Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

The Importance of Fluent Reading

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

The Importance of Fluent Reading

Article excerpt

A primary reason for implementing fluency instruction is that it encourages basic reading skills development to the point of automaticity, so that cognitive resources can then be directed toward understanding and comprehending the passage that is being read. A reader who can decode a text with speed and accuracy, but cannot simultaneously comprehend what is being read, is not considered a fluent reader. Given this, it is important for educators to have a clear understanding of the components involved in reading fluency and considerations for measuring those components. In this article we will discuss what fluency is, the developmental stages of fluency, goals of fluency instruction, and how to measure it.

BASIC SKILLS ACQUISITION: The Importance of Automaticity

The key underlying factor with regard to decoding a text is found within the theory of automaticity. On any given task, a person reaches the point of automaticity when they are able to perform two complex tasks at the same time (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). In the context of reading fluency, this means that a reader is able to decode and comprehend in tandem. Yet, how does the process of automaticity play out in the context of a real world example? To offer an analogy, hearken back to when first learning how to drive a car. Most likely, while sitting in the driver's seat, poised on the edge of potential freedom, the student driver's entire conscious effort and mental resources were focused on the sequencing of individual actions. The art of learning how to drive was a process. For example, the student driver may have begun by 'talking out' the procedure: first I push on the brake, next I use the key to turn on the ignition, then I put the car in drive, release the brake, then press the gas pedal. This verbal dialog that is used when learning how to drive is similar to what goes on in the reading process with beginning readers who are trying to decode the words on a printed page. Often a novice decoder might 'talk out' or sub-vocalize the words that they are attempting to read. Later, as the basic skills of reading develop, a reader no longer finds it helpful to talk their way through the passage and the word recognition process becomes silent and automatic.

What happens to a complex skill after a great deal of effort and practice has been dedicated to perfecting it? With practice, a student driver becomes an experienced and automatic motorist, someone who is able to converse with a passenger or listen to the radio while driving. Thus, when the driver is able to do two tasks at the same time, the driver is considered to be automatic at the mechanics of driving. Similar to the driving example, with practice, the reader becomes automatic at decoding the text so that cognitive resources can then be allocated toward comprehension.

It is important to note that while the student driver has worked hard to become an automatic motorist, there may still be occasions when it is necessary to switch attention from the secondary task of listening to the radio, back to the primary task of the mechanics involved in driving. For example, driving in a snowstorm requires more cognitive attention because of unpredictable road conditions. Due to the circumstances, the driver may switch out of the automatic mode, where little attention toward the mechanics of driving are required and into a controlled mode where all of the attentional resources are used for driving through the storm. The same is true of reading. Even for an automatic decoder, there are circumstances under which it may be necessary to switch attention from automatic into what is called a controlled process. For example, if a text contains unfamiliar vocabulary it may be necessary for a reader to slow down and revert back to using previously learned word recognition strategies. Redirection of attention may also occur if there is a break down in comprehension. When a breakdown occurs, the reader can redirect attention back to the part of the text where the problem with comprehension began, and place more attention on the comprehension process in order to fill in the gaps of understanding. …

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