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Once your child has mastered the basics of reading, she’ll start developing fluency, or the ability to read easily and with expression. Fluency is what allows readers to read a sentence without stumbling over words, while still being able to understand what they're reading along the way. But reading fluency can be elusive for some young readers.
By the end of second grade, your child should be able to read with expression, pausing for periods, adding inflection in sentences that end in question marks or exclamation points, and reading voice and emotion into the characters in stories. Into third grade and beyond, fluency is what helps children read and learn at the same time. But according to Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams, research professor at Brown University and author of Beginning to Read, “the majority of fourth graders haven’t developed fluency and have to think about every word,” so they’re not able to understand what they read.
Want to figure out if your child is a fluent reader? Ricki Linksman, director of the National Reading Diagnostics Institute and author of Solving Your Child’s Reading Problem, recommends doing a reading check-up. Ask your child to read aloud from a few books or magazines—a novel or chapter book, their class science or social studies textbook, or a favorite magazine. After he’s finished reading, ask him questions about what he read. If he struggles to read individual words, or isn’t able to understand what he read, help develop his fluency with these strategies:
- Choose High-Success Books. Kids should be reading with 99 percent accuracy, says Dr. Richard Allington, professor of education at the University of Tennessee, or, they should only miss one word for every 100 they read. When you’re choosing a book with your child, have him read a page or two and hold up a finger for every word that he has trouble reading. If he’s holding up more than one finger, the book is too hard.
- Take Turns: Shared Reading. Read books with lots of dialogue (for young readers, try the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems), or take turns reading paragraphs or pages in books that are at your child’s reading level. During shared reading, says Adams, you’re helping your child understand the story and modeling fluent reading, while they’re practicing recognizing words and spelling patterns.
- Let Them Be the Librarian. Let your child choose what she reads—any print, including words on a web site or words on a recipe card, activates the reading centers in the brain and will strengthen her reading fluency. If your child wants to read a book that’s outside her comfort level, read it together, says Adams.
- Practice “Deep Reading”. For some of your child’s reading practice, focus on what Dr. Timothy Rasinski, professor of reading at Kent State University and author of The Fluent Reader, calls deep reading, or reading the same material over and over. Make deep reading authentic by adding an audience. Bring poetry or play books home and have your child read their favorite poems or act out their favorite plays to you, their grandparents, and family friends.
- Put Words to Music. Print song lyrics for your child to read along to their favorite songs, or encourage him to follow along with the songbook at your religious organization,
- Add Audio. When your child chooses a book, get the audio recording as well. Have him read along with the audio recording until he can read the story independently. Or, make the audio yourself; Allington suggests recording your child reading a passage over and over so he can hear the improvement as he reads faster and with more expression.
- Come Back to Correct. When you read with your child, don’t stop to correct words that he struggles with or misreads. If you interrupt every time he makes a mistake, he’ll listen for your correction, instead of listening for meaning. Write down any words he misses and return to them once he’s finished the chapter or story. Ask him if the word made sense when he read it and, if he can reread it correctly, great. If not, help him figure it out.
- Pick a Topic. If you have an older child who’s struggling with fluency, he probably feels like he’s missed learning information because he can’t get it from books. So, let him choose a topic he’s interested in, then find books at different levels that are all about that topic. The difficult, technical terms (the names of the dinosaurs, or engineering terms) are the words he’ll pick up quickly, so as he reads he’ll be practicing word patterns and sentence structure.
Every time you read with your child it’s an opportunity to develop fluency, as well as a love of reading. So, when you sit down, no matter whose turn it is to read, make sure the book is one that your child won’t want to put down!
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