When was the last time you stopped to think about the discreet steps involved in reading? For most of us, we read like we breathe. We don’t consciously will ourselves to inhale and exhale. Nor do we notice our cognitive processing of letters, sounds and meanings. Yet there is a specific progression of skill building that must be negotiated when learning to read. First comes the association of sounds to letters. Then the child learns to string sounds together to sound out words; remember “Hooked on Phonics?” The next step is to connect the words together in a fluid progression; and then finally, comprehension — understanding the meaning and ideas behind the connected words.
Reading fluency – the ability to read connected text smoothly, rapidly, effortlessly and with appropriate expression – is an essential building block in the development of strong readers. But for many students, the progression from focusing on individual words to fluent reading is a giant leap indeed. Learning differences, English language acquisition, even a lack of reading role models at home can impact a child’s ability to effectively negotiate this developmental step.
One instructional strategy that supports the development of reading fluency is reading aloud. Hearing a text read with appropriate speed and expression, while the student follows the text, provides the student with a model for reading effectiveness. Reading aloud with your student, allows the student to practice and copy proper pacing, while minimizing their apprehension about making mistakes. Finally, having your student read aloud on his/her own, forces the brain to hear, as well as see the words on the page. And hearing where they falter motivates self-correction, builds confidence and strengthens reading fluency.
Last year I coached two sixth grade girls who struggled to master fluency. One started the year by telling me she hated to read out loud. Week after week we read together, sometimes in unison, sometimes having them echo me, and sometimes they read aloud solo. In the middle of the year, they set a goal for themselves to record a book on CD. They selected the story they wanted to record and we practiced hard for 4 weeks, working on pacing, expression and smooth delivery. Finally the day came to record. They were giddy with expectation. At the end of the recording session we played it back. They were amazed and proud of what they had accomplished.
This year, through the generous funding of IMPACT Austin, our “Reading Stars” program will be offered in middle school classrooms, providing 6th graders a chance to make their own books on CD. These recordings will be distributed to elementary schools to encourage a love of reading and a model of strong middle school readers. Next time you’re reading with a young child, encourage them to read aloud.