Seeking Best Practice in Reading Fluency Development: Children, Parents, and Teachers Tell Stories of Complex Relations
Witte-Townsend, Darlene L., Whiting, Alice G., New England Reading Association Journal
The more children engage in reading, the more likely they are to become fluent readers. While this seems to be a common sense position, we find that best practice in supporting fluency development is not always well understood. Fluent reading is characterized by the ability to process text with speed, accuracy, and high comprehension (Snow, Burns, Sc Griffin,1999), and it would seem, on the surface at least, that reading fluency is a pragmatic problem that could/should have pragmatic solutions. However, giving children more practice in the basics ofword recognition, decoding, and the manipulation of letters and sounds in structured phonics exercises doesn't necessarily result in improved reading fluency (Meyer, 2003), and Rasinski (2004) cautions that having children emphasize speed can actually be detrimental to overall progress in comprehension. Pragmatic solutions don't seem to be sufficient.
The achievement of fluent reading remains a complex pedagogical puzzle as well as an elusive goal for many children (Kuhn & Stahl, 2003), perhaps because it requires the reader to interpret meaning at the same time as s/he processes the language. Miall and Kuiken (2002) shed some light on the difficulty here, suggesting that it is feeling that guides interpretation, and while they acknowledge that more is known about the cognitive aspects of reading, the feelings we have toward text are equally basic. It appears that fluency in reading requires that the heart and the head have equal play: Strong skill development is indispensable, but it is not the whole picture.
Fluency development emerges from a complex relation of pragmatic and existential elements: Something more than the pragmatics of skill and drill must awaken the heart, will, and mind. Children must be so strongly attracted to books and to the act of reading that they engage in the work of learning to read despite difficulties that may arise along the way. Our paper is intended to probe the region of the elusive "something more' (Witte, 1993; Witte-Townsend & DiGiulio, 2004; Witte-Townsend Sc Hill, in press; Witte-Townsend Se Whiting, 1999a). In order to do so, we have collected informal anecdotes-some written, some spoken-from teachers, parents, and students about their experiences of becoming engaged, fluent readers. This was not a highly controlled, quantitative study; rather, it was a rambling, messy attempt to wrestle with the inherent difficulty of life (Caputo, 1987) and the difficulty of reflecting on language and meaning while using it (Lyotard, 1989). Our task was to make the effort to awaken ourselves to the complexities of the classroom experiences of others (Jardine & Field, 1996) in order to push toward a better understanding. As we explored the stories the following five themes emerged:
* Children need access to appropriate books, and teachers and parents need to have a sophisticated awareness of what "access to appropriate books" means from the child's point of view;
* A "reading attitude" seems to be a crucial element, and adults need to understand how it can be nurtured;
* Adults need to allow for and value the amount of time children must spend engaged with text if fluent reading is to develop;
* Adults need to have a deep respect for children's choices of reading materials;
* Adults need to have a clear view of how children's social worlds, both at home and at school, relate to their relationships with books.
These themes emerged as we sifted through our informal data; then, we looked to other writers and theorists in the field and to our own experience as teachers. The result is a composite of the voices and experiences of many teachers, parents, and students. We hope that as you read, our work will resonate with your own experience, whether that experience relates to your childhood or to your role as a parent or teacher, and that you will gain a better understanding of your own practice as well as some fresh insight. …