil, Mosenthal, Pearson, & Barr,2000). Perhaps because of its neglect in research, it is also neglected in practice. Most core reading programs do not label sections under fluency the way they do with decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension. Teachers do not think of teaching specifically for the purposes of assisting their children in becoming more fluent readers. And, indeed, for some students fluency develops on its own. For example, Anderson, Fielding & Wilson(1988) found that lots reading with easy reading materials promoted fluency in their subjects.
However, not all children become fluent just by reading lots of easy reading materials. Many students struggle with fluency from the very beginning. Their struggle can hold be a barrier in becoming proficient readers. Indeed, many middle and high school teachers see the effects of non-fluent readers in their students who stumble over words, pausing, halting and in general, missing the easy flow over text.