Timed, repeated readings with feedback are one of the best ways to improve students' reading fluency.
Repeated reading is just what it sounds like--the student is rereading the same passage multiple times. The number of times depends on the situation, but 3-4 times is a good average. The student is timed reading aloud for 1 minute. The teacher notes each mistake (it's helpful if the teacher has her own copy of the text for this reason) and counts the total words read in 1 minute. The errors are subtracted from that total leaving the score how many words correct per minute (WCPM).
So if Jenny read 83 words in a minute and made 6 mistakes, her total would be 77 WCPM. (83-6=77)
At this point, you can ask the reader to give a retelling or answer questions about the text.
Then the teacher gives the student specific feedback about his/her reading or comprehension. It might be a fluency skill (reading to the punctuation before pausing), it might be a rate skill (try and get 5 more words correct per minute), or it can be related to comprehension (find out why the character's feelings change). Feedback gives students a goal to work toward during subsequent readings, so the additional practice is purposeful and not mindless drill.
The student rereads the text. It could be right in that same moment or it could be a day or two later.
The rereading and rating/feedback process continues until the student has reached his/her goal (a specific level of accuracy, rate, understanding, etc.) or until the student has read the text 5 or 6 times. At that point, the student has gotten everything he/she can out of that text and it's more beneficial to move to a different passage.
Hot vs. Cold Reads
There's some debate about whether the student's first reading of the passage should be done silently without timing so that with the first timed reading they have some background understanding of the text (hot read) or whether you should hand them a paper and tell them to start (cold read).
For the purposes of assessment, a cold reading might be helpful. That way you get a clear idea of a student's real words-per-minute skills. For the purposes of practice, in my opinion, the first reading should be hot. If I'm going to track WCPM for multiple readings, I want the process to be similar on all the reads. For the second, third, and fourth readings, the student is already familiar with the text. To be able to compare all the scores, I want the first reading to have the same advantages.
- Don't make the mistake of replacing your reading instruction with fluency practice. Students grow in fluency as they learn the skills of successful readers. Repeated readings are a means to accelerate that process, but they are not enough to drive it. Keep teaching reading!
- Don't make the mistake of focusing solely on rate. Fluency is more than speed, and reading is more than fluency. Students need to know that. Keep the importance of fluency in perspective and make sure that students aren't always working toward rate goals. Help them develop expression, phrasing, and accuracy as well.
- Don't make the mistake of expecting all students to have the same rate. Adults read at different rates and children do too. When you look at charts of suggested words per minute, a successful student only needs to be at the 50th percentile to be on-target. It is unrealistic to expect all students to be at the 75th or 90th percentile. Acknowledge that there's a wide-band of "normal" rates.
(This post from Reading Rockets breaks down grade level rate goals.)
- Don't make the mistake of forgetting comprehension. The reason we want to increase fluency is to aid comprehension. Make sure your students recognize that they're supposed to be thinking about what they're reading and not just racing through it to get a higher score.
Reading fluency doesn't improve if students are practicing with difficult passages. Fluency passages must be on a student's independent level. Once you know students' levels, you can collect passages for them to work with. In this post, we outline the hallmarks of a quality reading passage.
What you do with the passages depends on what works best in your class. Some teachers assign partners and train them time each other and provide feedback (this is more successful with older students). Some teachers have parent helpers or aides work with the students. Some teachers do timed readings as part of individual reading conferences. Some teachers have students read along with audio recordings.
Find what works for you!
For my class, what worked best was assigning repeated readings as homework.
I send each student home with a passage on Monday. Most of my kids get the same passage, but I differentiate for my highest and lowest readers. (You can differentiate for each individual reader if you have the time/patience!) Students read the same text for 4 days. For the lower reading levels (A-D, kindergarten and part of 1st grade) students color a box after each complete reading. It's not appropriate to time them at this stage in their development. Starting on Level E, they're timed reading for 1 minute and parents find their WCPM.
The reading passage is on the front. The daily assignments are copied on the back. Because we want to connect fluency with greater comprehension, from levels E and up students have a specific comprehension focus each day (levels A-D focus on sight words). In a format that models close reading, the questions get progressively complex.
The key to making this assignment effective is to provide parent support. Parents need to know how to give feedback. Each week's assignment has tips for how parents can make the most of the homework. Some of it is general information on how to do the assignment or why reading fluency is important. Some of the tips are related to that week's particular story. For example, how to read dialogue or how to give a character a unique voice. Like the questions, the tips are related to the text.
Organization tip: make a stack of copies ahead of time for each level and store them in file folders. When it's time to send home practice, use a check list to quickly pull fluency pages from your files.
In the post about leveled passages (find it here), I wrote about how to find quality texts for reading. I set out 5 guidelines for recognizing quality:
- It's leveled
- It's brief
- It uses sight words
- It covers a variety of genres
- It fosters deeper comprehension
These are the guidelines we used when creating our fluency passages.
- Is it leveled? It is leveled according to Guided Reading level. You will find the leveling in formation in the top corner. DRA and Lexile details are also included.
What does Level A look like?
• designed to help develop concepts of print
• short, predictable sentences
• illustrations that support meaning
• simple narratives and familiar themes
What does Level B look like?
