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Dyslexia Diagnosis

Reading Fluency and a Misguided Intervention

fast readingCURRENTLY I am working with a student who has an auditory processing disorder and struggles quite a bit with reading. He’s made quite a bit of progress and I’m confident he will be a strong reader in a few years. His fluency is not the best, but it has improved owing to using Orton Gillingham methodologies.

Before school was out his mom informed me that the school wanted all the parents to perform a fluency intervention over summer break. I thought … wow this is great!

Henry’s mom continued to tell me that his teacher wanted him to read a passage three times to his mom, but that she wasn’t supposed to tell Henry if he made decoding errors. Can you see where this intervention is going?

I have been tutoring Henry for a long time, and he has learned to self-correct and use meta cognitive strategies to pinpoint when something does not make sense. In a matter of two months, though, he has unlearned all the good strategies I have taught him, and has begun to read like a crazy person. First, he’s reading very fast and he’s skipping over lots of words. When he comes to a word he doesn’t know, he spits out whatever is on his mind the moves on. We spent a long time trying to prevent this haphazard guessing; now it’s back. Not only is he guessing at words, but he’s also reading so fast that he doesn’t even know when the word makes absolutely no sense in the sentence. I have never seen anything so crazy in my life. I have been working with him for a little more than a year and he never did this before. Thank you crazy intervention creator for undoing his newly learned strategies.

As Henry read to me, I had to say, “Slow down a bit. Did that make any sense to you?” Henry looked at me sheepishly and said, “No.” Arghgh. I spent more than a year trying to get him out of this habit in order to be a more reflective and conscientious reader only to be faced with . . . crazy reading.

fast reading 3The point of this post is not to complain (though it does support my main idea). I’m trying to demonstrate how teachers and administrators are misinformed about what fluency really is. Fluency is NOT:

  • Reading really fast just for the sake of reading fast
  • Reading to beat a time or meet a benchmark
  • Repeated reading without an instructional intervention or reading something insipid and devoid of life
                • Reading timed reading probes

When the parent told me about the intervention, she sounded skeptical. Even the parent, not a trained educator, knew that not giving a child feedback about his reading was probably not a well-thought out intervention. Henry’s mom knew how we worked on appropriate ways to help a child self-correct like, “Did that make sense to you?; “There’s a word in there that was hard, why don’t you try it again?” –stuff like that.

Fluency is learning how to read words with automaticity and accuracy as well as understanding what you are reading which all results in successful comprehension. It is true that the more drawn out and laborious the reading is, the less time students can devote to comprehending what they are reading. No research states that students must “read fast”. Reading at a good pace means reading at a speed in which students are comfortable so that they are both decoding and comprehending well. It is not a finite speed to reach.

fast reading 2Sometimes it’s hard to explain this to parents who have a copy of the DIBELS or whatever other test is used to tell them their child is failing miserably at fluency. Fluency needs to be taught directly with specific methods, but for every child, the fluency rate will be different.

I do realize that there are myriad resources out there stipulating how fast students should be reading, but I see these as only guidelines. Unfortunately standardized tests are designed to rate fluency as a specific speed that all children at a specific grade level should be reading at. And it’s crazy.

How do we get rid of the crazy misguided interventions? Read some good research. According to Dr. Tim Rasinski, a leading expert on reading–particularly fluency–there are five critical aspects to fluency instruction that literacy teachers need to implement:

      1. Reading Real Literature–not passages designed for standardized tests
      2. Getting “real-time” Reading Support–this means helping students right at the moment when they struggling with a word–not two or three readings later when the word has been “mislearned”
      3. Reading with Expression–teaching students how to read different kinds of sentences, how to use punctuation to figure out meaning, how to pause, and when to place emphasis on certain words
      4. Participating in Assisted Reading Activities–partner reading, echo reading, choral reading–any activity that allows students to hear reading modeled for them by a good reader
      5. Practicing Both Deep and Wide Reading–this means close reading, or exploring the subject matter more, reading a variety of books and styles to expand students’ repertoire of reading styles.

Here’s an example of a 2nd grade struggling reader–this is slow, drawn-out reading that could affect comprehension.

Example of Slow Reading of a Struggling Reader

  • Click Sitemap, then click Putting Pieces Together
  • Then click on Casey, the 2nd grader (far left)
  • Listen to the information presented about Casey
  • Click on “Reading Sample” and listen to how she reads. Follow the text on the right hand side.

I approach fluency as a natural part of learning. For example, I often use reader’s theater, which is a very fun way to practice repeated reading without boring students. It’s a great way for students to learn how to pronounce new words, try out different voices, and have loads of fun. When reading fun poems, I use echo reading and choral reading to show students exactly how to read. I have also had students highlight the most important words in a poem and showed them how to emphasize the words by saying them louder or slower, depending on the text.

I use a method I developed call 3+3 Read in which students read a text 3 times, 3 different ways, and complete 3 easy activities. The first reading is with me in which I help students access prior knowledge, help students make connections, develop predictions, and figure out which vocab words they already know. Then they take the text and handout home to parents where they do a paired reading and discussion from cards I send home. Lastly they read independently to parents and draw or write the events in sequential order (if fiction) or have them choose five of the most interesting facts found in the book (if it’s nonfiction).

Repeated readings for a purpose really do work and can be fun, but making students read without constructive feedback or reading to reach a speed is not only dreary, but ineffective.


About Ann Gavazzi

Reading specialist and English teacher with a particular interest in treatment of dyslexia. Also interested in education and education policy at large and current reading research. Owner of the Reading Innovations Center, a tutoring center that specializes in one-to-one tutoring for struggling readers and math students.


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