Techniques for Assessing Student Fluency

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Fluency is an important component of reading, and to teach it properly, we need to know how to assess it. This lesson gives you strategies for assessing the components of fluency.

Why Assess Fluency?

Fluency generally refers to the aspect of a student's reading ability that deals speed, prosody and expression. A fluent reader reads in a speaking voice, follows punctuation, and phrases groups of words together. Fluency can make a big difference in comprehension, or the understanding of reading, because when we read fluently, the words will make more sense and sound more like meaningful language.

To instruct students towards fluency, we need solid assessments that help us to understand what exactly their issues are and where they would benefit from support. Good assessments will also teach us a student's strengths so that we help with areas of relative struggle. Assessing fluency is more nuanced in some ways than decoding, and requires thoughtfulness on the part of the teacher. This lesson gives you some strategies for assessing your students' reading fluency.

Techniques for Assessing Rate

One important aspect of fluency is rate, or speed of reading. A student who reads very slowly may be attempting a text that is too challenging for them, and very slow reading can sometimes impede comprehension. On the other hand, you do not want students to read so quickly that they are not attending to accurate meaning of the text. This is why rate assessments should be used hand-in-hand with comprehension assessments.

To assess students' reading rate, you can use one of two strategies:

Timed Oral Readings

Use a stopwatch, or a timer application, to time students reading short passages of 200-300 words orally. Ask them simple comprehension questions when they are finished. Calculate how long each 100 words took them to read.

Timed Silent Readings

With older students, you can also time them as they read silently. Time them as they read 5-10 pages independently, and then ask comprehension questions when they are finished. Calculate how long it took to read one page of grade-level texts.

Techniques for Assessing Prosody and Phrasing

Another aspect of fluency is prosody, or the extent to which reading sounds like spoken language. Prosody often goes hand in hand with phrasing, or the ability to group words together into meaningful statements. Prosody and phrasing both involve a close attention to punctuation, as well as to the meaning of text and any underlying structure of language.

Prosody and phrasing assessments usually involve a teacher listening to a child read and taking notes on their phrasing and prosody. Some questions to organize your note taking include:

    • Does the child attend to punctuation?
    • How many words does the child read before taking a breath?
    • Does the child group words together in phrases that make sense?
    • Does the child sound natural as he reads?

Though these questions are in some sense subjective but when you apply them to multiple students, you will be able to compare and contrast students' grasp on prosody and phrasing.

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