Learning Difficulties and Reading Fluency
Students with reading difficulties have an inability to read fluently as compared to their more skilled peers. They are unable to read passages smoothly with appropriate expression. They can also experience problems when it comes to comprehending what they are reading. In fact, reading fluency has a critical link between decoding ability and comprehension. When more effort is expended on identifying what is being read, there is less attention available for comprehension.
When students with learning difficulties spend a large amount of attention in order to identify most of the words they are reading, this means they will have more difficulty constructing meaning from what is being read. Prosody also plays a part here, which is about expressive reading involving pitch, stress and the rise and fall of how we read. When we use this accurately, it enables us to determine shades of meaning that might not immediately be apparent in the written text. Students that experience reading difficulties often lack these skills and aren’t always taught how to grasp them.
A program that incorporates both accuracy and automaticity, along with prosody in constructing meaning from connected text is crucial for students that struggle with reading fluency.
What Makes an Effective Reading Fluency Program?
An effective reading fluency program for children with learning difficulties is one that uses decoding instruction that takes place in context using both supported oral reading as well as silent reading. If this pe of practice is not used, students may become good at identifying words in isolation, but may not be able to transfer that ability to their actual reading. Combining this approach with prosody enables students to have a more nuanced understanding of what they are reading. This gives them an opportunity to develop an awareness of the importance of appropriate expression and phrasing. As a result, it can prevent them from perhaps thinking that fluent reading means fast reading and the faster the better. This takes away the reading process being seen as a race and will assist in the development of their comprehension.
Oral Reading Rate
It’s worth noting that an overemphasis on oral reading rate may be an unintended consequence of particular assessment tools that emphasis correct words per minute without regard to expression or the need to vary reading rate according to the difficulty of the text. Therefore, while it is crucial for students with reading difficulties to work on their automatic word recognition, it is equally important that this not be the only goal. Students should be made aware that fluency consists of smooth, accurate and expressive reading at a rate that replicates that of oral language.
Reading fluency instruction should be based on the principles of modelling, providing opportunities for practice, providing appropriate support and assistance and the demonstration of appropriate phrasing. These form the basis of a range of fluency strategies that are effective for all learners and the integration of these principles into instruction for students with reading difficulties is critical to their development.
Looking at the principle of modelling, this involves modelling expressive reading which provides students with a sense of what good oral reading should sound like, along with instilling a love of reading. This can happen across all student age groups, where selections can be made from a range of genres which increases the likelihood that students will find something that is engaging. By taking turns in reading, students with learning difficulties aren’t overwhelmed by the text and can spend time comprehending the story or text as well. Comics can be a useful choice, especially for those students who are more visual learners.
The student can choose to be one character with the teacher/parent choosing another character, or they can alternate their reading page by page. Students can see where one character stops talking and another begins which can enhance the awareness and importance of phrasing and phrasal boundaries. Comics also expose students to a range of figurative language as well, such as alliteration and onomatopoeia.
Helping Children With Reading Fluency
These approaches are effective in assisting students with reading difficulties to become more fluent and effective readers. Appropriate reading fluency skills are more effective when they are combined within meaningful literacy contexts while reading connected text. Once students are able to make meaning from what they are reading, they will see reading as less of a chore and something to be avoided, to a skill that can provide enjoyment and derive pleasure from.