[Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of our five-part series on the best practices of learning to read and learning to read better.]
To read Part 1, “Unlocking Language,” click here.
To read Part 2, “Vocabulary and Comprehension,” click here.
To read Part 3A, “Developing Fluency,” click here.
Fluency benefits not just emerging readers, but all readers. Anyone who’s looked at samples from the reading portion of the SAT/ACT tests quickly sees that the selections are difficult conceptually as well as being context-free. The students generally have only the text to unlock the passage’s meaning and answer the high-level questions. Students who try to address the passages carefully and analytically, in a more word-by-word approach, tend to become overwhelmed by the task before them. The ability to read any text fluently, however, can provide them with the confidence to read the passages meaningfully and with speed, leaving them time to contemplate and answer difficult, inferential questions.
While the initial focus on decoding and word knowledge forms the basis for learning to read, fluency is the focus on “how to read better.” And after learning to read better orally, students are instructed to internalize what they’ve learned and read silently. Some students naturally will begin to read more fluently to themselves, but many students will continue to read silently in the same manner they read aloud — by pronouncing the words in their head. This produces a reading speed limited to oral speech (about 200-250 words per minute for an adult), and focuses again on the word-by-word approach, which impedes good comprehension.
That’s where assistive technology such as AceReader comes in; it’s not a “how to read” program, but rather a “how to read better” program. According to founder Bernie Marasco, “Realistically, we all know that the more you read, the better you will get at doing it. But, by using AceReader, with its carefully crafted exercises that are both engaging and entertaining, students will become efficient silent readers in a shortened period of time. Students go from reading word-by-word to reading chunks (groups) of words at a time, which ultimately leads to a more fluent and gratifying experience. Because AceReader focuses on good comprehension at higher speeds, most teachers refer to AceReader as a reading fluency program.”
An online program used in hundreds of K-12 schools, as well as at colleges, universities, and military academies, AceReader tracks your progress and automates the training exercises according to each student’s current ability, which is determined from timed reading comprehension tests. Typically students use the program for about 15 to 25 minutes, two to three times each week. AceReader includes over 1,000 timed reading comprehension tests, all leveled and themed. The program also includes a “Reader” that allows students to load their own material and set the display modes and speed settings. Students like this feature since they can train with material they need to read anyway, including class assignments.
While not a substitute for in-class instruction, AceReader can support students starting at the transition point between “learning to read” and “reading to learn” — typically around the third grade — and can help older students improve their current abilities or regain fluency lost over the years due to lack of sufficient practice. It also helps with online reading, a topic we’ll discuss next time.
Reading specialist Paul Schmidt sums up fluency perfectly: “Fluency opens up an individual’s ability to read with command of the material as opposed to the material commanding the reader.” The reader is able to “create the meaning necessary to master the study material or creatively interpret literature.”
It’s a task whose rewards are greater than the sum of its parts.
Next week: Part 4: Online Reading
We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Paul Schmidt, ME Secondary Reading Specialist — Education, in the development of this series.