Fluency Practice for Beginners
Go shopping and you can’t miss the back-to-school aisles teeming with school supplies. Parents shop while their little ones hold on to the last bits of summer. And, teachers? Those who teach in primary grades, gear up to get their new beginning readers off to a running start. Over the next few months, novice readers will be expected to learn how to decode words, increase vocabulary and develop comprehension strategies. The lucky ones will become confident, fluent readers.
Some students will arrive at school with strong reading skills, while others count on teachers to get them started. How reading is taught will affect the trajectory of student-learning in unexpected ways. Shaky starts will cause some kids to lose faith in themselves as learners. Teachers know that confidence building is an essential part of reading instruction!
So, what is a teacher to do for the children who see classmates, zooming through text, while they’re still trying to figure out the phonetic code? Clearly, these children can benefit from explicit phonics instruction. However; the actual practice of reading should not be put on hold until later. Students can begin to read while they’re learning sound/letter correspondence. They can and should have access to learning the other important elements of reading, with the other students in the class.
Equal Access to Learning Elements of Reading
Small group phonics instruction (which many teachers tie into spelling and word study) must be differentiated to meet the individual needs of students. However; comprehension strategies and the acquisition of vocabulary can be opened up to every child in whole group settings.
Comprehension skills can be developed during read and think-alouds, oral discussion and thematic units of study. When you read and think aloud, with kids, you are creating opportunities for the non-readers to interject their thoughts and ideas, on level ground with those who can already decode. Those who decode learn that reading is more than just sounding out words. Reading is thinking. All children are exposed to new books, stories, authors, ideas, vocabulary and genres. Students are invited into an expanded world of reading.
Fluency for One and All
Teaching fluency is tricky and requires a more individualized approach. If text is too difficult, students can begin to look at reading as a tortuous endeavor. Fluent reading is something that the beginning reader doesn’t always get to experience. While others fly, they plod and can become disengaged. Levelled books that come with reading programs are, often, quick reads with very few words and pages. Once the book has been introduced, a child can read through one in about 3 minutes. Any discussions of these books are fruitless because of they lack substance. Compared to whole group discussions centered around rich storylines or topics of interest, these books fall flat.
Obviously; the children in these reading groups are in desparate need of some additional options. If you can’t find what you need for these children; create it! Kids want to read and turn pages, so this is what you can do:
- Pick a story or topic that has been discussed with the class.
- Type simple sentences in large font.
- Start each new sentence at the left margin.
- Insert vocabulary that has been implanted in their heads, during talks.
- Use simple sight words.
- Repeat ideas and sentences.
- Add student names, if it works.
- Type up several pages of text, varying sentence structure.
- Staple it together; like a book.
Watch their faces light up when when they realize that they can read the material!
Simplify if Needed
Find the right level. Start with what a child knows. For example, if Andy knows the words, “boy”, “I”, “can”, “the”, “me” and “see”, then create sentences using his name and those words:
Can you see Andy?
Can Andy see me?
I see Andy.
Andy sees me.
The boy can see Andy.
I see the boy, Andy.
Remember to make the font large and don’t stop at just one page. Type out three or four pages, varying the order of the words so it is not just one repeated sentence. Let him begin to feel what it’s like to read full pages of text. Prove to him that it is possible to read. Then; make new books with more words, until he is reading about the same topics that you’re all discussing in class.
With all of your students firmly on the path to learning to read; perhaps they’ll be among the fortunate ones who learn to be confident, fluent readers!