What is fluency?

Fluency is reading expressively with accuracy and at a good pace. It is one of the key components of learning to read. It is the progression from developing automatic word recognition skills to comprehension.

Dr Deslea Konza defines fluency as the ability to read text accurately, quickly and with expression. Dr Tim Rasinski explains it as ‘reading with and for meaning’.

Fluency is made up of three core components:

  • Accuracy is the reading of words correctly.
  • Rate is the speed of word identification. It is usually recorded as words read per minute.
  • Prosody is the sound of the reading. This can be explained as the expression used when reading.

The following video discusses the three components of fluency.

Components of fluency

Obviously to be fluent, you need the other things to be in place. So you can't be fluent if you, if you're not accurate. 'cause as soon as you have to stop in order to decode a word, you are not fluent anymore, are you? That's so, you've gotta be accurate. You have to read at a certain rate. Now this is not written down anywhere, but it's quite an important thing to know unless kids are reading or unless you are reading at a rate of at least 90 words a minute, you are not reading quickly enough to support comprehension because you're working memory can't support such slower reading than that.

You would forget what was at the beginning of the sentence. But by the time you got to the end, let alone the beginning of the paragraph, let alone the beginning of the page or the chapter. So we need to have this information coming in at a certain rate for our working memory to be able to support us in our reading comprehension.And if we're reading aloud, obviously prosody, intonation expression is important as well.

All of those things contribute to fluency. If we, we, if we are not reading fluently, we can't really understand if, if we, if we are not chunking phrases together in the correct way, we, we can't understand it and we can't understand it unless, unless we are chunking things in, in the, in the appropriate way. It, it is inextricably entwined with comprehension.

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© State of New South Wales (Department of Education) (unless indicated otherwise), 2022

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· The Big Six by Deslea Konza, used with permission (for use in this video only). Permission will need to be obtained from third parties to re-use their material.

Why is fluency important?

Fluent reading acts as a bridge between automatic word reading and comprehension. It is the link between reading words quickly and effortlessly, and understanding and comprehending text.

Watch Dr Tim Rasinski discussing the definition of reading fluency, based on his research.

Dr Tim Rasinski and reading fluency

Dr. Tim Rosinski: Hi, this is Dr. Tim Rosinski. I'm often asked to define reading fluency, and I'd like to give you my take on it. First of all, let me tell you what fluency is not. It's not reading fast, nor is it making kids read fast. When we try to make kids read fast, what we're trying, what we're actually doing is we're putting up a barrier for comprehension. When students reading as fast as they can, they're not really really reading for meaning.

So let's look at the two components, the two true components of fluency. First is this notion of automaticity in word recognition, the ability to recognise words effortlessly. When students do that, when readers do that, they're not really sounding out words. Consciously those words are automatically recognised. And what that means then is that a reader can devote his or her limited amount of cognitive energy to that more important task, which is comprehension.

If you're not automatic and you're reading the words in the text, but you're using up a lot of energy as energy, that can't be used toward making meaning. The second part of fluency, and this is the one that often gets neglected, is what's called expression or prosody. It's the idea of reading out, out reading it aloud with good expression or meaning that reflects the meaning of the text there. What we know from the research is that students who when they read orally read with good expression, when they read silently, they tend to be our best comprehenders. Because if you think about it, to be able to read with good expression, you really have to monitor the meaning of the text.

And so these two components are the, the things we wanna work on in developing fluency with kids, reading with expression, and reading words automatically. And that is done primarily through lots and lots of reading practice.

Note: This video has been reproduced and made available for copying and communication by NSW Department of Education for its educational purposes. Permission will need to be obtained from Dr Tim Rasinski to re-use their material.

The reader needs to have developed the skills of phonological awareness, phonics and have a good sight word vocabulary to develop into a fluent reader. These foundational skills of word recognition need to be recalled quickly to the point of automatic recall. This automaticity of decoding and recall of words is to become unconscious. This then allows the cognitive space for the reader to access the meaning of the text.

This animation explores the journey of a reader as they develop fluency.

Developing fluency - the journey of a reader

Fluency is the critical bridge between developing automatic word recognition skills, and understanding and comprehending texts. For readers to become fluent readers, they have to develop accurate, effortless, and automatic word recognition skills. Developing the essential skills that underpin automatic word recognition are important. The essential skills include phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonic knowledge.

As these skills support word recognition, all of these skills need to develop over time to the point of automaticity. This automaticity helps to free up the cognitive load for students to apply their language comprehension skills to texts. These language comprehension skills include background knowledge, vocabulary knowledge of language structures, and the ability to reason and infer the reader commences their journey along the road.

This is a progression from surface to deep understanding through wide and deep reading. The beginning of fluency is built on the foundation of the effortless and automatic word recognition skills that are independently controlled by the reader. Fluency is reading with and reading for meaning. So it is not just reading with speed or accuracy. It is the integration of speed, accuracy, and prosody.

