This paper reviews literature seeking to find research-based evidence of successful ways to help struggling readers improve their fluency. The literature reviewed indicates that there are two overarching categories for methods to implement to help struggling readers improve their fluency, and the literature was more deeply examined to determine the best method within each of the two main categories. Furthermore, this paper will attempt to determine if the prevailing methods from each of the two categories are each widely available to teachers, having little or negligible associated costs. Lastly, this paper suggests an area for further research, based on the idea of co-mingling the top method from one category with the top method from the other category as located in the literature.
Keywords: fluency, struggling readers, strategies, vocabulary, automaticity, prosody, intervention, accuracy
The complexity of reading and comprehending written text involves more than just simple word decoding (being able to convert the symbols into language). Purely decoding individual words and linking them together often results in readers who are unable to comprehend the meaning behind the words they’ve decoded, and such readers also tend to have fluency skills that lag behind their peers, often in their reading speed, expression, phrasing, and prosody. (Kuhn, Rasinski, and Zimmerman, 2014)
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It is reasonable to believe that instructional support to increase fluency will result in better readers who have higher levels of comprehension than they would without focused instructive support for increasing their fluency. (Rasinski, 2014) Reading fluency should be considered to be more than having a fast reading rate. “Fluency is reading with and for meaning, and any instruction that focuses primarily on speed with minimal regard for meaning is wrong.” (Rasinski, 2012)
This literature review includes several of the highest rated strategies to help students achieve fluency success. Among those strategies includes research-based reading programs. Interestingly enough, one article alone reviewed 153 reading improvement programs available, and teachers would be correct in believing that each one cannot simply be a solution for their struggling readers, especially if used alone. In fact, “of the 153 different reading programs reviewed … only one had strong evidence that it improved reading achievement!” (Allington, 2013)
Clearly then there is a need for teachers to have the right tools and strategies available to them that can help increase fluency for struggling readers. This literature review attempted to locate such strategies by seeking answers to the following questions:
- What are the most effective teaching strategies for increasing fluency in struggling readers?
- Which of these strategies are most effective for general application by a wide audience of teachers?
- Do the most effective strategies have associated tools and/or costs for their implementation?
Methodology for Obtaining Literature for Review
All articles reviewed here are recent publications (2009-2019), from peer-reviewed journals, and were located using the ERIC database and search engine. By using a topics-based reduction strategy over a broader variant of the above questions, the following terms were found to be important for the pending research, and yielded sufficient results: “Effective Teaching Strategies”, “Teaching Strategies”, Strategies, Fluency, Methods, Naturalness, Reading, “Struggling Readers”, Learner, etc. By further intermixing these terms using AND / OR searches, less useful results were eliminated and more focused articles were kept.
A Search Strategy Log was completed and a relevant portion of that is located below. In this Search Log, the number of searches conducted were documented, as well as search terms used, database used, and the number of results that were achieved. Boolean search terms are also included in the log. The search terms were intermixed in various ways in hopes of achieving the greatest search results possible. Search number four and five achieved the greatest research results. After carefully sifting through many articles, the peer-reviewed journals that are included in this literature review were found.
Including more relevant terms in the searches, with the use of the Boolean AND construct, proved to produce more and better results than searching for relevant terms independently.
Discussion: Categorization of Strategies
Effective teaching strategies to increase fluency for struggling readers fell into one of two separate categories. Those categories are Instructional Approaches (for teachers), and Strategies (for students). The teacher must strategically participate in specific methods in order to help the student achieve the correct fluency practice in order to achieve maximum academic gains. “When the goal is fluency and the learners are provided with a variety of supports, such as are available with fluency-oriented approaches, students are able to read texts at a higher difficulty level than would generally be suggested – texts that would normally be considered to be beyond their ability.” [Kuhn, Rasinski, and Zimmerman, 2014]
The INSTRUCTIONAL APPROACHES to increase fluency for struggling readers often fell into one of the several distinct groups. The most prevalent of these are Reading Programs, Modeled Reading, Choral Reading, Assisted Reading, and Repeated Reading.
