Can Reading Fluency Be Achieved through Strategies?

Introduction

Education is a very important aspect of one’s life. To this lies the future growth and success of everybody. However, there are various challenges to successful education.

One big challenge is the capability of the educators or educational policy makers to motivate the students to learn. To facilitate learning, it is not enough that the teachers know how to teach the subjects. It is also very important that the teachers know how to keep and maintain the power of enhancing the students’ ability and skills through motivation (Bruner, 1996). If the teachers do not possess such skills, students’ successful education could be at stake.

Another challenge in the conduct of successful learning is the proper or improper use instructional designs and materials. Improper use of instructional designs may lead to problems pertaining to the students’ cultural and cross cultural diversity, language barrier, unavailability of resources (such as financial sources) and lower level of interest towards the subject matter. Meanwhile, the use of different visual aids, and/or other form instructional materials also greatly affects the students’ learning. If an educational institution could not provide appropriate teaching materials and equipments, and a place conducive to learning, facilitation of education will never be successful (Bruner, 1996).

In connection with all of these, there have been recent studies conducted which reveal that reading and comprehension is becoming a challenging tasks for the teachers. Students who are in the primary years of school are already being taught for proper reading and comprehension, especially during the levels 1 and two. However, various research giving bodies have reported that an increasing number of students are now in the higher level of education but their reading and comprehension skills are not equivalent to their level of education.

Purpose of the study

This paper is aimed at analyzing if different reading strategies/techniques improve students’ reading ability/fluency. Specifically, this paper is intended for:

  • Identifying the needs of students to improve their reading fluency
  • Categorizing the different approach being used concerning reading and comprehension

Increased Students’ Reading Fluency: How Do We Go About It?

The Teachers

Teachers are fundamental to any student success. A series of studies have confirmed that good teachers, effective teachers, matter much more than particular curriculum materials, pedagogical approaches, or “proven programs” (Allington, 2002). The National Commission of Teaching and American’s Future (1996) states, what teachers know and do is the most important influence on what students learn. Furthermore, studies show that teacher expertise is the most important factor in student achievement. Competent teaching depends on educators who deeply understand subject matter and how to teach in ways that motivate children and help them learn. A student that has an effective teacher three years in a row scores at 50 percentile points higher on achievement test than a student who does not have an effective teacher over the same time span (Darling-Hammond, 1997).

Good teachers will seek ways to teach and motivate students to read. Good teachers also understand that they do not know it all and will continue to learn through professional development. Professional development is a catalyst that begins the process to the improvement of student achievement. Effective professional development will not just give teachers tips on how to teach, but give them an understanding about the subject matter, understanding how students learn, and how best to present the body of knowledge. As professionals, teachers should recognize that their learning about teaching does not stop when they are credentialed. Rather, they look forward to continue learning throughout their teaching career and to be able to improve their practice extensively with appropriate professional development learning opportunities.

They recognize that they practice in circumstances that are different each year, that much of their knowledge is embedded in their practice rather than in codified bodies of knowledge, and that their extensive, complex knowledge or lack of, particularly with respect to their understanding of how learners learn, profoundly influences how they teach (Loucks-Horsely, Hewson, Love, and Stiles). Effective professional development will also help teachers with the everyday practice of teaching. Many times teachers do not have time to think about their craft (National Foundation for the Improvement of Education, 1996) and the everyday activities that connect instruction to learning for a diverse population of students.

In addition, it is suggested that when professional development is focused on academic content and curriculum that is aligned with standards-based reform, teaching practice and student achievement are likely to improve (Wiley and Yoon, 1995). In order to accomplish this, a variety of trainings cannot be posted for teachers to robotically choose for points or to meet their desires. Effective professional development has to focus on the content and curriculum aligned to the standards with an emphasis on effective teaching practices. To be successful, three elements must be present: (1) Policies must support coherent and integrated professional development; (2) Leadership must make student, teacher, and organizational learning a priority; (3) There must be sufficient time and resource for promising professional development to take hold (Adger & Clair 1999; Darling-Hammond, 1997; Gonzalez & Darling-Hammond, 1997).

Teachers have to have time to collaborate and learn together to improve their instructional practices. Ending with Locuks-Horsely (1998), “Although professional development is not a panacea, it can support changes in such areas as standards, assessment, and curriculum, creating the culture and capacity for continuous improvement that is so critical for educators facing current and future challenges” (pg. 4).

