January 6, 2013

Fluency: Listening to Oral Reading During Guided Reading

As a 2004 graduate from high school, it doesn't seem all that long ago (even though it was) when I was sitting in Social Studies class, looking down at my desk, my body frozen, sweat beading up in the corners of my temples, as the teacher paced at the front of the room asking, "Who will read next?"  I remember saying silent prayers, hoping that he wouldn't call on me.  I actually remember this scenario over and over through many classes during my high school and middle school years, the dreaded "round robin reading".  Aside from this and the occasional one-on-one reading test with my teacher, I cannot pinpoint a time in my middle or high school days when any of my teachers would have had the opportunity to hear me read out loud.  As a middle school language arts teacher currently in my 5th year of teaching, I can say that with complete honesty, until this year, aside from CBM reading tests and the occasional student who would read a paragraph out loud here and there, I rarely heard my students read out loud and did not understand the importance of it until this year when I began guided reading on a consistent basis.

During guided reading, after giving a text introduction, the students in my group begin reading the text independently.  At this point, I begin to work my way around the kidney-shaped table and listen to students read anywhere from a paragraph to a page of text aloud to me.  We practice whisper reading to  make sure that others will be able to continue to read independently while I'm working with students one-on-one.  The first couple times I did this with my students, I know that they were uncomfortable.  I was uncomfortable, too.  I had always taught "books" like, The Giver and Killing Mr. Griffin to name a few.  I always thought I was teaching reading, but reflecting back I know that although I know there were some positive learning points my students took away from the class novel experience, I ultimately was teaching one book at a time instead of teaching students how to be readers.  So it wasn't a surprise to me that I felt uncomfortable, this was a huge shift in teaching and thinking not only for my middle school students, but also for me as their teacher.  I felt almost a little bit mean as well making them read aloud; I think this was due to my memories of round robin reading in the full classroom that I kept coming back to.  I pushed the memories aside though and kept listening to my students read aloud during guided reading on a consistent basis.  Each time they read aloud, I learned another little piece about how their mind processes and text.

Sampling my students' oral reading during guided reading is now one of my favorite parts of the guided reading lesson.  My students have come to accept and expect it as part of the guided reading routine as well.  In fact, there are days when I don't have time to listen to everyone read and I will get a comment such as, "Why didn't you listen to me read today?"  Listening to students read and prompting for fluency has been by far my steepest learning curve this year.  As I continue though, I feel more and more like I'm teaching students reading and what I am learning about the way students process text is unbelievable.  Here are a few examples of common things that I hear from students as they are reading out loud and what I learn about them through my observations:

Self-Corrections:  Some students as they read make an error and then pause, get a puzzled look on their face, and I can see their eyes dart back to the start of the sentence as they reread out loud, self-correcting the error that they made in order to find meaning in their reading.  Students who read a sentence and make an error and blow through the error, continuing onto the next sentence without even pausing show me that they are not comprehending their text.  They are reading to "get through" the text as fast as they can, even if they don't understand.  With students like this I use prompts such as:

-Did that make sense?  Why don't you try that sentence again.
-Readers read for meaning.  If you make a mistake, all you have to do is go back and reread.
-Slow down your rate so that you can clearly see the words on the page and make sense of them as you read.

Noticing Punctuation:  Many of my students appropriately pause at commas, periods, hyphens, etc.  Others read over the punctuation, making the text seem almost unrecognizable.  I know that once again, these students are not comprehending what they are reading to the full extent.  Prompts I use for students like this are:

-Listen as I read this sentence.  Pay attention with what I do when I get to a period or comma.
-Readers read to reflect the punctuation that's in the sentence to make sense of their reading.
-Try the sentence again, showing me that there is a comma/period in the sentence.

Phrasing/Intonation:  Students may read every single word correctly on the page without any errors, but sometimes their phrasing and intonation is so off that I once again wonder if the book is making any sense to them whatsoever.  Prompts I use:

-Listen to the expression in my voice as I read this sentence.  Now you try it.
-Read the dialogue as if you are that character.  How do you picture that character saying that in your head?

