Helping Kids Learn to Read with Automaticity

Automacity is the ability to look at a word and read it within one second of seeing it. Word automaticity is essential for fluency and comprehension. Fluency develops over time and through practice. At the earliest stage of reading development, learners’ oral reading is slow and labored because they learn to “break the code” – to attach sounds to letters and blend letter sounds into recognizable words.

Even when learners identify many words automatically, their oral reading may be monotone, not fluent. To read with expression, readers must be able to separate the text into meaningful chunks. Readers must know to pause appropriately within and at the ends of sentences and change emphasis and tone.

The difference between fluency and automaticity

The literacy terms automaticity and fluency often are used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

Automaticity is the effortless word identification that comes with a great deal of reading practice. Readers may be accurate but inefficient at recognizing words in the early stages of learning to read. Continued reading practice helps word identification become more automatic, rapid, and effortless.

Automaticity refers only to accurate, speedy word identification, not to reading with expression. Therefore, automaticity (or automatic word identification) is necessary but not sufficient for fluency.

Fluency instruction

Fluency is not a stage of reading at which readers can read every word quickly and easily. It changes depending on the material that readers are reading, their familiarity with the content, and the amount of their practice with reading content. Even skilled readers may read slowly when reading texts with words or topics that are foreign. For instance, readers who are usually fluent may not be able to read technical content fluently, such as a textbook about nuclear physics.

It is essential to note that fluency instruction should be with a text that learners can read independently. It is at this level where learners can practice speed and expression rather than decoding. The chart below describes each literacy level:

Independent Level: Easy for the learner to read (95% word accuracy).

Instructional Level      : Challenging but doable for the reader (90% word accuracy).

Frustration Level: Difficult content for the learner to read (less than 90% word accuracy).

Researchers have investigated two effective instructional approaches related to fluency to help educators gain knowledge of fluency instruction. In the first strategy, repeated and monitored oral reading, learners read passages aloud several times and receive guidance from the educator. In the second approach, independent silent reading, learners are encouraged to read extensively.

Monitored and repeated oral reading

Repeated and monitored oral reading can improve reading fluency reading achievement.

Learners who read and reread passages verbally as they receive guidance and feedback become better readers. Repeated oral reading substantially improves word identification, speed, and accuracy as well as fluency. Repeated oral reading can improve reading comprehension. Repeated oral reading can also improve the reading ability of all learners throughout the elementary school years. It helps struggling readers at higher grade levels.

Many educators have relied primarily on round-robin reading to develop oral fluency. In round-robin reading, learners take turns reading parts of a text aloud. Round-robin reading in itself does not help fluency. This may be because learners only read small amounts of text, and they usually read this small portion only once.

Researchers have found several efficient strategies related to repeated oral reading:

Also, some efficient, repeated oral reading strategies have carefully designed feedback to guide the reader’s performance.

Independent reading

No research evidence confirms that teaching time spent on silent, independent reading with minimal guidance improves reading fluency and overall reading success.

One of the significant differences between good and subpar readers is the amount of time they spend reading. There is a strong correlation between reading ability and how much a learner reads. Based on this evidence, educators have long been encouraged to promote voluntary reading in the class. Teacher-education and reading-education literature often recommend in-class procedures for encouraging learners to read there.

However, research has not yet confirmed whether independent silent reading with minimal guidance or feedback improves reading achievement and fluency. Direct instruction in reading is a good predictor of reading achievement. However, learners need to be given time to apply their reading skills through silent reading with a book at their independent level.

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