Reading Fluency: Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Reading Fluency: Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Posted by Samantha Brooks on 15th Nov 2017

As reading instructors, we have all cringed as we sit and listen to students who stutter and stammer through a reading passage. At the same time, we applaud our students’ deliberate effort as they practice the decoding skills we have taught them. As reading skills develop and decoding skills strengthen, fluency becomes the “elephant in the room”, an obvious problem that everyone hopes will just work itself out.

We all can agree that the goal of reading is to be able to comprehend what we read. A fluent reader who can automatically decode the words on a page is able to give full attention to comprehending the text. Many teachers spend countless instructional hours teaching kids how to explicitly decode words. As students acquire decoding skills, it is vital that we also provide our students ample time to practice speed and smoothness in reading. Fluency is defined as the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. As readers move into upper grades, fluency becomes increasingly important because the volume of reading required escalates dramatically. Furthermore, students who read at a slow or labored rate will have trouble meeting the reading demands of their grade level.

Researchers Stahl and Kuhn (2002) suggest that as soon as students start making good progress with basic decoding, they must be given opportunities to re-read sentences to practice making their reading “sound like talking”. Research has also identified Repeated Reading as the key strategy for improving students’ fluency skills (NICHD, 2000). Repeated Reading gives students the opportunity to read and then re-read the same text, and lets them practice their reading orally with an opportunity to receive corrections and guidance. Repeated Reading is a form of mastery learning. Besides helping students bring words to mastery, repeated reading changes the way students view themselves in relation to the act of reading. This strategy is best to use with small groups or with individual students. The Phonics First® Oral Reading stories work very well with this strategy.

Repeated Reading Steps
1. Teacher: selects a short section of a passage.
2. Student: reads the short section, focusing on decoding.
3. Teacher: reads same section to model fluency.
4. Student: re-reads same section; teacher offers corrective feedback.
5. Student: starts from the beginning and reads the entire passage

To become a confident, successful reader, one must read with fluency. Our students need to be immersed in reading practice, but just asking them to read more often doesn’t work. Fluency will not develop unless we provide opportunity for purposeful practice while also explicitly teach developing readers how to read fluently, step by step.


Samantha Brooks, MSE CDP
Samantha is an Instructor at Brainspring’s Educators Academy.

Brainspring’s Educator Academy helps teachers bring Orton-Gillingham based multisensory instruction to the classroom. Our nationally accredited Phonics First® curriculum helps transform struggling readers into skilled learners with an effective, fun, multisensory approach.
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