6 Ways to Get Families Engaged in Reading Fluency Growth
- By Lauren Bardwell
The science of reading has made a much-needed comeback in recent years, with several states enacting policies for educators training on it. However, fluency practice doesn’t have to occur only at school; it can be reinforced at home, too. Research shows that family engagement is connected to improved student outcomes.
Following are some suggestions for educators on how to strengthen the school-to-family connection by helping caregivers emphasize reading fluency — with actionable ideas for families to help their students develop stronger fluency skills at home.
What is Reading Fluency?
Reading fluency comprises three key elements: rate, accuracy, and expression.
To illustrate fluency in action, I like to use Morgan Freeman as an example. When he narrates a film, he reads his lines at a speed or rate, that is comfortable for the audience to follow along with. He reads smoothly and pronounces words accurately. He shows expression by pausing when making an important point or raising the pitch of his voice when asking a question.
We want students to read with an appropriate rate, accuracy, and expression. If a student is reading so fast that they are not pausing at appropriate places or changing the tone of their voice, then they are likely not understanding what they are reading. This is why expression is key. Understanding appropriate phrasing and punctuation supports meaning making.
Why is Fluency Important?
Fluency is crucial for reading because students who read fluently spend less time sounding out words because they recognize more words automatically. This frees up their brain to focus on making meaning of the words they are reading. They are able to more quickly draw on their vocabulary and background knowledge, which means reading comprehension can occur more easily. Indeed, reading fluency strongly predicts reading comprehension.
Students who struggle with fluency may avoid opportunities in class where they are asked to read aloud out of fear of embarrassment or feelings of frustration. They might show little interest in reading books for pleasure. When students don’t participate in reading activities, they miss important chances to further develop their reading skills. It’s important that students are given time and support to work on their reading fluency skills.
How Can Schools Influence Fluency Practice at Home?
Most research-based instructional reading programs include fluency work, but having students also practice fluency at home has immense benefits: students build their fluency skills, it increases the volume of text they read, and it promotes caregiver-student interaction.
Consider using the following ideas with caregivers to boost the influence of family engagement on academic outcomes.
1. Listen to their student read aloud
The first step in helping a student with fluency is to listen to them read aloud a page or so of grade-appropriate text. Listening to their student read will help caregivers better understand where their student might need the most support. If their student still struggles to sound out a lot of words, they might need more help with decoding before focusing on fluency.
2. Sing with their student
With choral reading, caregivers and students read a text out loud together and at the same rate so they can hear and practice reading fluency together. Choral reading is also a great exercise to repeat more than once. Students benefit from repeated reads of the same text because repeated exposure helps build automatic word recognition; it provides more opportunity to practice accuracy, rate, and expression; and it allows students to delve deeper into the texts and strengthen their understanding of what they are reading.
3. Model, model, model
Caregivers can read aloud to their child and model fluent reading with appropriate rate, accuracy, and expression. This can be from a picture book, a chapter book, an interesting article in the newspaper or magazine, etc. For longer texts, caregivers don’t have to model fluency with the entire texts. They can use chunks of 100 words or so.
Caregivers can even pair books with their audio versions so the student can follow along with an expert fluent reader. Storyline Online and PBS Kids Read-Alongs are two free online resources that feature celebrities reading children’s books aloud. For older readers, pair a printed version of a book with its audiobook version. Whispersync for Voice offers immersion reading which highlights text as readers listen and follow along on the page.
4. Practice, practice, practice
Children learn by doing. After listening to their caregiver read aloud a section of text, the student can practice by trying to read it aloud back to them. Caution families about jumping in too soon if their student is showing signs of struggle. A valuable model to remember is pause-prompt-praise. Pause to give the students time to try to determine how to pronounce a word or to self-correct an error. If they’re stuck, prompt them by offering some suggestions to get back on track. Then comes the easiest part: offer praise when they’ve demonstrated strong effort and success.
5. Focus on topics students love
Reading should not be a task that students dread. We want students to enjoy reading! Help families find books on topics their students are interested in and make those texts readily available and easily accessible for families.
6. Keep an open dialogue
Families can be a valuable source of data collection on learning. Make sure they feel comfortable to reach out to their student’s teacher if they notice their student is struggling to read with fluency. If they observe that their student has excellent reading fluency, they might want assistance finding more challenging texts for their student.
For educators who would like to provide families with information about fluency and the Simple View of Reading, NWEA has a family-oriented blog series on the topic as well as a free downloadable eBook. The content is written in family-friendly language and suggests manageable activities. We also have a Science of Reading blog series specifically for educators.
Students are best equipped for school and lifelong success when they have access to teaching that prioritizes the Science of Reading and a supportive environment that reinforces their learning at home.
- Lonigan, C.J., Burgess, S.R., & Schatschneider, C. (2018). Examining the Simple View of Reading With Elementary School Children: Still Simple After All These Years. Remedial and Special Education, 39, 260 – 273.
- Pikulski, John & Chard, David. (2005). Fluency: Bridge Between Decoding and Reading Comprehension. Reading Teacher - READ TEACH. 58. 510-519. 10.1598/RT.58.6.2.
- Visible Learning MetaX (2021, February). Retrieved from https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/.
Lauren Bardwell, NWEA's senior manager of content advocacy and design, began her career as a high school English teacher, and holds a bachelor's degree in English at Millsaps College and a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction at Middle Tennessee State University. She previously served as executive director for adolescent literacy at the Tennessee Department of Education and as principal designer for Odell Education's high school literacy program.