Reading Programs– Reading Programs are simply one part of a literacy rich diet. Although there are many reading programs out there it is crucial to find the one that is fitting to the needs of the students and not what is most popular or technologically savvy. Many reading programs are computer based and are “a popular educational fad, and no research supports the expenditure of education dollars on computers, computer software, or computer-based reading curriculum.” [Allington, 2013]
Modeling Reading – Modeling Reading with ‘Think Aloud’ commentary is typically described as when the teacher reads a story aloud while breaking away from the story occasionally to discuss what he/she is thinking. This helps the students develop their metacognition.
ECHO/Choral Reading – ECHO/Choral Reading is defined as when a teacher reads aloud and then the students repeat what the teacher said. The goal is for the students to mimic the teacher’s reading using naturalness, automaticity, and prosody in their voice.
Assisted Reading – Assisted Reading is when a student works with someone such as a parent or peers when reading. Assisted reading also includes the support of technology such as audiobooks, various tablets, and specific apps. This even includes a teacher helping or guiding them through the reading process. In the classroom, struggling readers benefit from scaffolding and working in small groups as well as working with a partner.
Calculating correctly read words per minute after an eight-week experiment where “student group A” was provided digital audiobooks, and “student group B” was tasked with silent reading, it was shown that “student group A” surpassed “student group B” in their increase of fluency skills. [Esteves, Whitten, 2011]
Repeated Reading/Deep Reading – Repeated Reading/Deep Reading is when a student is asked to read aloud and then is provided direct feedback from the teacher so they can read the same passage again aloud with improved fluency. Repeated Reading/Deep Reading may take place as many times as needed in order to reach mastery. This may also be done in preparation for reading in front of an audience. Research has shown that this is an important piece to help struggling readers to reach fluency mastery; by using experimental “model fluency lessons” with teachers and students, Rasinski was able to show that “repeated practice on the same text…allows students to achieve…fluency or mastery than [sic] can easily transfer to new, never-before-read texts.” [Rasinski, 2014]
The STRATEGIES to increase fluency for struggling readers can also be subdivided into a handful of standard groups: Poetry, Song, Humor, Rhyme, Wordplay, and Theatrical.
Poetry – Researchers agree that poetry has been found to be a universal tool to help struggling readers. One of the biggest reasons for this is that poetry can be short and therefore less overwhelming for students. Poetry includes rhyming words and fun wordplay, which can be a motivating factor for students of all ages. If fact, “poetry contains rhyming words, and relatively common spelling patterns … have consistent pronunciations. Readers who can perceive these spelling patterns in one word they decode then apply that knowledge to analogous words – other words that contain the sound often have the same last spelling pattern. Word recognition is made more efficient as readers process these spelling-sound patterns that appear in any words and not as individual letters but as one unit.” [Rasinski, Rupley, Paige, and Nichols, 2016]
“Other researchers such as Moyer (1982) worried that repeated readings may seem like a punishment or boring for older readers. This is why the use of poetry was ideal for its comparatively short text, fun subject matter, and easy match with the strategy of repeated readings.” [Wilfong, 2009]
Another interesting finding is that students will feel more confident and successful in reading programs where they can master short poems. In fact, results of such mastery have shown success rates akin to what researchers have found using short texts while implementing fluency development.
Song/Lyric/Chant – As most children enjoy singing, teachers can use the power of song to increase fluency for students. This is especially motivating for struggling readers. Students can be taught an entire song, or perhaps even just the first verse of a song. Then they can be presented with the written lyrics for the song so they can read-along as they sing. For additional reading practice, students can be given a written verse that they have not yet previously sung, but since they already know the tune, they can usually quickly adapt what they’ve read into the song. This allows great practice for fluency through the power of song, while also being a great motivator because children tend to think of singing as fun. As a potential further use of song, students could be asked to fill in the blanks (within verses) to include words that rhyme. If differentiation is needed, students could be tasked with writing their own verses to continue a song. It would greatly benefit the teacher to also give the students a purpose for learning a song or writing lyrics to their own song. Students will be even more motivated to learn the song that can then be performed for other students, teachers, administrators, and families.
