In a recent study by Melanie Kuhn, Rutgers Graduate School of Education, two strategies, repeated reading and wide reading, were evaluated for their usefulness in improving reading fluency. Fluent readers automatically and accurately recognize words. They also read aloud with expression and correct phrasing.
Research shows that fluency is important for comprehension. Therefore, the ultimate goal of fluency instruction, like other reading instruction, is comprehension. Until recently, fluency was often overlooked in literacy curricula. Educators assumed that increased amounts of decoding instruction automatically led to improved fluency, and that once students recognized words automatically and understood their meaning, comprehension improved. However, to make oral reading sound like spoken language, students must be able to read fluently as well as decode effortlessly.
Repeated reading and wide reading
In this study, Kuhn adopted a modification of repeated-reading strategy and a wide-reading strategy for use with small groups of struggling second-grade readers. Repeated reading refers to reading the same text several times. The first reading is supported by the teacher reading aloud and students following along or echo reading, followed by further practice reading to a partner or with a tape. Wide reading refers to reading a wide variety of texts. Students read stories along with the teacher, but there was no repetition.
A new story was read in each session. A group of 24 second graders who were reading at first-grade level or below participated in this study. Their listening comprehension was on grade level, demonstrating their ability to understand second-grade texts.
Second grade was selected because this is the point at which students generally begin making the transition to fluent reading. Students came together in groups of six for this short-term intervention and were randomly assigned to the repeated-reading, wide-reading, listening-only or control groups. Groups met three times a week over a six-week period for 15 to 20 minutes each session. Eighteen trade books at the first- and second-grade instructional level were selected.
Students in the repeated-reading groups read six of these books at least three times each, while the wide-reading group read each of the 18 books once. The books included such popular titles as Amelia Bedelia, Big Max, Frog and Toad Together, Harry the Dirty Dog, etc.
The repeated-reading strategy required students to reread stories three or four times over the course of the three weekly sessions. The teacher modeled fluent reading and the students practiced it by echoing the teacher while she read, reading chorally with a partner and taking turns reading individually with a partner. At the end of the week, students had the opportunity to perform a section of the text in front of the group.
The wide-reading strategy was used to compare the effectiveness of supported but non-repetitive reading in developing students’ fluency. The wide-reading strategy incorporated echoing the teacher’s reading of a text to support students’ development of accurate and automatic word recognition with expressive reading. Students in this group also participated in three sessions a week, but each session involved a single scaffolded reading of a different story. This group read the same six books as the repeated-reading group, as well as another 12 stories.
The listening-only group heard the teacher read the same 18 books aloud over the six weeks of the study. The control group followed the regular class curriculum.
Outperformed listening only
Each student in the study was tested before and after the intervention. Both reading comprehension and individual word recognition were measured. The students were also given the NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Scale. Both the repeated-reading and wide-reading groups outperformed the listening-only and control groups on word recognition. Similarly, these two groups were able to read more words correctly per minute and to read more fluently. However, only the students in the wide-reading group showed significantly improved comprehension. It was somewhat surprising that the listening-only group did not make gains in either fluency or comprehension over the control group. Kuhn suggests that while listening to stories may foster a love of reading, it appears from this research that students must actively engage in the reading of connected text if they are to become more skilled readers.
Kuhn suggests that the difference in the repeated- reading and wide-reading groups may perhaps be due to the limited amount of time given to the study – – 20 minutes three times a week for six weeks. Kuhn focused on smooth, expressive reading. Repeated reading led to improved levels of fluency, but learners apparently did not attend to comprehension. Comprehension and vocabulary were only taught implicitly. The wide-reading group, which read a new book each session, may have paid more attention to comprehension. Students’ ability to construct meaning may improve as a result of increasing the amount of connected text they are responsible for reading.
“Helping Students Become Accurate, Expressive Readers: Fluency Instruction for Small Groups”, The Reading Teacher, Volume 58, Number 4, January 2005, pp. 338-344.
Published in ERN January 2005 Volume 18 Number 1