How Automaticity & Fluency Impact Reading Comprehension

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson explains the difference between reading automaticity and reading fluency, the sequence in which students learn these skills, and how they impact reading comprehension.

Components of Reading Comprehension

People who are naturally strong readers may not realize that there are many components and distinct skills involved in reading. Comprehension refers to the ability to understand the text as a whole. Before a student can comprehend a text, he or she needs to be able to recognize and pronounce words, and understand how punctuation affects the meaning of a text. The ability to synthesize all of these skills together in order to know what letters and letter-combinations sound like and mean is challenging.

Reading teachers and parents of young readers would benefit from understanding the different components involved in reading, the order in which they should be mastered, and how they affect each other, so that they can pinpoint what a student needs to practice in order to achieve strong reading comprehension.

Automaticity Vs. Fluency: What's the Difference?

Automaticity has the word ''automatic'' embedded within in it, and refers to a reader's ability to automatically know how to say a word, without stumbling through the process of sounding it out. Whether or not a reader has automaticity can affect his or her comprehension of a text; a reader who is mostly focused on sounding out words probably does not understand the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or pages of text. In the developmental sequence, this is the first skill a student learning to read should master. Often, students in kindergarten and first grade have lists of ''sight'' words they must master that will establish automaticity in their reading.

Fluency is similar to automaticity, but encompasses more skills than just automatic word recognition. To be a fluent reader, the reader must also be able to change the inflection of his or her voice to reflect the meaning of the text. For example, fluent readers know how to raise the inflection at the end of a sentence containing a question mark to sound inquisitive, or to sound excited when reading sentences punctuated with exclamation points. A reader's ability to change his or her expression and tone based on punctuation or on which character is speaking, shows that he or she is comprehending the text. This is a skill that involves awareness of the context in which the words exist, and therefore sequentially comes after the skill of automaticity.

How Distinct Reading Skills Impact Each Other

As stated above, when children are learning to read, learning to identify words automatically is the first step. In the classroom, teachers can help students develop automaticity by having the class orally recite lists of ''sight words.'' Once readers have a bank of vocabulary that they know immediately and don't need to sound out, they can begin to make meaning out of these words.

Once students have achieved automaticity and learns the meanings of these words, their oral reading will become more fluid. If a reader can recognize and pronounce by sight all of the words on a page, but does not know what many of them mean, the reading will still be choppy and there will be no comprehension. Once a student knows the meaning of the words, how sentences are formed, and the impact that punctuation has on meaning, he or she will be a fluent reader.

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