Fluent Reading is the ability to read smoothly and automatically with expression and attention to punctuation. The speed at which you read is called the ‘Pace’. The goal is to read at just the right pace, I call it the Goldilocks pace, not too fast, not too slow, just right!
Like everything, reading with fluency takes practice, however there is no point in practicing & practicing unless you are practicing the right thing. Reading aloud is right up there with public speaking as one of the biggest fears people have. It’s easy to see why. In many ways they are one and the same thing. Making a mistake while reading aloud in a class full of your friends (& mortal enemies too), is every child’s nightmare. Nobody wants to be laughed or sniggered at.
‘Phrasing’ is chunking words together into meaningful phrases rather than reading, each, word, at, a time.
When reading aloud, it is important to make it interesting for the listener, to engage them, and this is done using your voice. Reading with feeling, changing your voice to match a character, adding excitement or other emotion by moving your voice up and down, or making it louder or softer, adds expression to text. Using intonation and expression adds to reading fluency. In a nutshell, you should read as you would speak.
Punctuation is there for a reason! When reading pay attention to the punctuation. It is there to help you to read aloud with meaning. It is an aid to fluent reading because it tells you where to pause, where to breathe, where to stop, where to change voices and add dramatic effect. You stop for a second at every full stop (period). You have an intake of breath at a comma. Your voice goes up for a question mark. You add excitement when you see an exclamation mark!!! (You read that with excitement, didn’t you?). You can change your voice for a character when you see “inverted commas”.
I think it is really important that before you read aloud, you read the text silently to yourself first. You may only have time to scan it but this gives your brain a chance to see what the text is about. Then when you actually read it aloud, it will feel more familiar and this helps to create fluent reading. If you are helping your child with homework, give them time to read silently first, that way if there are any new or unfamiliar words they can ask about them in advance, rather than getting stuck on them mid-sentence. Stopping to sound out a word while reading interrupts the reading fluency, so a little bit of preparation goes a very long way.
When I was a teenager I used to read at mass and one Sunday I was to read the second reading. Unfortunately, the person was doing the first reading didn’t show up and I got an elbow from my dad for me to go up to the altar and do both readings. Panic! I had only practiced the second one!
Panic turned into sheer horror when I started to read. The second paragraph had lists of names and places and tribes that were just about pronounceable had I practiced them, but now were double Dutch!! I stumbled through the first five or six, feeling my face go redder and redder and then I got some divine inspiration – I just skipped the rest!
A quick glance down the page got me onto the final straight and it was over. Thankfully I was able to read the second lesson with ease, because I had practiced it. I thought my dad would be livid with me but I later realised that nobody (except perhaps the priest, although I couldn’t even be sure about him), noticed that I had left out a huge chunk from the first reading. I think that if I had tried to continue to read that difficult passage I would probably never have read in public again.
So, give your child a chance. To encourage fluent reading allow them to scan and silently read the piece before they read aloud. It will definitely help them to become more fluent readers.
Elaine Sparling is the CEO of the Hummingbird Learning Centre who help adults and children maximise their learning potential. Based in Adare, Co Limerick, she can be contacted on 087-2996054, through their website www.hummingbirdlearning.com or on their Facebook Page