Fluent reading is expressive, accurate, and appropriately paced. Fluent reading is smooth and expressive, sounds like talk, approaches the speed of normal conversation, and preserves the author’s syntax. Fluent reading does not cause comprehension, but it does suggest that children understand what they read. Fluent readers make connections with text while reading; they understand what they read and interpret text in light of their prior knowledge and purpose for reading.
Generally speaking, high-fluency readers comprehend better, read faster, and read with greater accuracy than low-fluency readers (National Center for Education Statistics, 1995). High-fluency readers differ markedly from their low-fluency classmates, and these differences are readily noticeable by the fourth grade. In a nationwide study of reading fluency, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that high-fluency fourth graders read with expression and grouped words into meaningful phrases, whereas low-fluency fourth graders ignore sentence structure and read in one- or two-word phrases (1995). Fluent readers concentrate on understanding what they are reading and on reading smoothly and expressively.
Children who read with expression have better comprehension, read faster, and read with greater accuracy than children who read word-by-word in a monotone (Daane et al., 2006). Fluent readers pay attention to punctuation and think about meaning. These readers decide where to pause and where to place emphasis and change voice tone and voice emphasis so as to make meaning clear (National Reading Panel, 2000). Expressive readers interpret meaning. They do this through the use of good phrasing, appropriate voice tone, and appropriate voice volume. A fluent reader groups words together in phrases that convey meaning, are consistent with punctuation, and correspond to sentence structure. Intonation, the second characteristic of expressive reading, is the change in voice emphasis. For instance, the reader raises the voice for question marks, slightly drops the voice for periods, puts an emphasis on words followed by exclamation marks. Volume is the use of a loud or soft voice. The child reads unimportant words in a softer voice; important words in a slightly louder voice.
Generally speaking, the fewer the number of miscues, the better the comprehension; the greater the number of miscues, the poorer the comprehension (Daane et al., 2006). Choosing to correct miscues also affects comprehension. Readers who self-correct a larger percentage of miscues comprehend better than their classmates who self-correct a relatively small percentage of miscues (Daane et al., 2006).
Reading rate affects comprehension. Information enters short-term memory before it is moved to long-term memory, where the reader stores ideas and makes sense of text. Short-term memory holds only a small amount of information and the information stays in short-term memory only a brief period of time. When the pace of reading is too slow, the reader does not move information quickly into long-term memory. Information in short-term memory creates a roadblock that prevents new information from entering, and so less information is moved on to long-term memory. Consequently, plodding readers do not grasp as many ideas as fluent readers.
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