Additional Time

Students that struggle in reading need more reading instructional time to have any opportunity to become proficient in the reading process. Less than half the day is spent reading. Students are engaged in a variety of activities, but much of that time is not spent on reading instruction (Allington, 2002). Elementary students need at least 90 minutes of reading instruction and students that struggle in reading need an additional 25-30 minutes of reading instruction added (Vaughn, Linan-Thompson, Wanzek, Rodriguez, Cavanaugh, Sanderson, Roberts, Elbaum, Torgesen, 2004).

Students need time for activities that allow them to hear an effective reading model, to read together, and to read independently. For a classroom teacher to effectively teach the five areas of reading to primary aged students she would need 90 minutes of daily reading instruction. As stated above, for struggling students they need even more time. Many schools struggle to find additional time during the regular school day; however, there are other options that should be considered to afford those students more time. Addition time can be provide by after school programs, summer school program, and extended school year (U.S. Department of Education). The success of using time outside the school day is presenting instruction in a different and engaging way to maintain student interest. Recent reviews of research on summer school show that high quality programs can make a difference in student learning (Harrington-Lueker, 2000). While additional time is important, what is more important is what teachers accomplish with that time.

High-quality research based curriculum and instruction

With a 90 minute block of time for reading instruction, teachers need to focus on the five essential elements of reading identified by The National Reading Panel, (2001) as critical to successful reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. It is vital to define each of these important processes of reading using definitions from Reading Rockets out of the office of Special Education (2004 n. pg.).

Phonemic awareness is the ability to discern, contemplate, manipulate and work with the individual sounds in spoken words. An example of how beginning readers show they have phonemic awareness is combining or blending the separate sounds of a word to say the word (“/d/ /o/ /g/ – dog.”).

Phonics is a form of instruction to develop the understanding and use of the alphabetic principle (Tomlinson, 1999), that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds in spoken language) and graphemes, the letters that represent those sounds in written language and that this information can be used to read or decode words.

Text comprehension is the reason for reading: understanding what is read, with readers reading actively (engaging in the complex process of making sense from text) and with purpose (for learning, understanding, or enjoyment) (Tomlinson, 1999). Comprehension involves the understanding of main idea, support details, inference, and predicting.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the foundation skill that students need to master early in their academic career. It is important for student to master phonemic awareness because it improves a student’s word reading and it helps students learn to spell. Through the Dibels assessments (Marion County Public Schools Assessment, 2003) students can be identified as having phonemic awareness weakness, it with this information instruction can be planned and delivered for those students who need more remediation in this skill. Third grade students should have mastered this skill within the first two years of school. According to Hall and Moats (1999) it can take four times as much intervention to improve a child’s phonemic awareness reading skills if help is delayed until grade 4 than if it is begun in the first year of school.

This is particularly critical in the area of basic skills instruction (vocabulary development, phonemic awareness, and word recognition). Care should be taken not to emphasize skill instruction based on one single viewpoint or approach. Presenting skills through a narrow scheme of instruction might not be responsive to students’ myriad needs in upper grades. Although systematic and explicit skill instruction is appropriate when needed, flexibility in approach is needed (Schifini, n. d.). Once students have mastered phonemic awareness, there is no need to continue instruction in this area. Many teachers use music, poetry, and other activities that have rhyme in the content to teach phonemic awareness. Teachers should spend 10-15 minutes daily on phonemic awareness instruction (Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIEA), 2001).

Phonics

There has been much debate about phonics instruction. However, recent research has given phonics another look and has determined phonic instruction is needed (Hempenstall, 2002). Students that master phonics will have the decoding process in hand and can focus on building fluency and comprehension. Use direct, systematic explicit phonics instruction as a primary component of a reading program. CIEA states, “Systematic instruction includes a carefully selected set of letter-sound relationships that are organized into a logical sequence, and explicit are programs that provide teachers with specific directions for the teaching of these relationship” (p.19). The issue is not whether to use phonics or whole language in reading instruction. “Rather, the issue is how phonics is used; as a primary component of a reading program, as well as when we use phonics; at the beginning reading level” (Dakin, A., 1999). Students who master the decoding process enjoy reading more because they can spend more time on fluency and comprehension. Children who quickly develop competent decoding processes find reading easier because they can concentrate on the meaning of the text. They read more in school and, of equal importance, reading becomes a self-chosen activity for them (Stanovich, 1986). Phonics instruction needs to start in kindergarten and in combination with phonemic awareness instruction. Phonics instruction should occur daily and over a period of two years in the primary grades.

