As any parent of an emerging reader knows, getting to know letters and words is just the beginning. While your child stumbles through sentences, gets hung up on vocabulary, and grows confident and frustrated by turn, you may be asking yourself "When will my child be a good reader?".
Reading fluency takes more than getting through a sentence: it means reading with timing, comprehension, and confidence. Simply being able to decode words isn't enough to make a child a good reader. Even more vital for reading success is the ability to recognize and read words accurately, effortlessly, and with feeling. Research has shown that reading fluency is an excellent predictor of overall academic success, and that the lack of fluency often leads to problems with comprehension down the road.
Whether your child is well on his way or still struggling to get by, here are five expert tips on fostering your child's reading fluency:
1. Be a Model Parent Educator and home schooling consultant Jessie Wise can't stress enough that modeling fluent reading is the most helpful thing adults can do to help children achieve fluency. Children need to hear texts being read smoothly and easily. They also need to be exposed to expressive reading. As you read aloud, don't be afraid to emphasize emotions like excitement or sadness in your voice that reflect the tone of the text. Show your child that how a word is read helps to unpack its meaning.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice Reading is like any other skill—becoming adept at it requires repeated, consistent practice. The goal of reading fluency is reading so smoothly and easily that it feels automatic and effortless. The only way this can happen is through time and effort.
As Wise puts it, "athletes and musicians practice repetition for mastery. I think the same strategy works for reading. Fluency is best developed by repeated reading of the same passage aloud until fluency is reached." First, model reading a specific passage aloud. Pick a short paragraph of about 100 words. Then have your child repeatedly read the same passage—up to four times in a session.
3. Pinpoint Problems There are three elements of reading fluency: rate, accuracy, and prosody (how well a reader uses changes in tone, emphasis, and volume to convey meaning and emotion). Pay attention to all three as you listen to your child reading aloud and ask yourself what he or she is struggling with.
Wise says problems with fluency can manifest themselves in different ways. "Is the child whole-word guessing by context rather than phonetically sounding out unfamiliar words?," Wise asks. "Is the selection just too hard for the child?". One way to figure out if a text is beyond your child's current comfortable reading level is to count the number of words he or she stumbles on. Wise advises that "if a child misreads more than one of every 20 words, they will focus on word recognition rather than fluency."
4. Make Reading Fun While practice is vital, don't turn reading into a chore that your child dreads. Rather than creating a fixed routine, try to incorporate reading aloud into a rotating series of engaging activities that you can do with your child.
If you have a budding thespian on your hands, create a reader's theater script out of a favorite story. You don't need props, costumes, or even a stage! Picturebooks with two or more speaking parts work beautifully for this, but remember: if the story isn't fun, acting it out won't be, either. Making your own newscast is another activity that incorporates fluency practice. You can write short news items with your child, or use simplified versions of stories from the day's paper.
5. Use Books on CD Audio books are a great resource because they're typically read by professional actors who focus on creating drama and movement with their voices—just the kind of expressive modeling kids need. In addition, books on CD can be especially useful as an independent-learning tool for older children who still struggle with reading, but wouldn't be caught dead sitting down to a practice session with a parent.
Here are the steps Wise suggests: "Select a portion of a book on tape or CD (or a portion that you read aloud). Have the child follow along as he listens to the selection being read. Then let him try to read aloud along with you or the recording. Then, listen to his reading the passage aloud by himself." Find audio books for purchase or download at the bookstore, your local library, or an online storefront like audible.com.