Reading fluency includes how quickly and how accurately a reader processes written language. Think of fluency in terms of three Ps: pacing, punctuation and personality. When a teacher assesses a reader’s fluency, he listens to the speed, or pace, with which the student reads and notices if the student is pausing at the appropriate punctuation. Personality, also known as prosody, refers to the inflections that a reader gives when he reads aloud. The instructor can determine if the reader picks up on the author’s tone or if the reader lacks understanding, which often leads to reading like a robot.
Foundations of Fluency
Several reading and language skills make up the building blocks upon which reading fluency stands. When educators suspect that a student struggles in the area of fluency, they must assess other basic reading skills to determine the appropriate intervention. Reading skills that are the foundation to fluency include phonics, decoding and basic comprehension.
Phonics and Decoding
Phonics refers to the understanding that written individual letters and letter combinations correspond to particular sounds. Students with a command of phonics know that the vowel combination “ai” between two consonants creates the long “a” sound. When a student has these rules mastered to automaticity, she can then apply these rules to unknown words. Decoding is the breaking down of unknown words by sound. Kylene Beers, in her book "When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do," explains: “When teachers say a student can’t decode, that means the student can’t recognize words via sounding out.” Phonics is the foundational skill upon which decoding rests, and decoding is in turn the skill necessary for a student to be fluent.
Instructors often view reading skills in terms of a pyramid with fluency existing as a building block for comprehension. Doug Lemov argues that the opposite is true, claiming that a basic level of comprehension must exist for a reader to be fluent. In his book, "Teach Like a Champion," Lemov says that “to read a text expressively, the reader has to comprehend it.” If the reader does not understand what a text is saying, then reading with expression, inflection and personality are all impossibilities. Teachers must acknowledge that a level of comprehension must come for a reader to be fluent instead of assuming that comprehension occurs once a reader is fluent.
Fluent readers accurately decode new words and determine the author's tone and the mood of the text while reading with appropriate speed and personality. For example, when a fluent reader reads "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss, he understands the perspective of each character. A fluent reader will read aloud Sam's dialogue with excitement and perseverance while taking on the feeling of exasperation in the lines: "I do not like them, Sam-I-Am. I do not like green eggs and ham." The repetition, punctuation and illustrations in this children's book allow the reader to make inferences about the characters and read each perspective appropriately.