Fluent readers think about what they’re reading, while they’re reading. They’re able to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. Less fluent readers must focus their attention on figuring out individual words, leaving little room for actually understanding the text.
The goal of all reading is comprehension, that is, constructing meaning from the text. Reading aloud can help beginning readers improve their fluency and their comprehension. When reading aloud, fluent readers instinctively read in phrases and add intonation appropriately. Their reading sounds natural as if they’re talking. Young readers should be given opportunities to read aloud, to re-read sentences, and encouraged to make their reading “ sound like talking. ” Practicing oral reading helps beginning readers develop fluency as they move into silent reading.
Because fluent readers aren’t concentrating on decoding words, they can focus their attention on what the text actually means. They recognize words automatically and decode unknown words quickly and efficiently. Fluent readers group words to help them gain meaning from what they’re reading. Their attention is on what the text means. They’re able to make connections between the ideas in the text and their background knowledge.
Punctuation plays an important role in the shift to fluent reading.
Appropriate use of punctuation supports fluent reading. Do your students use punctuation to guide their voice and understanding of the text? Are they reading in meaningful phrased units? To help you determine if your students are using punctuation appropriately copy a page or two from a text that they can already comfortably read (easy range of 94% Oral reading helps improve fluency accuracy or better). Listen carefully, as each reader reads, and mark a copy of the text. Code the text by making a slash between the words where the reader pauses, or takes a breath. Then, analyze the coded reading by asking these questions:
- Was there an appropriate rise or fall of the reader’s voice indicating an understanding of what the various punctuation marks mean?
- Did the reader observe the punctuation at the end of sentences, or did they miss punctuation markers?
- Did they notice ending punctuation in the middle of a line of text, as well as at the end of the line?
- Was there an appropriate pause after a comma?
- How did it sound when they read dialogue?
- Were pauses in reading at meaningful phrased units?
This type of analysis is helpful when developing individualized fluency instruction. Each student is different and each will have distinct struggles. Some readers need additional guidance to notice punctuation marks in the middle of lines of text. Many students benefit from having a teacher model how to read in meaningful phrased units or how the voice sounds when reading each of the punctuation marks. Remember, fluent reading provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension.