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Reading Fluency Research

Reading fluency is the speed or rate of reading without conscious attention to the mechanics of reading.

What Is Reading Fluency?

Reading fluency is the ability to retrieve words automatically. To be an efficient reader, you need to be able to retrieve words automatically. Studies show that slow single word reading leads to poor comprehension and frustration. If you can’t read rapidly, you can’t hold large pieces of information in your mind.

When you read fluently, you do so without thinking of the reading process. Reading automatically gives you the ability to comprehend what you have read.

M. S. Meyer and R. H. Felton (1999) defined fluency as “the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding”.

Time Needed to Improve Fluency

Cecil Mercer, a researcher from the University of Florida, published his results from his study Effects of Fluency Intervention for Middle Schoolers with Specific Learning Disabilities in (2000) stating daily practice can be for as little as five or six minutes. Substantial gains in reading fluency came from repeated oral reading of various sorts such as letters or words for five or six minutes a day. The key to the success was doing the repeated oral reading over a period of time e.g. six months to twenty-three months.

Research on Fluency

The importance of reading fluency has been noted for many years. In fact, one of the first reading fluency researchers, psychologist William MacKeen Cattell (1886), discovered that you can read a word (like ‘tiger’) faster than you can name a picture of a pouncing feline creature!

Cattell was the first person to recognize that we become quite ‘automatic’ when we read. In fact, we are more automatic when reading than when speaking. So, learning to read automatically is a huge achievement for our brain. This is a capacity that we have, learning something so well that we can do it almost without thinking.

According to research done by S. Jay Samuels in the 1970’s, “If you are slow in word identification, you have trouble focusing on and attending to what you are reading, and therefore, your comprehension is lower than it should be.” Thirty years later (2006) he goes on to say that “The link between fluency and overall reading proficiency is now well established. Comprehension requires the fluent master of the surface-level aspects of reading.”

Peter Schreiber in the 80’s stated, “It is not just reading, but hearing the rhythm and flow of the language will help students improve reading.”

Reid Lyon, Ph.D. stated in 1997, “While the ability to read words accurately is a necessary skill in learning to read, the speed at which this is done becomes a critical factor in ensuring that children understand what they read. As one child recently remarked, ‘If you don’t ride a bike fast enough, you fall off.’ Likewise, if the reader does not recognize words quickly enough, the meaning will be lost… If the reading of the words on the page is slow and labored, the reader simply cannot remember what he or she has read, much less relate the ideas they have read about to their own background knowledge.”

In 2001, Nancy Mather and Sam Goldstein stated “Children are successful with decoding when the process used to identify words is fast and nearly effortless or automatic.” As noted, the concept of automaticity refers to your ability to recognize words rapidly with little attention required to the word’s appearance. “The ability to read words by sight automatically is the key to skilled reading” (Ehri, L.C., 1998).

Children are successful with decoding when the process used to identify words is fast and nearly effortless or automatic. As noted, the concept of automaticity refers to a student’s ability to recognize words rapidly with little attention required to the word’s appearance. L. C. Ehri (1998) states that the ability to read words by sight automatically is the key to skilled reading.

Some children have developed accurate word pronunciation skills but read slowly. For these children, decoding is not automatic or fluent, and their limited fluency may affect performance in the following ways:

  1. They read less text than peers and have less time to remember, review, or comprehend the text
  2. They expend more cognitive energy than peers trying to identify individual words
  3. They may be less able to retain text in their memories and less likely to integrate those segments with other parts of the text

(Mastropieri, Leinart, & Scruggs, 1999)

If you don’t read well, you don’t want to read. Improving fluency is a critical component to improving reading.