It’s no secret that we often have students who don’t come to us as fluent readers. This creates a difficult problem for those of us teaching in secondary schools. While we are content experts, most of us do not have extensive training to help teach kids how to read. This includes ELA teachers; they are experts in literature and composition – but most have not studied the complexities of helping students learn to read.
Recently, I have been reading Jennifer Serravallo’s, The Reading Strategies Book (2015). Serravallo describes many simple strategies that teachers in any subject area can embed in their classroom to help explicitly teach students skills that will help them reach a variety of reading goals.
Just Try It Tuesday: Reading Strategies for all Subjects: this post, I just want to share a few regarding fluency. I am no reading specialist, but it seems to me that in order for students to close-read complex texts, it is necessary for them to first develop fluency. In most cases – students reach secondary schools with the ability to at least decode text, but many struggle to read with fluency.
Serravallo lists the following of skills related to fluency:
- Phrasing or parsing
- Expression or tone
Failure to be proficient in any of the can create a barrier for comprehension.
So what can teachers do?
- Understand that to some limited extent that we can all be “reading teachers.”
- Reflect on our own reading habits/strategies and discuss with students the processes we use to understand complex text.
- Attempt to identify specific reading skills students may lack (although deferring to a reading specialist would help here).
- Teach, model, and practice, reading fluency using strategies.
- Attach a specific reading strategy for students to practice each time you send them into a text.
3 Reading strategies to help students build fluency:
- Avoid reading one word at a time
Serravallo refers to this as “robot reading.” We have all heard students when asked to read aloud do this. Their reading is choppy and difficult to follow along with. If they are reading this way out loud, there is a good chance that the reading in their head is just as choppy and incomprehensible. Serravallo suggests students practice improving their phrasing by “scooping up a few words at a time” and reading them all in one breath.
This may seem simple and obvious to fluent readers – but this skill does not develop on its own. Struggling readers are just trying to get through the text one word at a time. It’s no wonder many often read for awhile without really absorbing any of the content. Student’s need to practice fitting words together into meaningful phrases, and we can help them with modeling and purposeful practice.
2. Re-read for automaticity:
The next strategy is helpful when students encounter words or phrases that cause them to stumble or pause while reading. You probably know the feeling when you come across a word your not sure how to pronounce, your rhythm is broken. Serravallo suggests that when these pauses occur it is best to “go back to the beginning” and “read the word right away like it’s a word you’ve always known.”
In order to aid comprehension, it is helpful for students to read complete thoughts with interruption. Everyone will encounter words/phrases that may cause us to stop and sound out words, but once we determine the word going back and reading it properly within the context will help readers attach meaning to it. Re-reading for a specific purpose also gives students a go to strategy when they encounter difficult words.
3. Be mindful of pauses:
Serravallo explains “The place you pause within a sentence can change the meaning of that sentence.” She suggests that when the meaning sounds “off” to readers that they should go back and changed where they paused. This reminds me of one of my favorite lessons on the importance of punctuation. I would use this cartoon:
Depending on where you pause can drastically change the meaning of this sentence. Being cognizant of pauses forces students to take into consideration the larger context of what they are reading in order to decide exactly where to pause.
Just Try-It: Incorporate reading strategies into your classroom each. Discuss and model reading strategies to help demystify the reading process for kids.
Reading through Serravallo’s suggestions made me acutely aware of many missed opportunities I’ve had to help provide students with specific reading tips that will build their fluency, and ultimately increase their comprehension. While it’s true time is limited due to the large amounts of content we need students to learn in such a limited time. I would argue that taking a few minutes before diving into reading the text to explain a specific reading strategy is time well spent.
If students are exposed to these types of strategy multiple times a day these skills will eventually become a habit for our students and increase the chances that they will be able to read-to-learn across multiple disciplines.