Building Fluency

Fluency is a skill that can be and should be taught. In 1997, The National Reading Panel which included guru Marilyn Jagar Adams stated, “... [F]luency is the ability to recognize words easily with greater speed, accuracy and expression...children gain fluency by practicing.

Adapted Fluency Probe
Letter Fluency Probe
Fluency can be taught using games, activities and fluency probes. The most important part of teaching fluency is to remove fluency from a skill that is not mastered at the knowledge level. For example, Joey knows only the letters A z O w X x and Y. So to help Joey become fluent, I would certainly not present him with the entire fluency probe as pictured, I would create a probe with the letters he knows (and add some upper and lowercase versions if they are the same such as Xx and Oo). Once Joey tastes the success of fluency, he will become faster and faster and happier and happier. As with any other skill, teaching at the zone of proximal development is key to the success.

Another way to increase Joey’s fluency is to add additional fluency activities such as lining up toys or other common objects and naming them quickly. Fluency probes with colors and other common objects also build fluency, confidence, and success.

So if you have a student that is struggling with fluency, try developing his/her fluency separately from the reading task (remember that fluency is a task in its own right). Practice fluency with a fluency probe that you are confident he or she can be fluent at. Let him or her feel success. Older kids also love to try color and object fluency probes or simple sight word probes. 

Another issue to remember is fluency is not speed. Have you ever heard a student read so fast that you can’t even understand him, and then worse yet, he can’t recall what he has just read? A great way to help students understand the difference between fluent reading and super-speed garble is to tape the student reading. Let him listen to the difference between fluent reading and speedy garble. 

If you are interested, here are a two 1 minute fluency probes you might wish to try to help your students on the way to automaticity.