Vocabulary

As stated on the previous page there are different types of vocabulary and students really need each type. However, the most important type for improvement of the reading process is reading vocabulary. When students lack a vast reading vocabulary, they are unable to build fluency and comprehension. This situation contributes to what are called “Matthew Effects,” that is, interactions with the environment that exaggerate individual differences over time, with “rich get richer, poor get poorer” consequences. Good readers read more, become even better readers, and learn more words; poor readers read less, become poorer readers, and learn fewer words (Stahl, 1999). Indeed, the vocabulary problems of students who enter school with poor or limited vocabularies only worsen over time (White, Graves, & Slater, 1990). Students can receive explicit vocabulary instruction through a variety of methods, such as, modeling, reading to students, and using context clues. It is important to use more than the dictionary as the sole source of learning new and unfamiliar words (Texas Reading Imitative, 2002). Student can also learn vocabulary through oral language and listening to adults read to and with them. Vocabulary instruction should be a daily practice with in the reading blocks as well as integrated into other subject areas.

Other important instructional methods

The five areas of reading must be delivered in a variety of instructional methods. The teacher must understand and build on student difference (Tomlinson, 1999). By understanding the five critical elements of the reading process and understanding her students’ strength and weaknesses a teacher can make decisions as to the best instructional strategies to use. The teacher can deliver any of those elements by whole group, small group, literacy centers (listening center, writing center, computer center, independent reading center, and a teacher center), shared reading, read aloud, and guided reading center (Marion County Public Schools Reading Plan, 2000).

Preschool and early literacy opportunities

Research on preschool has show positive result for minority and low social economic children. Preschool is not Kindergarten classroom watered down, preschool give students a foundation in the pre-reading skills through play, songs, and limited structure instruction. “It is in the non-cognitive realm, however, that the greatest benefits of preschool experience occur. Longitudinal studies, some of which have followed preschool graduates all the way into adulthood, have identified many positive and significant relationships between preschool participation and task-related, social, and attitudinal outcomes” (Cotton & Conklin, 2001, n. pg.). For the purpose of the paper, the number one positive relationship between preschool participation is to retention. That is fewer retentions. Preschool graduates were less likely to repeat grades (Berrueta-Clement, et al. 1985; Consortium for Longitudinal Studies 1983; Illinois State Board of Education 1985; Schweinhart 1985; Stallings and Stipek 1986; Powell 1986). Also, preschool programs that focus on language development (McKey, 1985) contribute to student reading success. Preschool students should be involved in phonemic awareness and basic phonics prereading activities that will be the foundation to long-term reading success (Smothergill, 1971).

Conclusion

Based on the information presented above, it cannot be denied that using a number of strategies can really increase students’ reading fluency. These strategies may involve the teachers, parents and even the students themselves.

For students to become fluent readers they must have mastered the above skills. Students who are fluent will not have to spend time to recognize each letter or each word. Fluent readers will spend their time comprehending the meaning from the text. Students become fluent readers by listening to good role models and practice (Foorman, 2002). Fluency can be further enhanced when students participate in repeated reading and guided repeated orally reading. Using those two strategies are more effective than independent reading. Comprehension is enhanced when a student can fluently and smoothly (Breznitz, & Share, 1992; Fuchs & Maxwell, 1988). In a study conducted by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 44% of the students with low comprehension scores had poor fluency (Pinnell, et al. 1995). Fluency instruction occurs several days a week and should continue until the student becomes proficient with few word recognition errors.

Meanwhile, most researchers will refer to comprehension instruction as text comprehension. Text comprehension refers to gaining meaning from text (National Institute of Literacy, 2002). Students will never master the reading process completely, if they do not master comprehension of text. Without comprehension students will not enjoy reading. Good readers will use reading as a means to gain understanding, information, and pure enjoyment of a good story. Comprehension is the whole purpose for reading. Many teachers simply believe students will automatically comprehend if they are fluent readers. Comprehension must be taught and students must learn comprehension strategies (CIERA, 2001) Comprehension can be taught by explicit instruction, modeling, graphic organizers, summarizing, story retelling, and other organizers (National Institute of Literacy, 2002). No matter what form of instruction is used it must be flexibly and in combination with literature and expository text.

Reading is the gateway skill to all other learning. Students who struggle with reading will feel the “Matthew Effect” the rich get richer in their reading ability and the poor get poorer in their reading ability (White, Graves, & Slater, 1990). Students must master the reading process as defined by the National Reading Panel, (2002) a complex system of deriving meaning from print that requires all of the following:

  • the skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print;
  • the ability to decode unfamiliar words;
  • the ability to read fluently;
  • sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension;
  • the development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print; the development and maintenance of a motivation to read.

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