Luke and Freebody (1997) refer to readers as 'code breakers, meaning makers, text users and text critics', and all of these need to be considered when thinking of comprehension instruction. Improving comprehension is not just a matter of teaching your students strategies.
Comprehension also depends on:
- Word level skills (decoding words fluently)
- Extensive vocabulary
- Fluent reading
- Background knowledge of the world
Fluency is important because it affects your students’ reading efficiency and comprehension. Fluency has been shown to have a reciprocal relationship with comprehension, with each fostering the other.
Reading fluency is the ability to read accurately, quickly, effortlessly, and with appropriate expression and meaning. This does not mean that definitions of fluency only refer to oral reading. As most of our reading is silent, it’s also important to focus on fluency in silent reading.
Pikulski and Chard (2005) propose a more comprehensive definition of fluency:
'Reading fluency refers to efficient, effective word recognition skills that permit a reader to construct the meaning of text. Fluency is manifested in accurate, rapid, expressive oral reading and is applied during, and makes possible, silent reading comprehension.'
One fluency goal for reading then, is to develop your students’ decoding to the point where it becomes an automatic process that requires a minimum of attention (Griffith and Rasinski, 2004). This is insufficient however to ensure fluency. Another essential goal is for your students to be reading with appropriate expression, and as they are doing this they are also learning to construct meaning from the text.
However, Pikulski and Chard (2005) claim that at least some students will need more teaching and guidance to build graphophonic foundations and high-frequency vocabulary (both usually accomplished in a year or two) and to build and extend oral language skills so that students are familiar with the syntax or grammatical functions of the words and phrases they are reading and with their meanings.
Fluency develops when your students:
- Hear fluent, expressive reading from you and others reading out loud
- Join in with fluent, expressive reading with you during Shared Reading
- Have the opportunity to practise reading texts multiple times (especially useful for struggling readers)
- Take part in Readers Theatre, where they need to reread the same text multiple times and take on the voice and expression of their character
- Are coached in fluent, expressive reading by you and their peers
- Read onto tapes, listen to themselves, doing this multiple times with the same text as they personally coach themselves to read more fluently
- Have many opportunities for independent reading
Now, off to the classroom.
Comprehension Overview, Snowball, D.