“Clearly, the ability to read accurately and rapidly is so fundamental to reading success that is just has to be right.” (Kame’enui & Simmons, 2001: 204)
- A. Defining Reading Fluency
Fluency in reading is the ability to read rapidly with ease and accuracy, and to read with appropriate expression and phrasing. It involves a long incremental learning process, and text comprehension is an expected outcome of fluent reading. Fluency also involves certain assumptions about comprehension. Fluency, and especially automaticity, allows readers to attend to the meaning to the meaning of the text, the textual context, and required background knowledge without being slowed down by intentional word recognition demands. In fluency, automaticity is defined as processing operations that are rapid, relatively resource free, not subject to interference, unconscious, and hard o suppress. Accuracy is also seen as an essential component of reading fluency, whether it involves recognition skills at the sub word level, word level, or text level. A final component of fluency that is increasingly cited is the recognition of prosodic phrasing and contours of the text while reading. A key fluency issue involves identifying the relevant stage in the cycle of learning new information in which fluency is emphasized.
- B. Multiple Settings for Fluency Development
An important issue for any overview of fluency research is the applicability of the research to different populations. In L1 settings, word reading fluency appears to be strong predictor of reading comprehension ability through second grade. Relatively little research on fluency or fluency training has been conducted with L2 populations. One specific issue concerning L2 fluency is the impact of oral performance on fluency measures. A second specific issue involves the differing ages and educational levels of L2 populations. Returning back to the larger task of defining and assessing fluency for differing populations, measures of fluency need to account, in some way, for processing speed, word recognition automaticity (and accuracy), reading rate, and appropriate prosodic interpretation.
- C. Fluency Research and the National Reading Panel
The report of the national reading panel (NRP, 2000) examined research on reading fluency and its impact on reading comprehension. Specifically, the report presented evidence supporting the practice of oral repeated reading for improving accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. It is important to note that the discussion of fluency did not review research on word recognition efficiency as an aspect of L1 fluency development, though, other L1 researchers do consider both word-level and passage-level fluency important.
- D. Expanding the Scope of Fluency and Its Relation to Comprehension
A further perspective on L1 reading emphasizing automaticity is provided by Samuels. As a leading proponent of fluency and automaticity in reading, Samuels has provided a number of reviews of fluency over the past decade. In most of these reviews, he primarily focuses on issues of reading speed, extensive reading, automaticity, and accuracy for fluent reading, as well as on repeated reading practices as ways to improve fluency and comprehension.
- E. Word-Recognition Fluency
The role of word recognition training on fluency and reading comprehension is more complex. Other studies have shown that practice in word-recognition speed impacted word recognition fluency more generally and improved fluency in reading new stories that included many of the trained words. As a final comment on L1 fluency research, many training research studies do not match up well with instructional intervention studies.
- F. L2 Perspectives on Word Reading Fluency
L2 research on word reading and passage reading fluency is only in the beginning stages, and much more work needs to be done. Word reading fluency gains represent changes in cognitive processing that can be accessed and help us understand the development of automaticity. Two other studies involving word-fluency training have been reported by Akamatsu (2008) and Fukkink, Hulstijn, and Simis (2005). Akamatsu (2008) trained 49 first year university students in japan in seven sessions over seven weeks in a short task involving word recognition within continuous chains of letters comprising five words each. The training improved students’ word recognition performance in both speed and accuracy. Low accuracy word recognition also indicated automaticity improvements.
- G. L2 research on passage-reading fluency
To date, only three studies have been reported on training L2 students to read passages more fluently. The three studies have been carried out over the past decade by Taguchi and colleagues. In these studies, Taguchi has demonstrated that the practice of repeated reading of short graded readers leads to significant improvements in silent reading rates for the passages read.
- H. Implication for Instruction
Fluency development can be supported by a number of general instruction practices. These practices include reading-rate development, assisted reading, repeated reading, timed reading, paced reading, text reading (recycling), word-recognition exercises, and extensive reading. In L2 contexts, little research directly supports fluency-development practices, whether focusing on ESL students in the United States or on EFL students in other countries (cf. Taghuci, 1997). Instructional practices for fluency development are most commonly discussed as sets activities for elementary L1 students for second to sixth grades. There is little discussion of fluency instruction beyond the sixth grade, even for remedial purposes. There is also little discussion fluency practices for students in L2 contexts, though there have been calls for such instruction in recent overview articles.