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The Bridge to Fluency (Part 1)

Piece by piece we help kids build the Bridge to reading success

by Adam Meyersieck

For many years, the skills contributing to reading fluency have been widely known and taught in our education system(s). Phonological awareness (PA), grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs), decoding/sight word reading are thoroughly addressed, and these are correctly accepted as predictors of, and contributors to, good fluency.

What about students who can use these skills in isolation but for whom other aspects of reading is difficult? What are the elements beyond PA, GPCs and word reading? How do we develop their reading fluency, and what types of interventions address these?

Crossing The Bridge to Fluency requires practice of each of the skills in isolation and, ultimately together, to work toward comprehension. For most of us, the skills mentioned here have come with few setbacks. As children, our teachers may not have been literacy specialists, but with halfway decent teaching we were well on our way to fluency.

Defining “reading fluency”

Most teachers easily recognise oral reading fluency (ORF) when they hear it. Accuracy, speed, automaticity, expression and comprehension all find their place on this journey (“bridge”), and there is strong evidence pointing to the importance of these.

Conversely, when success in one area is missing from a student’s skillset, it will affect ORF. These skills are the less-addressed areas of fluency, but by highlighting their importance on a figurative “bridge”, we can ensure these are thoroughly addressed. In doing so, we can effectively build a student’s confidence, reading ability, and open up a whole new world to them, often only explored through written materials.

The Bridge to Fluency:

How accurate is accurate enough?

Recent research suggests independent reading accuracy is if a student reads a text with 97%+ accuracy without support. Instructional level reading takes place between 93-97% accuracy, and anything below 93% is considered frustration level (Parker & Burns, 2014). Strategic teaching and skill building best takes place in our instructional level, which is often referred to as “scaffolding” or “The Zone of Proximal Development”.

While most teachers are initially surprised that up to 93% is considered frustration, a student missing one or more in every fourteen words is likely making errors on key words that carry the most meaning for a passage, thus contributing to other problems.

How fast is fast enough?

According to Hasbrouck and Tindal (2017), by the end of Fifth Grade (approximately age 11) a student reading comfortably within the average range for ORF ought to read between 122-173 words correct per minute (WCPM) on a grade-levelled text. While their study does not provide a distribution curve, students reading below 91 WCPM are in the bottom 10th percentile. This would suggest a Year 6 student in the UK reading below 91 WCPM would have more pronounced reading difficulties.

Does expression really matter?

Unsurprisingly, students who find comprehension difficult also struggle with expression. Expression skills like rhythm, flow, attention to punctuation, and vocal tone indicate a general awareness of story including context, meaning, and use of metacognitive skills. In their study of oral and written expression on comprehension difficulties, Carretti, Motta and Re (2016) summarised children with poor comprehension skills have oral expression difficulties and that genre and prompts can influence this. This may highlight the necessity for high-interest topics as a key tool for developing expression skills.

Comprehension: the purpose of reading

Without comprehension, reading becomes menial and aimless. Comprehension is simply making sense of what is read. This includes explicit and inferential comprehension skills that draw on background knowledge, contextual understanding, memory and language-based skills (vocabulary, predicting, etc.). Comprehending more difficult texts requires higher-order thinking skills including metacognition and analysing, and both listening and reading comprehension skills varies for each of us.

Next week we'll talk a bit more about how to address these areas, including what I feel is the solution to manageably doing so in busy classrooms!


Hasbrouck, J. and Tindal, G. (2017). An update to compiled ORF norms (Technical Report No. 1702). Eugene, OR. Behavioral Research and Teaching, University of Oregon. Retrieved from www.readingrockets.org on 9th April 2018.

Parker, D. C., & Burns, M. K. (2014). Using the instructional level as a criterion to target reading interventions. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 31, 56–67

Carretti, B., Motta, E., Re, A.M. (2016). Oral and Written Expression in Children With Reading Comprehension Difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 49(1), 65-76


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