Prosody is reading with expression and phrasing that demonstrates the reader's understanding of the text. Fluency needs to be taught. The role of explicit instruction is important. Explicit instruction involves carefully planning for teaching and includes opportunities to read widely and deeply on texts that the reader has an interest or motivation to read and has some background Knowledge of wide reading includes different modes, topics, and genres, while deep reading includes repeated reading of texts.

An example of wide reading can be a text read aloud, followed by explicit instruction and discussion. It can also be reading a variety of books for pleasure. The outcome is for developing and practicing strategies and skills across a variety of rich language texts.

The reader develops from surface to deep understanding of text alongside increasing reading stamina. Deep reading refers to repeated reading of the same text. It supports the reader in becoming increasingly automatic and fluent on each read. The reader develops an improved awareness of fluency on each read. This helps the reader to improve reading the current text and supports the reader to flexibly apply to other texts they read.

As the reader develops fluency through wide and deep reading, the volume of texts that the reader engages with increases fluent readers tend to read more. This is called the math effect. Reading more helps the reader to get better. An example of the rich become richer fluency develops over time, along with increased knowledge of text complexity and language comprehension skills.

The reader is flexible and adaptable to applying these skills to the challenges of new texts. Fluency is the skill that helps readers to make books come alive.

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How to teach fluency

Explicit teaching and instruction are required in order to support children in becoming a fluent reader. Types of instruction include modelled fluent reading by the teacher or another fluent reader, repeated reading of texts, paired reading, wide and deep reading across many types of texts.

Teaching strategies include repeated readings of class texts and poems, performances such as Reader’s Theatre, singing songs and sharing riddles and jokes.

In the following video, a teacher reflects on how she adapted her daily teaching to include explicit fluency instruction.

Explicit fluency instruction

I felt to develop fluency in my classroom was that I needed to model effective reading and also build the children's confidence during reading. So that was my number one goal n teaching fluency. Um, and also just having a better understanding of how and what to use when teaching fluency in the classroom. I, in, in all the years that I have taught, I have never assessed fluency, so that was definitely something that I have learned.

What is fluency, how to teach fluency, but also assessing if children are fluent and that they can comprehend the text and read in a fluent manner. So I have found that using Poetry and Reader's Theatre, my children have been very engaged compared to just reading around a round table. And it was easier to teach fluency through poetry and through Reader's Theatre.

Um, because the children really enjoyed it. I had to be really explicit with the way I was teaching it, um, because we can't just assume that they know what expression is or being fluent or being phrased because they don't understand what those things are unless you explicitly teach it to them. Um, so I did explicitly teach using expression or explicitly teach reading to the full stop and demonstrate, and also make them aware of what non-fluent reading sounds like and how they would fix it.

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In the following video, a teacher is working with a student on the rhythm of reading.

Implementing fluency instruction

Teacher: So what we're going to do is look at that sentence and think about how we say it for rhythm. Okay? So when we are talking about rhythm, we're talking about how the reading sounds.

Teacher: So if I read it like this, not by the hair of my chin, chin, chin. Do you think that sounds like good reading? No. What did it sound like to you?

Student: A bit boring.

Teacher: A bit boring. And why was it boring?

Student: Because you didn't, um, yell at the end because it's has an exclamation mark.

Teacher: I didn't yell at the end. What else didn't I do?

Student: You didn't read with expression?

Teacher: Mm, I didn't read with expression. What did I do when I went? Not by the hair of my chin, chin, chin.

Student: You are supposed to go a bit faster in the chin. Chin.

Teacher: Oh, bit faster. So like chin, chin?

Student: Yeah.

Teacher: Ah, putting the words together, that's what rhythm is. It's putting words together that sound right together. So you already know all about that. The first time I read it, it sounded boring because I was just reading one word at a time. But what we want to do is learn how to put words together when we're reading. So it sounds like good reading. Okay? So that, that's what we call the rhythm of reading. So can you teach me how to read this sentence with a bit of rhythm?

Student: Mm-Hmm.

Teacher: Alright, off you go.

Student: Not by the hair of my chin, chin, chin.

Teacher: Ah, You know what I heard when you were reading? I heard rhythm because you went not by the hair of my chin, chin, chin. See how I put little breaks in there? That's where you took breaks when you were reading. Actually I think you might have done another break. Can you read that again for me?

Student: Not by the hair of my chin, chin, chin.

Teacher: Did you hear where you had another break? You said not. Not by the hair of my chin, chin, chin. Do you want to try that again?

Student: Mm-Hmm. Not by the hair of my chin, chin, chin.

Teacher: Did you hear yourself reading with rhythm?

Teacher: I did as well. And it sounded like talking too.

© State of New South Wales (Department of Education) (unless indicated otherwise), 2022

Classroom resources

Resources to support explicit Fluency instruction are available in the Universal Resources Hub (staff only).

The Fluency assessment tool (staff only) enables teachers to gain an insight into the oral reading fluency ability of their students.

Professional learning

Effective reading: Fluency

Professional learning opportunities in the practical application of evidence-based teaching of reading are available at Literacy and numeracy professional learning.


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