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7 Nov 2006

Becoming Fluent: What Difference Do Texts Make?

Elfrieda H. Hiebert, University of California, Berkeley

Book Chapter

Hiebert, E.H. (2006). Becoming fluent: What difference do texts make? In S.J. Samuels & A.E. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading fluency. (pp. 204-226). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


The interaction between reader and text is at the center of definitions of reading comprehension (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002). The common perspective is that when teachers are there to scaffold and guide the interaction, features of texts, such as engagingness, content, and length, are as important in determining text difficulty as the ability of children to read the words (Fountas & Pinnell, 1999; Hoffman & Schallert, 2004). Although teachers have a central role in guiding the interactions of beginning and struggling readers with texts, the development of independent reading also requires that children read many texts with minimal teacher support. An underlying premise of this chapter is that the word-level features of texts that beginning and struggling readers are given to read will support the fluency that contributes to meaningful comprehension of text. Just as teachers scaffold reading events, the characteristics of texts serve to scaffold the reading act for beginning and struggling readers.

A second premise of this chapter is that the selections in reading textbooks offered by major U.S. publishers for primary-grade instruction have not been chosen with fluency development in mind. As demonstrated by several researchers (Foorman, Francis, Davidson, Harm, & Griffin, 2004; Hiebert, 2005a; Hoffman, Sailors, & Patterson, 2002), the word-level features of instructional texts for the primary grades—during which period the foundations of fluency are laid—have changed substantially over the past 15 to 20 years. The nature of these changes can be seen in the first two excerpts in Table 10.1.