Timothy Rasinski Ph.D.

Why Fluency? A Personal Journey

In honor of International Literacy Day on September 8th, we wanted to reshare this guest blog post from Dr. Timothy Rasinski, a professor of literacy education at Kent State University, Ohio and director of its award winning reading clinic. In this post he covers why and how he has discovered that reading fluency is essential for reading progress.

Tim Rasinski

Anyone who has followed the ups and downs of reading fluency knows that it has been a bumpy road. First it was neglected (Alllington, 1983) as many teachers and scholars equated it with oral reading recitation – and since silent reading proficiency is what is critical, oral reading fluency did not seem very important. Later it was misunderstood as it became synonymous with making children read fast (to increase their Words Read Correct per Minute scores). More recently it has been identified as “Not Hot” in the annual “What’s Hot; What’s Not” survey sponsored by the International Literacy Association, and even more recently has been dropped completely from the survey’s topics.

And yet, despite all this I am a firm advocate in reading fluency. The research on reading fluency and reading achievement is just too great to ignore. Study after study have found strong associations between reading fluency and overall reading achievement at grades levels ranging from the primary grades to college readers. Moreover, the research also suggests that a large percentage of students have not achieved satisfactory levels of fluency that are associated with good proficiency.

However, my own introduction to the power of reading fluency came many years ago as an intervention teacher. My interest is in struggling readers and after several years as a classroom teacher I became a reading interventionist in my elementary school. I really thought I could help make a difference for my students. I was taking graduate courses in reading at the local university and thought I knew just what to do with my students. We worked on word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension, and even authentic writing. Yet, despite my good efforts a significant number of my students were not making the progress I had hoped. I was doing everything the book told me to do and yet the results for these students were minimal at best.

Fortunately for me in one of my graduate classes the professor had the class reading some articles on this relatively new concept called reading fluency (e.g. Chomsky, 1976; Samuels, 1979). Although I had heard the term “fluency” before, I thought it had something to do with speech, not reading.

Nevertheless, I decided that since I had nothing to lose I would try some of the methods that were described in the articles I had read – specifically repeated readings and assisted reading (students reading while hearing the text read to them in a fluent manner). I couldn’t believe the results! These students who previously were making minimal progress began to take off – some more than others, but in nearly all cases greater progress than they had been making prior to my employing these new strategies. Moreover, it wasn’t just their reading that improved; it was also their confidence in themselves as readers. You could see it in their body language and voice – no more mumble reading!

Ever since those long ago days as a reading specialist I have become an advocate for reading fluency. And, research done by myself and other reading scholars have solidified my understanding that reading fluency is essential for reading progress and that many of our struggling readers are not sufficiently fluent.

Allington, R.L. (1983). Fluency: The neglected reading goal. The Reading Teacher, 36, 556-561.
Chomsky, C. (1976). After decoding: What? Language Arts, 53, 288-296.
Samuels, S. J. (1979). The method of repeated readings. The Reading Teacher, 32, 403–408.


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