Fluency at sentence and text level transcript
When students are reading and writing at the word level, the focus can then transfer to them applying their knowledge at the sentence level.
What teachers should be looking for at the sentence level, for reading in particular, is that students’ decoding ability at word level is becoming really fluent and efficient. They may be starting to recognise some words instantly because they've started to map them and they can recognise them as soon as they see them and they're learning to re-read and hold onto larger pieces of information, to hold onto a whole sentence, so that's where you're moving towards.
Once students get to the sentence level, it may mean that students can gradually begin to answer comprehension questions as well, because they're able to hold onto enough information to start to understand the message of what they're reading. So, for example, if students were reading a sentence like ‘the cat sat on a black log’ and they've read that, they've decoded and re-read the sentence, then it would be appropriate at this stage for the teacher to start saying, ‘Who sat on a log?’ and bringing in a little bit of questioning and expecting students to begin to be able to attend to that comprehension as well as their fluency is developing.
For sentence-level writing, fluency means that students can hold onto a whole sentence and then break it down word by word and segment their sounds and write their words to make that sentence.
Sentence-level fluency is, again, supported through modelled and guided practice during your explicit instruction in your lessons. At this stage, the teacher is assisting students to extend what they've learned at the word level and begin to apply it at that sentence level. So there's a strong focus here on building students' ability to hold onto those larger chunks of information, and the teacher would be demonstrating during those lessons, decoding each word, but then re-reading, gradually holding on to a whole sentence.
For writing, students would now be, again, building up to the sentence level. So what they would do is the teacher would be giving them a sentence to write, and the students can say it back. Then at the beginning, the teacher might be working word by word. If it was ‘the ship is at the dock’, the students would repeat that back and the teacher would be saying, ‘Right, we're going to break that down and one word at a time, we're going to do it’. But as you slowly build their skills, they'll be able to hold onto, eventually, the whole sentence and scribe that.
Daily review sessions then provide opportunities for students to practise applying their skills to process and hold onto those whole sentences as they read and write. At this stage in reading, we often talk about making our reading sound like talking. As students start to develop their skills at reading that whole sentence, then they start to think about how it's sounding, and the rate that they're reading at to make it sound like talking. By doing that, it means the sentence is flowing smoothly, it can convey its message clearly, and it's at a rate where you can process what you're reading and hold on to the information.
It's at this stage that fluency really moves into that rate area as well, because you want students to, instead of reading in a really stilted way word by word, you want them to start reading with a sentence that flows, which means they can process it and think about what it's saying as well.
We'll just quickly zoom in on those independent tasks. You can see here that we've got some fluency triangles to help students build to that sentence level. And, also, we've got some sentence strips, which we also saw in our last topic, where students can practise reading at that sentence level.
I'll just model a fluency triangle to show how that would work. With that top one there, students would be practising their letters and sounds first, and then practising decoding those individual words, and when they get to the fluency triangle, they're going to build up gradually to that sentence. What they would do, if they can just read the word by the time they're working at this building to sentence level, if they can just read the word, they can do that. But if they need to decode each word, that's fine as well and they slowly build up.
What a student would do would be, starting with the top one.
/p/, /a/, /t/.
Because that's one of our irregular words, so they would've learned that one.
Pat the /a/, /n/, /t/.
Pat the ant is.
Pat the ant is /i/-/n/.
Pat the ant is in the.
Pat the ant is in the /t/, /i/, /n/, /t/-/i/-/n/.
Pat the ant is in the tin.
Gradually, they're learning to hold onto more and more. When they get to that last line, their goal is to make their reading sound like talking, so they're really building that fluency. That's how the fluency triangles work.
Again, you can complete these tasks in fluency pairs. So students can take turns listening to a partner read or they can dictate a sentence for a partner to write, et cetera. Some schools like to incorporate the students offering feedback as well during this partner time, but it's really worth setting that up with clear expectations, just as it is with any independent practice task. Really model how you want that to work at the beginning when you start that feedback with partners, so that it works really well between students. You need to spend a little bit of time setting that up.
