July 7, 2018 at 8:06 PM #49408Carolyn Martin@carolynmartin
Which is better in building fluency among early readers (grades 1-3) – word lists or more practice with reading passages? What thoughts do some of you have on this matter? If you have an opinion in one direction or the other I’d like to hear it. Some teachers use word lists such as Victory Drill. Other resources claim practicing familiar passages is better. For the average child, I think either can be helpful but what about the struggling reader? Are there any success stories for either method you can share? What works for you?
July 14, 2018 at 5:37 PM #49572Betty Yoder@bettyyoder
While I prefer a combination of the two paths, I lean the most strongly on the reading passages one. Stories are nearly always more interesting than mere lists of words, and yet, phonetic lists such as Victory Drill can also be really helpful. I used Victory Drill a lot when I taught grades 1-2 and found that a daily short practice really helped most students become more fluent. But I think reading “real stories” — which are the true intent of reading those lists — will nearly always be more meaningful and hence, in the end be more effective.
While the approach must be tailored to the child’s academic level, I think it is also very wise to include their interests as much as is feasible. If possible, I recommend students read chapter books versus only short stories — they usually create deeper interest. To practice extra fluency the child could choose a favorite paragraph or half page from that day’s reading and go back to then practice just that section repeatedly before reading it to ____, someone who will happily enter into the pleasure of hearing the child read that section well and give needed affirmation. And key of course is regular practice.
One year I heard a (deeply) struggling reader was transferring to our school and would enter my room. When the mother asked for input I gave her a number of excellent chapter books on the second grade level and suggested she let him choose which one(s) look the most interesting and have him read a bit each day. For him, that approach worked very well. I don’t think simply reading short stories from a common reader would have created the same interest. And since he got to help choose which books to read according to what interested him, he progressed further. This especially worked well because this child’s mental development certainly exceeded his reading level and when interest is piqued, half the work is done.
On a bit of a different note: In the classroom I frequently assign a (different) half page of that day’s reading pages to each child, give them 2-3 minutes to practice just their section (repeatedly, with expression, asking me for any words they don’t know) and then they by turns come up and read their section in front of the class. In that way they practice fluency on a short section and then follow along as each child reads their section — they want to follow along because they want to know what is going to happen! They really enjoy this and I think it works well.
July 14, 2018 at 7:56 PM #49574Carolyn Martin@carolynmartin
Thanks, Betty. This is pretty much how I feel also. But then I will read or hear something about fluency lists and question myself. I also grapple with the issue of word recognition. Just when does a student really know the words? I had a student last year who could read a passage fairly accurately if it was on a familiar subject but really struggled with isolated words such as lists. I feel like she was using context clues in the passages because she couldn’t read many of the same words when taken out of the passage. I’m also suspicious that her main reading mechanism was memorizing words rather than decoding words.
Anyone else have an idea or opinion to share?
August 29, 2018 at 11:05 AM #51665Jonas SauderModerator@jonas
Debating the value of the controlled word list vs “real reading” for fluency provides every generation with opportunity to develop their debating skills. Both activities are valid and serve purposes. Their effective balanced use relative to each other is an art.
One reasonable parallel is the development of specific skills for certain games, such as softball. Time spent with intensive “drilling” of pitch and catch, hitting the ball, pitching, and base-running is well spent. The wise coach will balance these drill periods with game practice periods.
Decoding individual words serves a purpose, just as speed drills do in arithmetic. The reading program includes both reading the words from the print and “reading” (with expression, comprehension, and interpretation) the words of the story. Both are needed.
Regarding the length of the stories read…It’s the quality of the piece rather than whether it is book length or “short” that really counts. It’s too bad that some anthologies anthologize mediocre stories. Sometimes the shortness of a story actually helps it be memorable, effective, formative. Such are some of the fables that come to us from centuries ago.
While reading/re-reading familiar and well-written pieces of literature helps the child develop fluency of expressive reading (an important skill), it has limited value in helping him develop decoding skills. Some verbal calisthenics are needed.
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