Educators and researchers generally agree that the essential components of early elementary reading instruction should target phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. In the area of reading fluency (commonly defined as an individual's ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression), a recent, nationally representative study of 1,779 fourth-grade students suggests that 40% of U.S. students are nonfluent readers and would thus benefit from programs that help them develop reading fluency.
Other important findings from this study revealed a strong correlation between reading fluency and comprehension, as well as a strong correlation between reading fluency and students overall reading ability. These findings were commensurate with findings from numerous other reading researchers. In particular, although reading fluency development is critical for early reading success, reading fluency is often neglected as part of a core reading program in U.S. classrooms.
At the most basic level, reading fluency is important in the same way that fluency is important in learning nearly any skill a person wants to be successful with. To list some examples, most individuals recognize the importance of fluency when trying to become skilled with a type of dance, a particular sport, a new language, playing a musical instrument, acting a new role in a play, or learning a brand new set of procedures for work. Upon first exposure to any one of these skills, a person first attempts to learn the basics (e.g., learning the chords on a guitar or learning vocabulary and word pronunciation in a new language). When first learning these basic skills, the person is generally slow, but strives toward doing the basic activities accurately.
Later, with a substantial amount of practice across a range of basic activities associated with that skill, the person can now perform these basics both accurately and quickly. In this sense, the person has become fluent with those activities (e.g., learning the chords on a guitar fluently enough to play one or more songs well). Once the person is fluent with those skills, she is now able to focus on more complex activities related to the skill (e.g., playing more complicated songs on the guitar, creating new songs, and/or singing lyrics to the song while simultaneously playing the guitar). Of course, obtaining this level of fluency usually makes the activity more enjoyable and therefore makes the individual want to pursue the activity more often.
These basic descriptors of learning stages can be applied to almost any skill. First, one must acquire basic skills and learn how to do them accurately. Next, with sufficient and well-structured practice opportunities, one learns to perform basic skills accurately and quickly (i.e., with fluency). Now, because basic skills are accomplished with little to no effort, those skills can be generalized and adapted to form new and more sophisticated skills. Decades ago, Haring, Lovitt, Eaton, and Hansen (1978) described this type of learning hierarchy based on their extensive educational research conducted at the University of Washington's Experimental Education Unit. As described by Haring and colleagues at that time and by numerous other educators since then, these same principles of learning apply to reading development.
In particular, reading researchers began to describe why fluent reading is necessary for strong reading comprehension. For example, in their information-processing model of automaticity, LaBerge and Samuels (1974) proposed that mastering sub-skills of reading (e.g., processing letter-sound correspondences rapidly), will, in essence, allow the reader to think more about what he is reading. In other words, when reading words becomes automatic, the individual can then simultaneously engage in processing the meaning of the words being read. Extending this notion of automaticity, others have suggested that slow word reading is also a hindrance for reading comprehension because it consumes working memory, which should otherwise be available for understanding the content being read. Since this time, the importance of reading fluency for reading comprehension, and for overall reading success, has been described by numerous reading researchers and educators.
Developing reading fluency is also important because fluent readers are more likely to choose to read. As described previously with the skill of learning to play the guitar, for most people, performing any skill with fluency is more enjoyable, rewarding, and less effortful than performing it non-fluently. Of course, most individuals generally like to engage in activities that are enjoyable compared to those that are less enjoyable. Therefore, as a student becomes a fluent reader, this fluency positively influences the likelihood that she will choose to read.
Overall, reading fluency is important because (a) improving reading fluency is necessary to improve reading comprehension, and (b) fluent readers are more likely to choose to read. Also worth noting, an extensive amount of research shows that a student's scores on reading fluency assessments help teachers to predict that student's likelihood of success on other meaningful measures of reading, such as comprehensive assessments of reading comprehension.
Learn more about this program, such as which educators have used the program successfully, which students should benefit most from the program, and how educators can obtain the program and training for free.