“A growing body of research and scholarly thought suggests that singing has potential for improving reading. When students sing while tracking the lyrics to songs, they are in essence reading. Singing increases time spent reading.” [Iwasaki, Rasinski, Yildirim, Zimmerman, 2013]
Humor/Jokes – It’s not a secret that children like jokes and sharing them with others. Teachers can fully take advantage of this strategy to motivate and increase the fluency of struggling readers. Students can read jokes or even use their imagination to create their own jokes. They can be recorded while reading jokes aloud. They can also listen to other recordings of people reciting jokes with varying levels of prosody. In this way, a student can note how the humor in the joke changes based on the level of prosody. For example, someone speaking blandly or monotone tends to come across as humorless. As students are noted to improve, they can be re-recorded so they can then listen to their earlier and recent recordings to note their own prosody and fluency improvement. [Mitchell, Rearden, Stacy 2011] Three struggling second-grade readers were used as test subjects, over a four-week period, using three different approaches on each test subject, and the automaticity and prosody of each was shown to improve.
Rhyme – Rhyming is a way to help students recognize the same sounds in words. It helps students to articulate other words that have the same ending sounds as another word. This also helps with memory and predictability of words, sounds, and spellings. Since rhyming words are helpful to struggling readers, it is important to use reading material that includes this. [Gill 2015]
Wordplay– Wordplay can be found in books, poetry, songs, jokes, etc. Using words to be silly and fun is especially motivating for struggling readers. [Mitchell, Rearden, Stacy 2011, & Gill 2015]
Readers’ Theatre – Readers’ Theatre is a strategy where students are encouraged to each have a part and read scripts aloud. Researchers have found this approach to have a positive effect on struggling readers. A new script can be introduced each week, and practiced each day for approximately 30 minutes, progressing Monday through Friday. Students can work on independent reading, then move to workstations and/or small peer groups, and by Friday should be able to do a 10-15 minute “in front of the class” performance of the script. Struggling readers learn to overcome their fears of reading in front of others while also developing their fluency, prosody, intonation, and automaticity.
“We also believe that a more authentic approach to fluency instruction exists in the realm of performance of texts as in the performing arts. Students are more likely to practice or rehearse (assisted and repeated readings) if they know they will be performing a reading for an audience.” [Young, Rasinski, 2009]
A wide variety of literature was searched through to find articles relevant for this paper. From the literature actually chosen to be reviewed, it seemed quite clear that there were two overarching categories of strategies. Most strategies exist within one of those categories. The first of the two overarching categories is focused upon teacher-based Instructional Approaches, and the second of the two overarching categories is focused upon student-based Strategies. Each of the two categories clearly had several distinct subdivisions which this paper briefly explored and summarized.
The research made it clear that the most effective methodology area, or subdivision, of the effective teaching category (Instructional Approach) is: Repeated Reading. It has been shown that implementation of technology is not always needed for Repeated Reading. Technology in this area does not influence the outcome of the struggling readers. Since costly technology is not crucial to implement Repeated Reading, that makes this approach widely desirable to all teachers. The lack of a need for any additional funding (because there is no benefit from including costly technology) also makes this strategy available to teachers within all socio-economic settings.
Research also indicated that student-based Strategies which use poetry prevail. Again, this is something widely available to all teachers. It is a strategy that has little or no financial constraint. Therefore, it should be quite easy to implement across all socio-economic settings.
It would be interesting to research the effectiveness of combining Repeated Reading with use of Poetry, in comparison to other types of materials that could be read. In fact, with little to no financial constraints, it would be a fairly easy bit of research to accomplish. It could be beneficial for teachers to know how something as simple as including poetry in their lessons could highly benefit their struggling readers. More action research could potentially prove to teachers that this method can demonstrate academic success in the classroom. Perhaps it could be viewed as a tool for motivating learning with struggling readers.
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- Gill, S. R. (2015). Shared reading of poetry. New England Reading Association Journal, 51(1), 22-31.
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- Iwasaki, B., Rasinski, T., Yildirim, K., & Zimmerman, B. S. (2013). Let’s bring back the magic of song for teaching reading. Reading Teacher Journal, 67(2), 137-141.
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- Working poets: Improve students’ phonics, fluency, and vocabulary skills with these engaging poetry activities. BY TIMOTHY RASINSKI. (2014). International Journal of Instruction (1990), 123(5), 58.
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