• short, predictable sentences
• repetitive stories with familiar themes
• illustrations that closely match print
• text in a large, plain font
What does Level C look like?
• predictable text with longer sentences, but still on a single line
• illustrations that match print, but offer less support
• greater range of high frequency words
What does Level D look like?
• increasing number of lines of text per page
• less repetition
• some words in bold for emphasis
• word-solving strategies may be required to understand meaning
• simple dialogue
What does Level E look like?
• more complex stories with subtler meanings
• sentences that carry over to multiple lines
• simple and split dialogue
• large number of high-frequency words
What does Level F look like?
• stories with greater development of plot and character
• non-fiction texts are focus on a single idea
• longer sentences
• illustrations that support text, but don't carry all the meaning
• greater range of vocabulary
What does Level G look like?
• more complex stories and ideas
• wider variety of settings, characters, and vocabulary
• includes plurals, possessives, and contractions
• longer dialogue
What does Level H look like?
• stories that run longer than 100 words
• humorous situations and a wider variety of themes
• dialogue that adds to the drama
• a variety of words used to assign dialogue to readers (explained, told, etc.)
• many words with inflectional endings
• complex illustrations and text features
What does Level I look like?
• several sentences longer than 10 words
• prepositional phrases, adjectives, and clauses
• abstract themes supported by the text and illustrations
• stories that require inference
Levels J+ are still under construction.
- Is it brief? All the stories in these passages fit on a single page. For lower levels, it uses a large type with plenty of space between lines.
- Does it use sight words? In the early levels (A-D) students are introduced to a sight word that is used repeatedly in the passage. They also practice the word in multiple ways over the course of a week. From level E and up, the focus is less on high-frequency words and more on comprehension. However, the text is full of sight words and no more than one vocabulary word is introduced per passage. Character names are short and decodable. There are no difficult proper nouns or dates in the transitional level passages (E-K).
- Does it introduce a variety of genres? Starting at Level E, the texts alternate between fiction and nonfiction. The concepts in the fiction and nonfiction passages are related. Starting in Level G, all the stories in a set (4 weeks of passages) are related. Genres include: realistic fiction, simple fantasy (talking animals), how-to texts, fables, informational...as we add more advanced levels the range of genres will grow.
- Does it foster comprehension? For every reading, students are given a comprehension focus as a purpose for reading. They then read the text and use that focus to answer the day's questions. After the first read, students are asked questions about general understandings and details. On day two, they're focusing on the author's craft, vocabulary, comparing and contrasting--deeper thinking skills. By day three, they're asked to infer a character's feelings based on his actions or analyze how text features help the reader gain more information. The end of the week has students do something with their new understanding. Maybe they're asked to support an opinion or maybe they're asked to clarify information about a topic. The questions for each week depend on that week's text--no two assignments have the same questions.
I worked hard to ensure that the passages were of a quality that make them worth rereading. Instead of writing "All About Polar Bears," I took an aspect of polar bears--where they live--and connected it to a larger idea: why they can't meet penguins. Instead of a passage about what ocean animals eat, I wrote about the relationship between giant blue whales and tiny krill and then asked students to connect that theme to the fable of The Lion and the Mouse.
Illustrating has pushed me to the edge of my meager drawing abilities. I have had to draw so many random things: a panda's jaw line, bread holes, a grasshopper egg pod, a salamander with a worm...But it was important to me that the stories have illustrations. We teach beginning readers to use picture cues, so there needed to be picture cues available. Illustrations support understanding. As readers advance, they learn how pictures can teach and clarify information. I worked really hard to make sure our illustrations did that. We include maps, diagrams, cutaways, captions, and labels. The passages grow increasingly complex so that as students advance, the pictures become less important to comprehending the passage and the text carries more of that weight.
Writing these fluency passages is one of the hardest things I've ever done!! And I still have half of 2nd and all of 3rd to go...
We have 36 weeks of kindergarten homework available. That includes: 8 weeks of Letter Name Fluency practice, 4 weeks of Letter Sound Fluency practice, 4 weeks of Segmenting & Blending practice (this is perfect for students working on Nonsense Word Fluency), and 16 weeks of Leveled Reading Passages (Level A-D). The A-D passages in Kindergarten are different than those in First. While there is some overlap of levels in each pack, all passages and practice pages are unique. Click here to download a sampler of Kindergarten Fluency Homework.
First Grade has another 36 weeks of practice: 4 weeks each of levels A-I. The A-D passages are different than those in Kindergarten. The E-I levels are different than those in Second. While there is some overlap of levels in each pack, all passages and practice pages are unique. Click here to download a sampler of First Grade Fluency Homework.
Second Grade (under construction, will be 36 weeks): 4 weeks each of levels E-I. I'm working hard to add additional levels quickly. The E-I levels in first are different than those in First. While there is some overlap of levels in each pack, all passages and practice pages are unique. Click here to download a sampler of Second Grade Fluency Homework.
Third Grade Fluency Homework coming soon!
Whether or not you use our fluency resources, we hope that this post has provided you with some insight on how repeated readings are helpful and how to implement them with your students.