An Appeal to Instructional Leaders Everywhere

AUTHOR: Judy Butler, Educational Specialist: Dyslexia & Related Disorders

What Research has to Say About Reading Instruction, Fourth Edition, edited by S. Jay Samuels and Alan E. Farstrup, copyright 2011 provides insight into how we could more effectively build reading curricula. To be sure, developing and teaching curricula that integrate the most complex brain processes a child will ever have to engage in is not for sissy educators (if there are such beings)…and neither is reading through these research studies; however, embracing even one of these research methods is sure to raise the effectiveness of our reading instruction.

There is one chapter in particular that points out one of the most commonly neglected components of reading curriculums and yet if included, could reap the most dramatic impact upon overall reading proficiency. What chapter is it? Chapter 4: Reading Fluency What It Is and What It Is Not, written by Timothy N. Rasinski and S. Jay Samuels.

Unfortunately, reading fluency instruction has become the neglected component of reading curricula. The authors report, “The oral reading studies included as part of the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that nearly half of all fourth grade students had not achieved levels of fluency for their grade levels and that these students also demonstrated lower levels of overall reading achievement (Daane et al., 2005 Pinnell et al., 1995).”

What is happening in our primary grades that produces such poor fluency levels in 4th grade? Often we have not devoted the needed time and intensity of instruction to allow students to master or become automatic at the sound/symbol level or the word level of reading. We haven’t laid the foundational ground to build automaticity or effortless word reading. We have been content to develop accurate, but slow readers.

We also approached the issue of poor fluency by believing that increasing reading rate with passages would cause good comprehension. This route has resulted in the development of fluency instruction programs that focus primarily on increasing reading speed, with little attention given to prosody (phrasing, intonation, and expression) or comprehension.

Accuracy plus rate does not equal fluency. Low levels of fluency typically mean lower levels of overall reading achievement. We are neglecting to prepare our students for the ever-increasing demands of text complexity and text volume as they advance from grade to grade to post-secondary education.

Rasinski and Samuels presented a more informed model of developing fluency that can lead to overall reading proficiency:


(Word Recognition)  (Fluency)

Automaticity is not just reading words accurately, but also reading them effortlessly so that cognitive resources are free to process meaning. Prosody, the melodic features of oral language (phrasing, intonation, expression) is that part of fluency which connects fluency to comprehension.

In my experience training reading teachers, most teachers have not received previous professional development in how to listen to a student’s oral reading and rate the quality of their prosody using such a tool as the NAEP Prosody Rating Scale. Many of them have never been taught that fluency work should begin at a student’s instructional or independent reading level, meaning that the student should be able to read at least 91% or more of the words accurately. Additionally, very few of them have been exposed to the Hasbrouck and Tindal Fluency Norms and have not been informed of how to interpret which students truly need a reading fluency intervention.

In Chapter 4, Rasinski and Samuels cite several research studies that suggest that reading fluency is important beyond the primary grades and needs to be taught in upper elementary, middle school, and high school. Rasinski and Samuels suggest “instructional methods that aim to improve students’ word recognition automaticity and, at the same time their prosody–in both oral and silent reading.” They suggest an acronym, MAPPS, as a guide for working on fluency with students. Below is a summary of the acronym guide.

Modeling Fluent Reading for Students: Direct students’ attention to the way you read. Provide negative examples as well (not often), but discuss what interfered with listening and comprehending.

Assisted Reading for Support: choral reading, echo reading, paired reading, audio-assisted reading, captioned reading

Practice Reading Wide and Deep: wide reading offers experience with large volumes and genres of text; deep takes place when a student rereads text several times over to master deeper levels of content. Additionally, instructional routines using repeated reading built around Reader’s Theater, poetry, song, or some combination of performances result in increased overall reading proficiency and remarkable gains in rate. Rate is an outcome of good fluency instruction; it is not the aim of such instruction.

Phrasing of Words in Meaningful Groups: groups of words are phrased or chunked and read with prosody to reflect the phrasing. Students are given visual cues to reflect how words are parsed (scooping beneath words to reflect phrasing is a strategy used within the Wilson Reading System). Students can practice reading the marked text repeatedly until they can honor the phrase boundaries. Additional repeated reading can be added where the student has an opportunity to practice fluency, perhaps scooping and penciling their own phrase boundaries, or practicing with phrase boundaries deleted. A second approach mentioned is having students practice meaningful short phrases or sentences containing prepositions and high frequency words.

Synergy to Make the Whole Greater than the Sum: As important as each of these elements are, a teacher’s ability to combine them will create synergistic results!

I have witnessed, as a teacher and as a trainer of teachers, that including this component of fluency instruction, using protocols such as MAPPS, can remarkably improve students’ overall reading proficiency. The research reviewed in Rasinski’s and Samuel’s Chapter 4 yields strong support for examining our convictions and perhaps modifying our ELAR Curriculums to make fluency instruction the “hot topic” it should be.

For teacher professional development or resources, contact Judy Butler, ESC Education Specialist, Dyslexia,


Daane, M. C. et al. (October 2005). The Nation’s Report Card: Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC. Retrieved 2/17/2016.

Hasbrouck, J. & Tindal, G. A. (2006). 2006 Hasbrouck & Tindal Oral Reading Fluency Data. Oral reading fluency norms: A valuable assessment tool for reading teachers. The Reading Teacher. 59(7), 636-644.

Pinnell, G. S., Pikulski, J. J., Wixson, K.K., Campbell, J. R., Gough, P. B., and Beatty, A. S. (1995). Listening to children read aloud. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC.

Samuels, S. J. and Farstrup, A. E. (2011). Reading Fluency What It Is and What It Is Not. What Research has to Say about Reading Instruction, 4th Edition. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2002 Oral Reading Study. Updated 26 October, 2005. Retrieved 2/17/16.

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