Fluency at sentence level is important because it contributes to text reading and writing fluency. And, as I said before, when sentence-level fluency is developing well for reading, then it's appropriate to expect that students can begin to devote some of their cognitive energy or attention to comprehension as well as they read. So you're slowly moving them along the sort of continuum of reading skills.
You might start to incorporate some questioning into your explicit teaching lessons at this point or your daily review sessions, such as, if we pick that sentence there, if the student was reading ‘Pat the ant is in the tin’, you might follow up by saying, ‘Who was in the tin?’ And then students would think about it and say, ‘Oh, Pat the ant was in the tin’.
As their fluency develops and they can process more and more information in one go, they can start to actually think about the meaning of what they're reading as well. It's slowly moving students along, but with that guided support.
Supporting fluency development at text level is where we want to end up at, and that's something we started the conversation about in our last topic, so that's choosing and using decodable texts, which was topic three. We'll just put the link in the chat now – if you haven't seen that topic, you might like to go and have a look.
In our live session for that topic, we modelled how you would use a decodable text as part of instruction in your whole grade, in a whole-grade setting with a small, focused teaching group and also, one-to-one with students. So, it might be worth having a look there if you haven't seen that topic.
But, generally, as the texts that students are reading become more complex, what you're looking for from a fluency perspective is that students can lift the words off the page accurately and efficiently and that they're able to begin to read at an appropriate rate that helps them process what they're reading as they read. That's where that rate starts to come in again. They're gradually then building that bridge towards comprehension, which is our ultimate goal when we are reading.
And for writing, if fluency is developing at the text level, you want to see that students are able to get those words on the page fluently. The process involved in identifying and segmenting sounds, identifying their letter–sound correspondences, and forming those letters correctly becomes effortless. So then students can start to focus on those bigger picture things about text structure or grammar or voice in their writing. You're making all those lower-level skills really automatic. That's the aim.
Let's just think about the things we can have in place when working with a decodable text to support students' text-level fluency. Your modelled and guided practice during your explicit phonics lessons and your focused teaching groups will support students to develop their skills at working at that whole-text level. With modelled and guided practice, students are learning to decode and re-read words and sentences to really build their fluency and hold onto the whole message in the text. But, again, as with all other stages in the process, fluency focus at the text level begins with accuracy first. Once they're reading accurately, then you can focus on their rate and then you can focus on prosody and using expression and phrasing in those areas.
A focus on rate at this level with a decodable text can also mean that you give students permission to stop sounding out every word aloud, if they can begin to do part of that process internally or if they've mapped certain words and they just recognise them as they're reading them, because at this stage, some of that orthographic mapping will be taking place as well. Often, students think they have to show you everything they can do and they want to decode every word to show you that they can apply all their skills. You often have to give them permission to just read the word if they can recognise it and that all helps build their fluency because it builds their rate and they're able to move through a text more efficiently.
So independent practice, at this stage, when you're working on fluency, would usually involve working on a specific fluency goal where the student's thinking about their goal when they're focusing on their fluency and the teacher can give targeted feedback against that goal. You can incorporate tasks such as students recording themselves and listening back with their goal in mind. You can also, again, include paired reading fluency tasks. It might be partner A and partner B, and they take turns reading with their fluency-related goal in mind and then they give each other corrective feedback.
There are some schools that don't have decodable resources available. They don't have them at the school. So we do have a resource that's a list of free decodable series and we'll just put the link in the chat for our document where we've listed some of those and we've also got information of the progression or the sequence that they follow in each series.
That might be really useful to schools if you'd like to incorporate some work around decodables, but you don't have any at present at your school.
As students begin to read more-complex texts at this level, when they get to the whole-text level, teachers can start doing oral reading fluency assessments. Usually, this is from Year 1 onwards, and they can be used to measure accuracy and rate, so rate being the number of words read correctly per minute. It's a timed test or assessment and students read an unseen text and you can measure their accuracy and their rate with those. But that's from grade 1 onwards usually, so that's when that kicks in.