How to help a child struggling with reading fluency
I got this email from a reader this week:
Hi, I hope you can help. My daughter is starting first grade and will turn 7 next month. She was behind in reading in Kindergarten and we had her Kindergarten teacher tutor her over the summer. I have included an email from the teacher. I don't what we need to be doing. Can you weigh in in?
This is the email from the Kindergarten teacher/summer tutor:
(Olivia is a pseudonym)
With school starting this week, I wanted to give you a quick summary of my tutoring sessions with Olivia. It was so nice getting to see her over the past few weeks and I am so excited for everything she will accomplish in first grade!
This summer, we continued to work on building Olivia’s automaticity as she decodes real and nonsense words. While Olivia has the skills and strategies to break down words by their sounds, she prefers to take her time in blending these sounds together to read the words. Our goal is for Olivia to be able to quickly blend and read these sounds without tapping each sound out multiple times so as to be able to read phrases and short sentences fluently.
Olivia’s meticulousness can also be her strength though when it comes to her writing and reading comprehension. She has great phonetic awareness and can hear and write almost all the sounds she hears in longer words (i.e. “Californu” “playd” “swiming”). Olivia can remember almost all of the phonics rules and sight words she learned in Kindergarten and is able to apply them in her writing. In addition, as she likes to take her time when reading, Olivia has a thorough understanding of everything she has read and can make text-to-self and text-to-world connections quite naturally.
Olivia will benefit from consistent practice and reading as she prepares to enter first grade. She should be reading on a daily basis and writing in her journal as well to continue practicing the skills she has learned. It has been a joy working with Olivia these few extra weeks before she goes to 1st grade!!!
Olivia's teacher did a great job of highlighting some of her strengths.The ultimate goal of reading is to understand, and reading comprehension is an incredibly complicated skill. It is great that Olivia is able to comprehend, even though she is reading at a slower rate. Olivia's spelling of swiming and playd show her ability to apply phonics skills.
Olivia is tapping out each sound several times to decode and read words, which is a slow process. This is how we expect children to start learning to read decodable words like cat or spin, but we want this process to become automatic for words with familiar phonics patterns or sight words.
Reading fluency is the ability to read accurately, at an appropriate speed and with appropriate expression.
It sounds like Olivia is struggling with reading fluency, specifically reading rate. Olivia is young, and many students develop more automatic word identification skills with additional instruction and practice. Other students require more intensive, targeted instruction. Here are my suggestions to stay on top of things.
1. Start a dialog with the new classroom teacher.
Get in touch with the new teacher and share your concerns. Ask to set up a meeting to address any areas of need. Give the teacher time to get to know and assess your child, especially because school just started. Forward the email from the previous teacher/tutor, and be prepared to share your perspective on Olivia's reading.
Questions to ask the teacher:
-What can you tell me about Olivia's reading?
-Is fluency the primary area of concern? Are you more concerned with her speed decoding words, her ability to identify sight words, or both?
-What do you recommend we do at home and at school?
-How will we know if our plan is working and when should we meet again?
2. Make a plan to target reading fluency at home.
Choose the right level books for your child. This is important. I cannot tell you how many well-intentioned parents make their children struggle through Harry Potter, when they could be breezing through The Fat Cat and building fluency skills as they go. For independent reading, your child should be able to read the book without stopping to sound out every word. I love Bob Books, because they allow for practice of specific phonics skills. Leveled readers are also a great option. Be sure to look through each leveled book, as each publisher has their own leveling criteria.
Create opportunities for repeated reading. Reading the same text again and again is well supported by research to improve reading fluency. Getting children to WANT to read the same thing, again and again, can be tricky. Try out some reader's theater plays, practice poems for pets, family and friends, and post silly sentences and jokes on the bathroom mirror or the wherever you keep the snacks. Use your child's interests to your advantage. I have a six year old boy, so anything with the word fart is a hilarious hit. And yes, I am willing to go there in the name of reading.
Work on sight words. Sight words are the most common words we want children to be able to identify instantly like and, this and when. I have shared my best tips in this post on tackling sight words.
Play with phonics. Consider practicing some word-play at home to build fluency with phonics skills. Pinterest is a treasure trove of phonics activities.
Some of my very favorite phonics activities are flip books and phonics games. You can make your own or buy ready-to-go options.
Check out my favorite free resource for research-based activities. The Florida Center for Reading Research publishes intervention guides by level and subject. These are written by experts and full of activities that you can print and make, with directions! These are workable for an enterprising parent or a experienced tutor. Which brings me to my next point...
Consider a tutor. If your home life is already jam-packed, you may not have a lot of time to focus on your child's fluency needs. I have made a career of teaching children to read and master math despite learning problems, and yet my own children don't think I know a thing. Look for a tutor with experience in your child's school, or find a local graduate student in reading or special education. Seek out someone who has experience with reading problems, young children, and who will focus on areas of need.
Watch out for stress and emotional needs. Children are often surprisingly in tune with their weaknesses. Don't pretend there is nothing to work on, but don't make your daughter feel bad about her skills. I always tell my students that everyone has something to work on. Some kids struggle with reading, or making friends, or making good choices, but everyone has their own thing. Share what YOU are working on. Keep your daughter's reading practice private from friends or close-age siblings and praise her effort.
I hope I have helped you set a game plan for Olivia's reading. Please keep me updated and let me know how she's doing!
What is your education question? Do you want my opinion? Or do you have suggestions to add for Olivia? Let me know.