Paired reading enhances fluency

iStock_000025474831XSmallChildren who are not fluent readers are more likely to have lower self-esteem, to have discipline problems and to perform poorly in content area classes, and are less likely to graduate from high school, reports Sandra L. Nes, Texas Tech University.

Nes studied ways to provide appropriate instruction to ensure that children develop efficient reading skills. In particular, she measured the development of reading fluency in an intensive, one-on-one paired – reading program. The purpose of this study was to examine reading fluency, comprehension and accuracy within the context of paired – reading instruction.

Four upper-elementary students identified by their teachers as having fluency problems participated in the study. Each student was reading one grade level or more below his or her grade placement and was at least 35 percent less fluent than expected for his or her age. Students are expected to read 90 words per minute by third grade and 150 words per minute by grade six.

Fluency includes automatic word recognition, good word attack and comprehension skills, self-correction, and smooth oral reading with appropriate expression. Skilled readers have the ability to read connected text aloud with sufficient speed and accuracy so that the words are grouped in logical units, with appropriate phrasing, inflection, tone and emphasis. Inefficient, less-fluent readers tend to read haltingly with little or no expression. Their comprehension is often weak, and reading is not enjoyable for them.

Baseline data was collected for each student before the paired – reading intervention began. Reading rates and accuracy percentages were calculated each day during instruction and periodically after the study to measure maintenance of the improved skills. In addition, a reading maze was administered to monitor reading comprehension skills. The maze consisted of connected text with every eighth to tenth word missing. Three words were available to choose from to fill in each blank.

The study was conducted in the school library during periods when it was not in use. An experienced teacher served as the skilled reader in one-to-one instruction for 30 to 40 minutes five days a week for 11 weeks. Nes acknowledges that because one-to-one instruction is costly, it must be highly effective to justify the cost. Initial tutoring sessions were used to establish rapport with each student and to determine their reading interests and skills. Students selected books to read with their teacher and charted their own performance each day which proved to be highly motivational for these students.

Each session began with a discussion or review of the previous day’s reading (approximately 100-250 words). Then the teacher read the next passage aloud while the student followed along in his copy of the text. Next, the student read the same passage aloud. If the student misread or omitted a word, the teacher did not interrupt but noted the error. If the student hesitated for three seconds, however, the teacher pronounced the word for the student and recorded the word as an error. Students read for approximately 20 minutes each session.

Once every two weeks, students were asked to read the next passage before the teacher modeled it, so the teacher could access the generalization of skills to new material. Each child was seen five times after the study ended to examine the stability of improved skills over time.

Significant improvement in fluency

All four students in the study demonstrated significant improvement in fluency while maintaining very high (above 95 percent) accuracy and high comprehension scores (90 percent and above) on the maze-completion tests. Students’ mean reading rates increased by 56 to 70 words per minute over the course of the 11-week study. These rates were maintained over time and improvement generalized to new material. By the end of the study, all four students read faster, more smoothly, and with more emphasis and phrasing.

These results are consistent with other research findings. When an experienced teacher serves as the paired reader, students make significant gains in reading speed and fluency while maintaining high accuracy and comprehension scores. Nes stresses that paired reading in this study included both modeling/instruction and collaborative dialogue. The sessions were very interactive, and participants found the process motivating. By providing daily practice with connected text, paired reading exposed students to large amounts of print in a setting that promoted engagement and emphasized fluency. These elements helped promote automaticity in reading. Nes also believes that students were motivated by choosing their own reading materials and seeing concrete evidence of their progress as they charted their daily performance.

While significant gains were made in reading fluency and good accuracy and comprehension were maintained, Nes did not report the individual achievement levels of students at the beginning and end of the study. It would be helpful to know the rate of progress these students made compared to their peers.

“Using Paired Reading to Enhance the Fluency Skills of Less-Skilled Readers”, Reading Improvement, Volume 40, Number 4, Winter 2003, pp. 179-192

Published in ERN March 2004 Volume 17 Number 3

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