One of the things children are marked on in terms of reading at school is fluency. This, basically, means their ability to read out loud at much the same pace as they would talk. It also means their ability to make as much sense of what they are talking about (fingers crossed) as if they were having an intelligent conversation with someone.
Because there is so little time in the school time table (any school time table) to hear children read, and children are often asked to read to targets (number of pages, chapters etc) between the times they are being heard, they can often confuse fluency with speed. This means that when they are heard, they gabble through pages breathlessly, and it is not always clear that they understand what they are reading.
Sometimes they forget, or maybe simply miss the point – that there is no reason to read at all if you don’t actually understand what you are reading. Any idiot can recite a string of words given enough time to practice, telling you what those words mean, and putting emotion and thought into deciphering them is a different thing altogether.
This is what is meant by true fluency of reading.
The art of fluent reading is something that can be practiced at home, if a parent has the time and the willingness to sit patiently with a child and both listen to them, and help them.
Reading out loud is a different skill than reading in your head. Everyone knows this instinctively, but it is not often explained explicitly to children, and stressing that reading out loud is a skill, much like acting, can really help a child come on in leaps and bounds in terms of fluency.
When doing this kind of reading you really need to have no pressing jobs to do, and your complete attention on your child and what they need from you.
Here are my top five tips to help your child achieve fluency:
- Get them to slow down when they are reading to you. This might seem counter to what you are asking them to do, but they really need to read each word and appreciate why the author chose that word and not another. I was reading with my daughter earlier and she was reading too quickly. She substituted the word ‘for’ with the word ‘from’ and suddenly the whole meaning of what she was reading altered. She fumbled with the sentence following it and made a mess of it because she realised that her earlier mistake meant that the rest of what she was reading would make no sense. I asked her to go back and read the paragraph again, making sure she was reading slowly enough to read every word properly.
- In cases where this happens repeatedly, I ask the child to go back to the old fashioned way of moving their finger under each word as they read it. This is generally frowned upon in schools, but if your child can already read, and just needs to focus on beginning and ending individual words correctly for a while, instead of speed reading the beginning of a word and them guessing what comes next, this can really help, as long as it’s only used for a short period of time.
- Get your child to notice and respond to the punctuation on the page. This tells you a huge amount about the rhythms and patterns of speech and language the author is using. It allows the child to begin to understand the tone of the piece and where emphasis should be changed etc. Each comma should be taken as a short pause for example. This should allow the child to read slightly ahead of themselves and figure out how to approach the next bit of text.
- Get your child to act out chunks of dialogue, even if only with different voices and/or emotions as they read to you. This helps them understand character and meaning really well. It encourages them to give the characters a personality and think about what is being said.
- If the text says a character shrugs, or smiles, or nods, or makes some physical gesture before they speak or as the author describes something the character is doing, encourage your child to act this physicality out. It helps them to think about what is happening on the page and embed it in their physical and mental self. It centres them in the book rather than having half a mind on their book and half on when dinner is going to be ready etc.
These are some of many little tricks that you can use to encourage your child to understand more deeply what they are reading. If they understand a book, and make emotional connections with it, they will begin to be engrossed more in the story and naturally progress to becoming more fluent as a reader.