What Guided Reading Practices Contribute to Fluency?

Building fluency during guided reading is essential for developing readers. Fluency is often defined by reading rate, but also includes pausing, phrasing, stress, and intonation, all of which are related to meaning. There are several ways fluency is built during guided reading.

As teachers work with students in guided reading, understanding the role and expectations of fluency development across a developmental continuum is important.  With emergent readers, we expect that readers will read word-by-word the first few times they read the text—reading for accuracy with finger-pointing and word-by-word tracking is expected. On repeated reads we may see students in the later part of the emergent stage begin to become more fluent as they read and re-read familiar texts. As early readers progress and finger-tracking behavior fades away, readers may begin to develop more fluency, with phrases like “in the tree” being read as a unit, even in new texts in guided reading. Readers in the fluent stages of reading development are expected to demonstrate phrasing, pausing, stress and intonation in new texts as well as adjust their reading rate based on the text type.  It is expected that students at all reading stages recognize that “reading fast” isn’t a goal for a reader.

During guided reading (while keeping the expectations for readers outlined in the previous paragraph in mind), teachers can encourage students to build fluency in several ways. We ensure fluency development by selecting texts in which fluency is possible, being careful not to move readers to higher levels of text if fluency isn’t present (Fountas and Pinnell, 2006).  If fluency isn’t present, just teaching for fluency won’t support it to develop; comprehension and fluency develop in tandem.  Fluency may falter in places as students focus on constructing meaning. We expect fluency to return as comprehension is made.

In guided reading, fluency development can also be encouraged by supporting students to anticipate what they expect the text to say (Clay, 1991). A student’s oral language and the recognition of what word might come next is a strong support for fluency development. Expectations about text types also encourage readers to anticipate what a text might say, how it might be organized, and what might happen or occur in a text. Finally, the ability to process visual information quickly—another factor in fluency development—is encouraged by having students at the emergent and early levels read and reread familiar texts introduced in guided reading. More fluent readers need to continue growing their bank of sight words and develop their abilities to decode rapidly and efficiently. All of these factors contribute to building fluency during guided reading.