An overview of fluency transcript

Elaine Stanley:

It's good to begin with just thinking about what we mean when we talk about fluency. People often describe fluency as a reader’s ability to read accurately, at a good pace or a good rate, while observing punctuation, and reading with phrasing and expression (the prosody part of fluency development). If a reader is fluent, their reading should be smooth and it should flow, so the words are lifted off the page easily and efficiently. The words on the page really come to life and the intended message is clear as the reader reads.

While this is all true, the question is how can you break that down further to support students to get to that point in their reading? Some students will get there naturally, and all of these things will just come together, but for some it won't necessarily happen unless you've got a really targeted focus on developing their fluency. And that's what we're going to talk about today.

The area of fluency we mostly focus on in the early stages of SSP (Systematic Synthetic Phonics) instruction is developing students' accuracy, which involves them developing automaticity in applying the skills and knowledge they're learning through their SSP instruction. Accuracy needs to be developed first before students can then be expected to read at an appropriate rate and with that prosody.

Today, as part of our SSP instruction, we're focusing on how to help students develop their fluency in applying the letter–sound correspondences they've learned, and being able to blend and segment those letter–sound correspondences to read and spell words, and then sentences, and then eventually whole text. And what we really aim to do is create the right environment for students to build their fluency as they begin to learn more and more complex code that's applied to increasingly complex word and sentence structures and more complex texts as they develop their skills. Fluency development is really an ongoing and continuous process with a focus on accuracy and automaticity first, followed by that rate and prosody.

One of the keys to creating this environment for fluency development at the letter–sound correspondence level, the word level, the sentence level and the whole-text level is to have certain things in place and routine as part of your SSP instruction. The first thing you need is a phonics progression, and that's really your sequence of what to teach and when, when you're introducing your phonics concepts. Paired with that you need an instructional model for phonics lessons. That's how the content will be taught, how your phonics content will be delivered. And then thirdly, you need opportunities for students to develop their knowledge and skills through independent practice, and that's where the repeated practice of applying their knowledge and their skills really works to embed information into long-term memory for students so they can retrieve information easily as they need to.

We'll put the links in the chat now for our progression, which is on the left there, and also the instructional model document, where you'll find details of the instructional model itself, but also that list of application tasks you can see there on the right of the screen.

Literacy Hub phonics progression:

Phonics instructional model for reading and spelling:

We would also encourage you to look back at topics one and two if you haven't seen them already, to find all the background information about all of these areas and also the live events that really unpack them and explain them.

Topic 1:

Topic 2:

All right, so let's look at each one in a little bit more detail. Our first thing to have in place is a high-quality phonics progression with a set sequence for introducing letter–sound correspondences that builds on  students' knowledge and skills gradually and progresses from simple to complex code. So simple code being single letter–sound correspondences, one letter and one sound. And then moving to more complex combinations of letters where one sound can be represented by more than one letter pattern and letter patterns can represent more than one sound. As you move through the progression, you start working on those more complex concepts. So that needs to be in place first.

Then paired with that, we need a really consistent instructional model for delivering our phonics lessons, where reading and spelling are both taught together at the same time:

  • it's best if we've got explicit instruction incorporated in those lessons ­– so you're breaking the learning down into really manageable chunks and really focusing in on the learning that's happening in each lesson – paired with the gradual release of responsibility framework
  • then ‘I do’, lots of ‘I do’ modelling from the teacher
  • then moving into guided practice where the students join in with teacher guidance
  • and eventually, once students show their understanding and ability to apply what they're learning, moving into the ‘You do’ for independent practice.

Alongside this, within your lessons, you need really consistent expectations of what students are expected to be doing during the lesson and really consistent routines within the lesson, so students know exactly what the routine is and what's coming next at any point in the lesson, and what's expected of them. And when all those things are in place, then they can really focus their attention on the learning at hand, not on what they're expected to do within the lesson. That's a really important part of what needs to be set up before you start developing fluency with students.

Then, paired with both of those things, we need the opportunity for students to have that repeated practice of learnt concepts and skills through:

  • daily reviews – your review sessions when you're reviewing what they've already learned and they get to show and apply what they've learned
  • time to also complete independent skill application tasks aimed at students’ individual level of skill application. So that means what they're able to do independently of the teacher. That repeated practice at the level they're able to complete tasks independently is really important for building their fluency at whatever level they're working.

We'll just take a closer look at some of those tasks on that sheet for a second. We're talking about things like during independent practice time, students reading from a bank of decodable texts they've already got in their bank of texts that they can read each day. That would be ones with letter–sound correspondences they're really familiar with and are really knowledgeable at using at this point. Also, they might be playing phonics pair-games, focusing on a particular sound to bring that to fluency. That can be with a partner as well. They might be reading decodable words or sentences and then writing the word or sentence or drawing an image to match the word or sentence, to show their understanding all the way through, through reading and writing and understanding what the sentence is telling them or the words.

If they've got the level of skill application that they can do this, they might be rewriting a familiar decodable text, one that's known really well to them. So that means they're using their letter–sound correspondence knowledge and their ability to segment and get those words onto the page to retell a story that's really familiar, not by copying, but by using their skills and their knowledge at this point.

For students not quite working at that level, for their independent practice time they might be working at the letter–sound correspondence level. So that's what they can do independently. Activities like having a set of pictures and identifying what the initial sound is in the picture, and then matching the letter that makes that sound.

When all of these instructional parts are in place, it's really supportive of cognitive load theory, for both students and teachers actually. With those set routines and consistent lesson structure and that repeated guided and independent practice, students can really focus on the learning at hand and they don't have to use their cognitive energy to focus on what the task is asking them to do or what the lesson is asking of them. So that becomes really familiar. They can really focus on practising their knowledge and skill areas.

In the same way, it's supportive of teachers’ cognitive load as well, because teachers can actually focus on the learning that's happening with their students, not on what they have to do next to present the lesson. So this means that teachers are freed up to really observe what's happening with their students, to give that immediate corrective feedback to students as needed within the lesson, and also to make notes on students' progress and how they're progressing with the learning in that lesson, which all helps inform their teaching and adapt to the immediate needs of their students in order to move them along to that next stage of learning.

Consistency with all of these parts of instruction is what brings all the pieces of that instructional puzzle together and will facilitate the development of fluency for reading and spelling for students. And all of these things in place with consistency will also facilitate the process of orthographic mapping to occur, which is a big contributor to fluency development. With repeated practice at applying their knowledge and skills to words they're able to read and write, students will begin to map words into their long-term memory for easy retrieval over time. Again, that's helping to build their fluency, being able to read and write words and sentences and texts later on.

A good explainer of both of these processes, cognitive load theory and orthographic mapping, is contained in our Jocelyn Seamer introductory videos on SSP instruction, which Kerrie had mentioned before. And if you would like more information on those, you'll find them on the Professional Learning Series overview page, and the link is already in the chat for you for that one.

That's where you'll find those, but they're well worth having a look at.