I could go on and on with this, but I guess the point I'm trying to get across is listening to a student read out loud is a great indicator to me, as a teacher, of what is going on inside their mind as they're reading independently.  A lot of times during the comprehension conversation at the end of the guided reading lesson, I can almost predict who will contribute meaningfully to the conversation based on what I heard from their oral reading earlier in the lesson.  The amount of improvement that I've seen my guided reading students make in their fluency is huge.  Through a little modeling, prompting, and through working with students based on what I'm noticing about their fluency over time, students are starting to understand what it means to be a fluent reader and striving to be one.  I feel like I know so much about each one of my guided reading students because through listening to their oral reading, I am able to hear how they process through a text.  I feel guilty when I think back to the days when I taught books and not reading when I didn't know what was going on inside their minds as they were reading texts.  I know though that the only thing I can do now is move forward with the knowledge that I have and  working with students individually and through small guided reading groups to improve fluency, and ultimately, improve comprehension.  If students do not have strong fluency, it is my opinion that they will never develop a love or strong habit of reading.  I compare it to a sport that I'm horrible at such as golf.  I never golf because it is so much work to do.  I'm not "fluent" at it.  If reading never makes sense to students as they are reading independently, chances are they are going to disengage and "fake read" or they are going to become frustrated.

Here are a few ideas I have to help build/improve fluency in students who struggle with it:

-Listen to them read out loud as often as possible in guided reading and prompt for it/model it for them.
-Sometimes it is necessary to go to easier text for them that is below their instructional level to develop confidence and give students the chance to read fluently so that they know what it feels like.
-Get to know each student as a reader.
-Show students the connection between comprehension and fluency.
-Teach students what fluent reading sounds like in different genres.  (Example: Students should slow down their reading while reading non-fiction text)

Fluency was something that I used to think of as an "elementary school thing", but I realize now that as a middle school teacher, I need to be aware of my students' fluency as well because after all, I am a READING teacher.

Finally, since I am slightly obsessed with Pinterest, I found this app on there the other day that I would love to somehow try with my guided reading groups.  I will put the link to the pin below, but basically it would allow students to listen to their oral reading to see if they're reading for meaning and how their phrasing and intonation sounds.

I hope everyone has a GREAT school week!  I would love to hear your thoughts on fluency! :)



  1. These are great suggestions! I think it's easy for middle school teachers to forget (or maybe ignore?) the fact that many of our students still need reading instruction as opposed to just comprehension skills. I do guided reading with my pull-out groups, and your sample questions are really helpful!

    1. Hi Erin,

      I'm glad the sample questions will be helpful, and I totally agree with you about middle school teachers forgetting the importance of reading instruction. I'm not sure if it's forgetting or ignoring but maybe more what the norm has been for teaching middle school language arts for so long. It is so encouraging to hear from people like you though who are on the same page as me with this. In the middle school I work at, we have completely shifted to teaching reading over teaching books, and it has already made a huge difference! Thanks for your comment! :)

  2. Although still in training to be a teacher I already work at my local school in a programme called "Reading Mileage". In this programme listen to children of all ages read out loud. The main emphasis is on noticing the fullstops etc and ensuring that what they are reading makes sense. The students in this programme are those who are struggling or not getting the parental input at home with their reading so therefor are not progressing as fast as they should/could. It maybe only 15 minutes a week that I spend with each child outside of their class work but it is amazing the progress that the students make in that time and often its disappointing to have them 'graduate' as they are deemed to be doing well enough as I would love to see how much further I could take them. In my opionion guided reading benefits all ages of children, without listening to them read outloud, how can we pick up and correct the errors that they are doing when they read to themselves!!

    1. The Reading Mileage sounds like a great program! What an awesome opportunity for those children to e able to work with people like you! I think you nailed it with your last sentence when you talked about listening to children read so we know what they're doing when they read to themselves. We are like doctors trying to tell if a child has a broken leg without being able to take an X-ray if as teachers we try to figure out how to best help children read if we don't use the simple tool of having them read out loud!

  3. As a Reading teacher, I constantly have my students read out loud with me; if they're reading independently, I just plop down on the floor and they read to me for a while; if we're doing some whole class reading, they take turns (but only calling on kids who want to be called on). If your class feels like a safe place, kids will want to participate. I learn so much from listening to them read - objective test scores give me more details, but usually not many surprises.

  4. I completely agree with your last comment, Marion! If you're constantly using formative reading assessments with your students during things like guided reading, a standardized reading test is usually right in line with what you already know about students.

  5. I found your blog through your TpT store. I'm excited to find an upper grade literacy resource. I teach 6th grade ELA. I'll have to come back and read all your fluency info when I have more time. I'm your newest follower!

    ✿ Shari
    Keeping It Fresh in 6th Grade

  6. Thanks so much, Shari! I'm always trying to connect with more middle school people as well, so I'm glad we found each other and I'll definitely check out your blog as well! :)

  7. I've had my students record themselves reading, then listen back and reflect on it themselves. They often notice the type of issues you mention above themselves, and it is an empowering way to involve them in their learning.

    1. I love that you do this. It's an awesome way to get students to be self-reflective and hopefully initiates positive changes in themselves as readers. Thanks for sharing!

  8. The misconceptions of fluency. I feel for the students.


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