Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.
What Is Oral Fluency
Oral fluency is a term in the teaching of reading that refers to how smoothly and quickly a reader can read connected material aloud. Oral fluency also includes how much expression the reader has in reading the passage. This measure of pitch, stress, and timing is also called prosody.
Assessing oral fluency can provide information about a child's reading level, but is not a sufficient measurement of reading comprehension.
Early readers begin with decoding written material using previous information acquired about the sounds of letters and letter combinations. Sight words learned by consistent repetition and recognition also play a part in the initial stages of reading for comprehension. Sight words are words that appear with regularity in early reading materials. Some examples include the, see, and we.
Unfortunately, neither decoding ability nor oral fluency alone constitute the ability to read rapidly and with comprehension and recall of written information. Oral fluency contributes to reading comprehension, but is not the complete picture.
How Oral Fluency Works in Reading Comprehension
In order to make material sound smooth and flowing when read aloud, the reader must have moved beyond decoding individual words. Familiarity with the how the language sounds and the syntax of common sentences plays a large role. If the reader already speaks the language, especially from infancy, and learned to speak and recognize words and phrases and their meanings in this same language, learning to read is a much easier proposition. Familiarity leads to an appropriate rate of speed and accuracy in pronunciation.
That is why non-native speakers may have more trouble moving from decoding individual words to reading with comprehension. Oral fluency is an intermediary step in this process. Readers who read with automatic recognition of the words and their meaning, called automaticity, have a much greater chance of understanding what they read.
Perhaps this example will help illustrate the progression. Imagine a native English-speaking adult learning a second language - French or Arabic, for instance - and then never having much opportunity to speak the language after the instruction period was ended. He or she will probably retain some key words and expressions, and will find the language familiar-sounding, but will lose much of the ability to have a conversation, or read prose material with full comprehension.
Yet that same person can probably read a paragraph or passage aloud with proper pronunciation and inflection: oral fluency.
More practice would be needed with the same passage in order to return to a level in which comprehension comes with the reading of a word, and all of the words fit together quickly enough in the reader's mind to carry meaning for the reader.
Ways to Help
- A practice often called slide and glide involves the instructor reading the first part of a passage and the gliding into the student finishing the task. Having the instructor model the level of oral fluency and then giving instructive feedback are critical in this strategy.
- A similar practice is peer assisted reading, in which another student plays the role of the reading coach.
- Tape-assisted reading, though lacking the element of immediate feedback, can provide valuable modeling and practice.
- Perhaps the simplest strategy is simple practice, or repeated reading. As mentioned earlier, when oral fluency is present at a sufficiently high level, the reader is able to focus the brain on the meaning of the passage more readily.
Fluency in Speaking
Oral reading fluency refers to the specific skill of reading from print text smoothly and with appropriate pronunciation and inflection. As mentioned earlier, oral fluency is necessary for comprehension, but not sufficient. Remember the example of the adult language learner.
So what about oral fluency in speaking? Print text is merely a graphic representation of words that, for an infant language learner, are first heard and then repeated aloud. Understanding this relationship is part of print awareness for young children. Speaking and reading practice that provides long-term memory recognition of words and phrases is the bridge between simply reciting a passage smoothly and reading for comprehension.
Oral fluency refers to how smoothly and quickly a reader can read connected material aloud and how much expression the reader has in reading the passage. This measure of pitch, stress, and timing is also called prosody. Oral fluency is an intermediary step in reading comprehension. Readers who read with automatic recognition of the words and their meaning, called automaticity, have a much greater chance of understanding what they read.
Repeated practice, paired reading with peers or instructor, and feedback all help the reader connect oral fluency with meaning. The goal is to read aloud smoothly, and to read with comprehension of the text. Oral reading fluency is a key element of developing accuracy, rate of reading, and overall comprehension.
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