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7 Jan 2014

A Focus on Fluency

Jean Osborn, Fran Lehr, & Elfrieda H. Hiebert

Osborn, J., Lehr, F., & Hiebert, E.H., (2003). A focus on fluency. Honolulu, HI: Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.

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A Focus on Fluency is the first in the Research-Based Practices in Early Reading series published by the Regional Educational Laboratory at Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.

It’s the beginning of the school year, and Mrs. Oshiro wants to know how fluently her 2nd graders read. One by one, she sits with students and listens carefully as each child reads aloud a passage from a story the class has already read and discussed. The first student, Kendra, reads the passage quickly and, it seems, effortlessly. She reads each word correctly. She pauses briefly after commas and at the ends of sentences. She reads with expression, as if she is talking. After the reading, Mrs. Oshiro asks Kendra a few questions to make sure that she has understood what she read.

 Mrs. Oshiro next sits with Samantha to read the passage. Unlike Kendra, Samantha struggles with the reading. She reads the passage in a slow and labored fashion. She stumbles over the pronunciation of some words, reads some words twice, skips others altogether, and occasionally substitutes different words for the words in the story. Although she pauses before pronouncing many of the words, she doesn’t pause at commas and periods. When Mrs. Oshiro tells her to stop reading, Samantha sighs in relief.

Mrs. Oshiro faces a task that confronts most teachers: how to support students such as Samantha in becoming fluent readers. While instruction over the year needs to encompass aspects of reading such as phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, and comprehension, work to build fluency is especially important for struggling readers. Consequences can be dire for students who fail to become fluent readers: Students who do not develop reading fluency, regardless of how bright they are, are likely to remain poor readers throughout their lives (National Reading Panel, 2000).

Fluency, more often than not, has been neglected in reading instruction. Until recently, for example, most commercially published reading programs did not specifically include fluency instruction. This lack of instructional focus may help explain one of the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (Pinnell et al., 1995): Forty-four percent of American 4th grade students cannot read fluently, even when they read grade level stories aloud under supportive testing conditions. Fortunately, researchers and practitioners have begun to focus increased attention on fluency and its contribution to reading success. The purpose of this report is to take a look at what research tells us about the importance of fluency and the factors that affect its development, as well as what is now known about effective fluency instruction.