What Is Reading Fluency?

The National Reading Panel (2000, p. 3-1) has defined fluency as "reading text with speed, accuracy, and proper expression." Harris and Hodges (1995) and Samuels (2003) extend the definition to include comprehension. Proficient readers can be considered "fluent readers" because they can and do approach the printed page with ease and understanding. They establish a reading purpose and achieve their reading goals with a variety of reading strategies and a firm literacy base of age or developmentally appropriate vocabulary/multiple vocabulary meanings. Typically, proficient, fluent readers are "engaged" readers- that is, they consider reading as a means to an end, i.e., reading for information, to achieve goals, to excel academically, or to enjoy leisure time.

Is Fluency Fundamental to Achieving Reading Proficiency? PACE Model

Reading fluency is considered of major fundamental importance to achieving proficiency as a reader. Think of reading fluency in relation to successful completion of a musical piece with an instrument. The musician needs to be able to play the notes accurately (A) using proper phrasing (P) and expressive (E) interpretations while adjusting the speed or timing in playing as needed. Comprehension (C) of the composer's message or theme is achieved with successful playing of the music (= PACE). Fluency in reading also demands PACE.

Phrasing (P)  When students are fluent in reading text, they will read in long phrases while attending to punctuation that may impact comprehension. When critical reading is required, fluent readers will adjust their reading pace and will read in shorter phrases or word by word if needed. Students with dyslexia who are struggling with automaticity in word recognition tend to read word by word or in short phrases and often ignore punctuation marks, important times to pause in the reading. As word recognition improves, students are able to read longer phrases but need teacher modeling to show what fluent, flexible reading looks like. The Neurological Impress Method(NIM) was designed for struggling readers (Heckelman, 1969) and is a good fluency phrase builder. A student sits with the teacher, and they prepare to read a passage in unison with no prior preparations before the reading. It is best to use reading materials just slightly below the student's independent reading level (word recognition should be around 95%). The teacher sits just behind the student and either the student or the teacher points to the words as he or she reads. The teacher essentially leads the reading, slowing down when appropriate, picking up the pace at other times with changes in voice intonation, inflection, and stress. There is no attempt to teach word recognition or monitor comprehension during the reading- the focus is on having the student practice fluent, flexible reading as it is modeled.

Accuracy (A)  Effective reading is reading in which students can read accurately and quickly, making few reading errors or miscues when presented with materials on their independent reading levels. Efficient reading of text is accompanied by automaticity with the simultaneous decoding of text with comprehension. Accurate reading of text without automaticity is characterized by readings with a high percentage of words read correctly and with expression. However, comprehension of text does not occur simultaneously with the decoding. Automaticity in reading is important to word accuracy just by the nature of the world we live in- there are so many things to do and not enough time to do everything. High stakes testing in our schools/workplaces and technical or comprehensive/expert on-the-job requirements require automaticity from effective readers (Samuels, 2002, 2003). Measuring accurate and fluent reading of text can be done with running records that assess (1) reading rate or words per minute (efficient reading of text) and (2) word miscues analyses to look at the effective reading of text.

Going beyond Word Accuracy to Automaticity  "We learn best to read by reading" is probably the most fundamental of all reading principles and "it works." According to Samuels (2002, 2003), practice will get the reader beyond accuracy to automaticity.

Speed in Word Recognition  Speed or automaticity in word reading impacts reading rate- the number of words correct per minute a student can read. Reading rates are typically slower for the student with dyslexia who has difficulty adjusting to different reading situations.

Types of Reading and Speed Required  Richardson and Morgan (1994) list several factors that impact reading speed or rate such as the type of material used, familiarity with content, reader's motivation and purpose, size of type, and physical conditions (e.g., lighting, lack of sleep, presence of directions, and so on). Adults need to learn to adjust to different reading situations- a speed range of 100-200 words per minute (WPM) is needed for reading material that requires a careful analysis of highly technical content (e.g., science texts) and poetry; a speed range of 600-800 wpm is needed for speed reading of newspapers, magazines, etc. Most reading material of the study-type nature requires 200-300 wpm (Richardson & Morgan, 1994).

