The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 3 - Page 56

As a high school English teacher, it is difficult to teach 150 plus students anything, but it is particularly difficult to teach 150 plus students to become better readers. In my personal search for ways I could help my high school students improve their reading skills, I learned about the impact that fluency has on reading comprehension, so I delved into the literature to find out more. This model for inclusion of reading fluency strategies in the English classroom addresses the needs of struggling readers as well as competent readers and provides for a continuum of growth in reading for all students in their content area classrooms because while teacher expectations for comprehension are inherent in reading tasks, all too often little direct reading strategy instruction is given at the high school level.

Theoretical Framework

One aspect of advanced reading skill is the ability to make meaning of the printed word, in effect, to comprehend. Fluency involves being able to read smoothly, with accuracy, and with prosody, which Rasinski, Reutzel, Chard, and Linan-Thompson (2011) define as “the ability to make oral reading sound like authentic oral speech” (p. 293). Comprehension and fluency should be crucial to secondary students’ overall reading and academic success. Indeed, the National Reading Panel (2000) identified both fluency and comprehension as two of the five crucial aspects of reading worthy of research and important to the overall complex understanding of reading.

High school students often struggle on grade level reading tasks, from both narrative and content area textbooks. The definition of reading is that comprehension, or the making of meaning, occurs. Perhaps the nature of high school limits direct reading instruction because of time restraints, wide ranges of student ability in any given class, the logistics of incorporating multiple content area classes into a school day, pre-existing expectations of teachers about the reading levels and skills of students, and/or standardized testing expectations of content material achievement. Many students easily give up on reading tasks when they experience or perceive reading to be laborious and time consuming. Little mental energy is left for comprehension when students labor with decoding the words and deciphering vocabulary.. Many students lack internal motivation to persist with reading that they perceive to be difficult. Often this sense of difficulty is not isolated to one reading task but is cumulative over a student’s school experience.

Many high school students become overwhelmed at the reading tasks incumbent on them. Many read below grade level while the content area texts are often over grade level. Meaning may be carried in multisyllabic words, which are often difficult for students to decode and thus hinder comprehension. Often, these students avoid reading tasks, do not read for pleasure, and give up easily due to the added length of time required to read the texts. High school teachers have high expectations for the reading abilities and comprehension of their students, yet they often do not or are not aware of the need to address reading fluency as one aspect of that comprehension. Rasinski et al. (2005) are resolute that “reading fluency is a significant variable in secondary students’ reading and overall academic development” (p. 22). While the goal of reading teachers is for students to be independent silent readers who comprehend and make meaning from text, the reality is that many high school students continue to have great difficulty with reading tasks. One obstacle to reading comprehension is a lack of reading fluency, and teachers need to consider reading fluency as one way to increase reading proficiency at the high school level.

Instructional Strategies

“Careful planning is always crucial for successful teaching” (Reutzel & Cooter, 2008, p. 159). As with any other aspect of teaching literacy in the classroom, planning for fluency instruction requires that the teacher have an understanding of why reading fluency is important for stimulating success and growth in readers. Building off of this framework of understanding, the teacher should be able to identify struggling readers and recognize reading fluency miscues as indicators of fluency trouble. Teachers should have knowledge of the types of effective fluency strategies appropriate for adolescent students and be flexible and reflective in decision making about how to plan and implement these strategies into the classroom.

Reutzel and Cooter (2008) have recommended a balanced approach to reading fluency instruction that includes explicit instruction by the teacher, modeling, and opportunities for guided, peer, and individual practice. Adolescents often have unique reading needs in that, often, by the time they enter middle school the internal motivation they have to pursue interests by reading is superseded by external inducement such as grades and testing (Vacca & Vacca, 2014). They simply lose interest and