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How to Develop Strong Readers with Reading Fluency

How Fluency Assessments Develop Strong Readers

Regular reading assessments can seem like a waste of time – especially when they require individual student focus. But when done correctly, assessments that focus on both comprehension and fluency can help you target your instruction more effectively so you can maximize your students’ reading potential. Reading assessments can also provide you with progress monitoring data that will allow you to track student growth and celebrate your students’ success. Improving reading fluency can be groundbreaking for young readers. I learned this first-hand in my own class, and want to share my strategies with you.

Using Assessments in My Own Classroom

When I started teaching over ten years ago, we were required to start the year with more student assessments than I could count. We had to have DRAs completed for each student by a certain date. I remember feeling overwhelmed. DRAs took FOREVER to administer since they required testing every student individually. And it felt like a waste because, at the time, I had no clue how to use the results effectively.

Eventually, a few years later, we were no longer required to administer DRAs. I was super excited because I could have the time back to actually teach rather than assess my students.

However, I quickly realized that, without the DRA assessments, I had no way to assess my students’ reading levels or monitor their progress.

My Fluency and Progress Monitoring Strategy

I realized it was vital for my students to have regular fluency and comprehension assessments. That’s when I decided to create my own fluency and comprehension checks. Regular fluency and comprehension checks are important for progress monitoring. They can be completed very quickly and can help teachers guide instruction while students track their progress.

What is Reading Fluency?

Reading fluency is the ability to read easily and accurately.

Fluency is composed of three key elements:

  • Accuracy
  • Rate / speed
  • Expression

Why is Fluency Important?

Research shows fluency is directly related to comprehension. For students to become proficient readers, they must be able to read fluently so they can pay attention to text meaning.

How to Teach Fluency Successfully

Some students, many who are avid readers by choice, learn fluency on their own. Other students need explicit teaching to develop fluency skills. If your student’s fluency is not improving, these are the methods you can integrate into your teaching:

  1. Model Fluent Reading: Regularly conduct read alouds, teacher-assisted reading, and listening centers where students follow along with a copy of the text while listening to a recording.
  2. Repeated Reading: Give students opportunities to read the same text over and over. When students engage in repeated readings, their rate increases. Students can read aloud to themselves, to a partner who times them, or even record their reading and listen back.
  3. Progress Monitoring: Regularly assess students and work together to develop goals. If a student’s rate is low for a passage, set a Words Per Minute (WPM) goal and have students practice rereading the text and timing themselves. Then, reassess the student to see if their rate has improved. Progress monitoring helps students become accountable and motivates them.

How to Measure Fluency:

  1. Passage Selection: Select a passage on your student’s independent reading level. This should be a text they have never seen.
  2. Set Expectations: Tell the student that you will be checking their fluency by listening to them read aloud and timing them. Afterward, they will answer a few questions.
  3. Introduce the Passage: Give students a copy of the student passage. Fold the paper so they do not see the questions.
  4. Time to Read: Tell students to start at the title when they are ready.
  5. Follow Along: Follow along with your recording sheet. Start the timer once the student gets to the first word in the passage, not including the title.
  6. Notate Mistakes: Mark student errors, reversals, and substitutions as shown below:
    • If the student substitutes or mispronounces a word, put a line through the word and write the word the student said above it.
    • If the student does not correctly say the word within 3 seconds, say the word for the student and circle the word to mark it as incorrect.
    • Self-corrections and repetitions are not marked as errors.
  1. Mark 1 Minute: At 1 minute, put a bracket after the last word the student read. Note: Student should continue to read the passage until they have finished.
  2. Tally Components: Check off fluency components you observed.
  3. Review Comprehension Questions: Ask students the comprehension questions. You can have the students answer the questions orally, or have students write the answers. It is important to note that the main point is to assess their fluency and comprehension, so if writing answers will impede the students score, they should be asked and answered orally.
  4. Calculate Data: Calculate the WPM, Accuracy, and Comprehension scores.
  5. Review & Adjust Independent Reading Level: Use the provided chart to determine whether to adjust the student’s independent reading level.

Table showing Recommended Oral Reading Rates for Fluency

How to Mark Mistakes

Errors (E)

      • Student substitutes one word for another
      • Omits a word
      • Inserts a word
      • Is told a word
      • Mispronounces a word
      • Proper nouns are only counted as 1 error. Other words are counted as an error each time.

Self-Correction (SC) – When a student realizes his or her mistake and corrects it. This is not marked as an error.

Repetition (R) – When a student repeats a word, phrase, or line. This is not marked as an error.

Table showing recommended accuracy percentages for student reading

Fluency reading passage about Pets with fluency scoring table on bottom of page. A second passage about pets is behind it, but this one has comprehension questions. A clock sits on the right over a yellow and purple background.

How Often to Monitor Progress of Fluency

Improving reading fluency requires a continued effort. I recommend monitoring progress for fluency once per month. For students who are below grade-level expectations, I recommend a fluency check more frequently. Once students are reading well above grade level with superior fluency, this skill can be assessed less frequently because their levels will not change as drastically or frequently.

My Fluency Resources

I have created fluency packets for 1st-5th grade to help teachers easily track reading level and fluency progress. This makes it easy for you to have all of the passages you will need for the entire year in one place! All passages have certified Lexile measures, which helps ensure you are tracking progress accurately and using the ideal reading level for each student.

I recommend you create a binder with all of the leveled passages. Assemble them in order, putting them in clear plastic pockets so you can reuse the student pages over and over.

Fluency Progress Monitoring product cover for first grade showing reading fluency productFluency Progress Monitoring product cover for first grade showing reading fluency productFluency Progress Monitoring product cover for fourth and fifth grade showing reading fluency productFluency Progress Monitoring product bundle for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th grade showing reading fluency product

If the majority of your students are reading on grade level, the passages for your respective grade-level will be all you need for the entire year (1st grade, 2nd & 3rd grade, 4th & 5th grade); however, if your class is like mine and you have a wide range of reading levels, the bundle may be best for you.

How to Use This Resource Beyond Progress Monitoring

For students who struggle with fluency, I recommend you give them a hard copy of the passage you used to assess them. Have the student practice reading the passage silently, out loud to themselves, out loud to peers and family, and even record themselves reading. Have students time 3 readings to see if their reading fluency is improving. At the next fluency progress monitoring check, have the student share their progress with you.

*For assessment and progress monitoring purposes, I always recommend a new text the student has not seen. This will provide you with a more accurate reflection of their reading fluency and whether they are improving.

Comments, Suggestions, Feedback?

I’d love to see how this works for you! Let me know your comments and suggestions, and I’d love to hear how it works in your classroom or even see photos of you using fluency activities in your class!

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