Rauding   Carver (1992) has described "rauding" as the merging of reading (by looking and understanding) with auding (listening and understanding) into what is considered the reading process. For middle school students, and average rauding rate is 190 words per minute with a typical average of 300 words per minute for college students (see Table 8.1). A student with dyslexia would read below these rates, meaning that the amount of reading materials a student with dyslexia could accomplish would be less than the proficient reader (Richardson & Morgan, 1994). Teachers need to reduce reading assignments accordingly and teach specific strategies for adjusting reading rates.

Expected Oral Reading Rates: Guide by Grade Level

(Low = Beginning of Year, High = End of Year)

Gr. 1 (50-80 wpm)
Gr. 2 (50-90 wpm)
Gr. 3 (80-115 wpm)
Gr. 4 (100-120 wpm)
Gr. 5 (100-130 wpm)

Silent Reading Rates (Comprehension is adequate)

Gr. 1 <80
Gr. 2 80-110
Gr. 3 110-130
Gr. 4 130-150
Gr. 5 150-160
Gr. 6 160-175
Gr. 7 175-185
Gr. 8 185-200
Gr. 9 200-210
Gr. 10 210-225
Gr. 11 225-240
Gr. 12 240-255

Rate Determined By:

  1. Count number of words read (circa 300 words)
  2. Multiply by 60 = dividend
  3. Compute reading time in seconds= divisor
  4. Compute= wpm (words per minute)

Figure 8.1: Average Reading Rates for College Students

Reading Style Example For the Dyslexic Proficient Readers
Scanning Finding Cue Words 400-500 wpm 600 wpm
Skimming Proofreading 300-350 wpm 450 wpm
Rauding Comprehension of Text 200-250 wpm 300 wpm
Text Mastery Oral Report Prep 100-150 wpm 200 wpm
Memorizing Essay Exam 75-100 wpm 150 wpm

Repeated Readings Approach  According to the National Reading Panel Report (2000), repeated readings have a clear and positive effect on reading fluency positively impacting reading rate. With struggling readers, repeated readings with feedback or guidance are more beneficial than repeated readings alone. According to Samuels (2002), the repeated reading method was developed in the early 1970s simultaneously at the University of Minnesota (David LaBerge and S. Jay Samuels) and Harvard University (Carol Chomsky). Essentially, students reread meaningful passages of text until a satisfactory level of fluency is achieved. How does the teacher know when fluency has been achieved? CWPM, or correct words per minute, could be calculated with attention to expected norms for a grade level or "reading like talking" could simply be the goal. That is, the student would reread the passage until it sounded like someone talking with attention to phrasing and expression. A consistent finding in the research has been that repeated readings significantly improve accuracy in word recognition, reading speed, and oral reading expression and with all readers (Samuels, 2002).

Comprehension (C)  Deriving optimal meaning from the printed page becomes a challenge when the student with dyslexia needs to place cognitive resources on decoding, or word reading. For proficient readers, the decoding process is automatic and therefore cognitive energies can be spent on strategic reading (making sense of the printed page) and monitoring one's own comprehension. For many individuals with dyslexia, picking up another book to read is an academic chore. Samuels (2003) stresses the use of positive human relations to purposefully keep a reader on task or engaged to get beyond struggles with word recognition to the point of automaticity. He refers to the bonding that must occur between the teacher and student to nurture the motivation or desire to pick up "that book" again to reread or read another new book.

Samuels (2002) recommends two informal ways of assessing comprehension fluency: determining listening comprehension and then oral reading comprehension levels. Teachers select two passages (1/2 to 2 pages) with unfamiliar topics determined to be on a student's independent reading level. One passage needs to be used to measure listening comprehension; the other passage, the student's comprehension after an oral reading of the text. Retellings can be used to evaluate the student\rquote s comprehension. For the oral reading passage, the student is told beforehand that after the reading he or she will be asked to tell all about the story or everything that "you can remember." With both passages, there is no background building and no prereading of the text before the oral reading.

Expression (E)  Spoken language is communicated with pauses, pitch variations, and intonation, providing information necessary to understand the message (Schreiber, 1987). Students with dyslexia, who struggle with word reading, typically lack expressiveness and phrasing. According to Samuels (2002), students are missing an essential link to fluent oral reading if expressiveness is limited or missing during the reading. This takes practice. The repeated reading method mentioned above allows the reader to reach the point of "reading like talking."

Dyslexics may need explicit instruction in attending to the purpose of punctuation marks in creating meaning for the reader.