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28 May 2002

Text Matters in Developing Fluent Reading

Elfrieda H. Hiebert & Charles W. Fisher, University of Michigan

Journal Article
Submitted for Publication

Hiebert, E.H. & Fisher, C.W. Text Matters in Developing Fluent Reading. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Preconvention Institute, “Tools for Global Understanding: Fluency, Comprehension, and Content Knowledge” at the annual meeting of the International Reading Association, April 28, 2002, San Francisco, CA [Paper submitted for publication]


This paper reports on two studies that address the function of text characteristics in the development of reading fluency. In the first study, texts used in the research on which the National Reading Panel (NRP; 2000) based its conclusions about the role of fluency in reading and its sensitivity to practice were grouped in four categories. Three of these text categories (pre-1990 basals, skill builders, and high-interest/low-vocabulary texts) used controlled vocabulary and accounted for 80% of all texts used in the studies reviewed by the NRP. When a variety of features of these controlled vocabulary texts were compared with those in current, mainstream textbook programs, the primary difference was the treatment of critical or hard words. Compared to controlled texts, current mainstream textbook programs have substantially more critical words, and approximately 70% of these critical words appear a single time.

In the second study, the findings from this analysis of NRP-reviewed fluency studies, research on the role of prior knowledge in reading, and research on metacognition were used to design texts called QuickReads. Sixty texts, five pertaining to each of six social studies and six science topics, were written. Ten of the topics (50 texts) were used in a nine-week intervention study with 446 students in grades 2, 3, and 4. The two remaining topics were used for assessment. The QuickReads intervention significantly increased reading fluency for both native English speakers and English language learners.