The definition of fluency is the ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression, either silently or orally.

Immediate identification of the letters and their associated sounds, phonemic awareness, and mastery of basic phonics skills are all necessary for automaticity to develop.

Meaning that to be considered fluent in reading passages, students must be able to decode nearly all the words in the text automatically. When reading with automaticity, the brain effortlessly recognizes words and pronunciation. In fact, research done on the eyes during the process of reading shows us that all readers focus on individual words in text; however, fluent readers are able to spend less time focusing on function words (i.e., of, the, to, etc.) because they are able to register the words when they are at the edge of their visual field. This allows the eyes to read the word as they are also processing context words adjacent to the function words.

Becoming a fluent reader is vital to the success of students not only because it saves time but also by lightening the cognitive load on the brain during the process of reading. Reading with automaticity frees the brain from having to focus on decoding  and analyzing words and allows the student to concentrate on many other elements of a text. If the brain's energy is taken up by decoding, students cannot access and comprehend the text because the brain will become fatigued. Furthermore, without fluency, the reader's attention to punctuation weakens. Punctuation is needed to support the reader's ability to comprehend the text and tone.

What is decoding? >

Learn more about transferring decoding skills into reading fluency >

Learn more about other reading strategies >

Building fluency is not as easy as giving students ample time for free reading. In fact, studies show that encouraging students to read to themselves through activities like DEAR (drop everything and read) or other non-explicit, free-reading activities, displays no measurable impact on student speed and accuracy rates. This could be due to the fact that with these programs it is difficult to measure if a student is actually reading, or it could be because this approach takes away from students getting teacher-led skill instruction that would help them become strong, natural readers.

Decoding skills need to be taught explicitly and practiced repeatedly in order for words to be stored in a reader’s fluent vocabulary. For most readers, in order for a word to be read automatically, the word must be decoded at least four times using accurate phonological processing (sounding out of a word). After this practice, a quick look at the word will activate a stored neural model that allows for fast reading as well as correct pronunciation and understanding of the word.

Fluency strategies are important because they facilitate student comprehension of text. The following teaching strategies help students develop fluent reading. Click on each to learn more.

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