Reading fluency has always been a passion of mine. Not only because I enjoy listening to the fluent reader, but because of its seemingly devious place in reading programs. The meaning has been disputed, misinterpreted, and applied in extreme variance. Not only has it been deceitful, but also somewhat transparent; it has always existed as a staple of reading abilities, but not always acknowledged (Fresch, 2008).
Up until the 20th Century, reading aloud was assessed by the proper elocution. No one cared if the reader understood what was being said, only if the correct emphasis was given in the correct way, and in the correct place (Hyatt, 1943). Although natural intonation comes from comprehension, a reader can be coached to belt out pleasing elocution (Goodman, 1964). This belief reminds of my role as Lysander (I had tried out for “The Wall”; apparently they had other plans for me) in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream. I was wooing and scorning all over that stage, but never understood a lick of it until I saw the made for TV movie when I was a freshman in high school. One reason I may not have ever read the play again is because I did not enjoy reading; granted, people enjoyed watching it, especially when I accidentally sheathed the sword in my tights. In fact, after the place was over, I never wanted to see that seemingly foreign script again.
Soon enough fluency found its place in the reading program despite the trend of consistent silent reading, and manifested in Round Robin Reading. Rasinski & Mraz (Fresch, 2008) explain it well; not surprisingly, even using deficient inferring skills, one can discern they do not care for the strategy and claim no research supports it. I definitely agree. I remember in fourth grade (one year before my debut as Lysander the tight wearing scorner) teacher’s assigned paragraphs. All I did was rigorously practice the upcoming paragraph to avoid being teased for poor elocution. Which makes me wonder; how far had we come from the 19th Century? Once again, comprehension was not on my mind, only avoiding discrimination and calling out some words in a respectfully smooth manner. Is this reading fluency?
Thank goodness for the late seventies and early eighties. The term fluency was being used with reading automaticity and not reading entertainment (Samuels, 1979). Even more exciting news for the elastic term fluency came when Stanovich (1980) added the dimension of word processing. That’s right, fluency was not just word calling, but needed to be seen as an integral part of the reading process. Bring back Round Robin Reading because we are getting to close to the efficient utilization of the tricky history of fluency. Although my previous comment was in jest, I still see the white knuckles of obstinate teachers as they cling to Round Robin Reading—blood shot eyes from their constant battle with reality and research.
Because of the determination of researches in fluency, fluency instruction was born. Of course, the hard part was over. They had defined it as somewhere beyond word recognition, determined assessment methods, and found that it was comprised of prosody, word recognition, and reading rate. The only thing left was to find proper means of instruction.
The irony of this discourse is that my favorite means of fluency instruction manifests in Reader’s Theater. It is a fun way that is performance oriented to get students to engage in repeated readings, and dive into comprehension with a final purpose in mind---to entertain. This is ironic because it is line with ancient beliefs that elocution was most important. However, reading fluency’s rigorous path to stardom has allowed it to accumulate a vast encompassing of characteristics that truly define a fluent reader beyond simple elocution. Reading fluency may have seemed to come full circle, but its meaning and application has picked up a lot on its travels.
Fresch, M.J. (Ed.). (2008). An Essential History of Current Reading Practices. Newark: International Reading Association, Inc.
Goodman, K. (1964). A Linguistic Study of Cues and Miscues in Reading. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 015 087).
Hyatt, A.V. (1943). The place of oral reading in the school program: Its history and development from 1880-1941. New York: Teachers College Press
Samuels, S. J. (1979). The method of repeated readings. The Reading Teacher, 32, 403-408
Stanovich, K. (1980). Toward an Interactive-Compensatory Model of Individual Differences in the Development of Reading Fluency. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 32-71.