Ask the Reading Coach: Is My Child a Fluent Reader?

In today's Ask the Reading Coach blog, we learn some fun yet important ways to build a child's confidence as a reader by examining fluency-building strategies that can be implemented at home.


Fluency is an essential component of confident reading.

To read with fluency is to read with phrasing, intonation, and expression, while responding accurately to punctuation. Fluency marks the transition from deliberate decoding (“sounding out”) to a rapid, more fluid, effortless rendering of text.

Children who struggle with fluency are less confident readers, as they experience shame and frustration when reading aloud. Quite commonly, children who struggle with fluency grapple with pronunciation and phrasing. They tend to read in a monotone voice, with limited vocal range. Some characteristics of less than fluent reading would include word-by-word matching, with some long pauses between words, and a limited expressive interpretation of the text.

Fluent readers, in contrast, read with accuracy, ease, and expression. Fluency is built when children read in longer phrases, attend to punctuation, and engage in an expressive interpretation of text.

As children learn to respond to punctuation, they must attend not only to question marks and exclamation points, but also to commas that relate to phrasing, and quotation marks that indicate dialogue and interactions amongst characters.  

In my experience, fluency one of the most important, and yet most misunderstood skills, in reading instruction and assessment today. As we know, all children are expected to read fluently, in order to improve their independent reading skills, yet one question remains: How is fluency developed?   

There are several easy ways to help support fluency at home:

1. Child reads aloud at home - First and foremost, even for our "older" kids, reading aloud is imperative. Even if it is one or two nights a week, invite your child to read aloud to you.

This experience is invaluable, as he or she can engage with text and build confidence. This resulting improved belief in oneself is integral to one's success as a fluent and confident reader.

Children can also read to a younger sibling, over the phone to a distant relative, or even to a pet (or stuffed animal, for younger children...) These fun and creative options extend the possibilities for your child to have increased exposure to reading aloud.

This independent reading aloud must be from an accurately-leveled text.  Ask your child's teacher for guidance here. Encourage your child to read aloud in an effort to help support him/her in making the transition from deliberate decoding to an accurate, expressive rendering of text.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice!  As we all know, there's only one way to get to Carnegie Hall - Practice. (a little humor!) - On a more serious note, children who are given the opportunity to engage with text of varied genres, with adult support, develop strength and confidence as competent and strategic readers.

3. Shared Reading of the same text or picture book with an adult caregiver. - This expressive rendering of text demonstrates a love for reading, models fluent reading, and increases your child's motivation to read independently. The shared read-aloud experience with adult caregivers is abundantly helpful in building a child's comprehension and fluency as a reader.

4. Books on Tape or CD These are excellent supplemental resources to increase a child’s motivation to read and opportunity to listen to fluent reading. Our libraries are filled with these books on CD.

For parents who have multiple children at varied grade levels, this is an easy way to allow for your child to listen to a fluent, expressive rendering of text by an adult who clearly demonstrates a love for reading, language, and storytelling.

In my experience, just the "technology connection" of books on CD is plenty to motivate any child to eagerly set up that CD and listen to good storytelling.... sometimes for hours on end.

Over time, this increased practice will lead to an improved ability to render text in a more fluent manner. Most importantly, there is a transition that takes place, a shifting in one's own self-concept that is intangible, yet so very real.

"To learn to read is to light a fire. Every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." ~ Victor Hugo.

Carolyn Polchinski, M.S.Ed. is a Clinical Professor of Reading and Literacy Education and licensed Learning Specialist based out of Scarsdale. She specializes in supporting children with A.D.H.D. and executive function deficits.

To learn more about the programs she offers, call 914.325.0297 or email Carolyn@ConfidentReaders.com. You can also read Patch's profile article of Polchinski here.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jen October 15, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Have you experienced kids who struggle with fluency yet comprehension seems to be intact/on grade level?
Carolyn Polchinski, M.S.Ed. October 16, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Yes, definitely! Thank you for your comment, you've raised an excellent point. Two students in my current practice comprehend well above grade-level, yet both struggle with fluency. There are several factors at play. Comprehension, by its very nature, is given more instructional time in a classroom setting. Part of the reason is that a group setting is far more conducive to building comprehension skills, than it is to strengthening individual fluency skills, according to each child's independent reading level. Silent reading does not allow for fluency to be built. Secondly, and quite commonly, children are read to at home, yet not always given an opportunity to engage with text independently (i.e. to read aloud on their own). Shared read-alouds at home yield an abundance of results, mainly in comprehension (see prior blogs for lots more on this topic), yet they also model fluent reading, so that the child has an opportunity to gain from the experience. (One way to help increase fluency is to read alternate pages!) However, without consistent practice reading aloud, even in 4th and 5th grade and beyond, a child's fluency - and, potentially, his or her confidence - will suffer. Practice is most essential. This practice, however, must take place with accurately-leveled books - not too challenging, yet also not too easy, so that a child is then "coasting", and not advancing. Thanks again for your insightful comment. I'll address this issue in my next blog! ~


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