SEN Language We Should All Use: FLUENCY

How fluent are you?

Take a moment, grab a pen and write 1-2 sentences using the "new" alphabet symbols below:

What did you write? Unless you are an over-achiever, I am willing to bet you wrote a simple sentence – a noun/pronoun, a verb and a full stop. If you were a little outlandish you may have even dared ask a question or added a second noun!

Did you use a prepositional phrases? Creative language expanding on the subject? Imaginative adjectives and WOW words we always go on about?

Probably not, and that’s OK because you’re not fluent at writing in this nonsense alphabet!

It's not a good feeling

I think it is safe to say this is what many of our students with SEN feel like when asked to read, write, complete maths work or accomplish a task in a set amount of time. They need a guide, additional time, and likely don’t expand much on their writing because the abstract, symbolic nature of “alphabet” is too challenging.

In maths, it is vital to remember that numbers, too, are symbols, and when we throw letters in mathematical equations and ask students to convert decimals to percentages and then to fractions and then back, then tell them "They are the same thing", it can be quite confusing!

What does "fluency" mean?

Whether it’s reading, writing, maths or learning a foreign language, a simple educational definition of fluency is:




Accuracy: How right is "right enough"?

This depends, but to be on the safe side, the figures are actually quite high if you are to consider someone truly independent in their learning- especially an individual with additional learning needs:

Independent: 97-100%

Instructional: 93-97%

Frustration: below 93%

TIP: To improve accuracy, consistently teach using materials a student can achieve 93%+ accuracy without any support. Be sure to provide enough strategic teaching if they are still in the instructional level to ensure they improve with confidence (scaffolding).

Speed: How fast is “fluent”?

In reading, there are standards for fluency (see below). In maths, one would expect a Year 2 or Year 6 pupil to finish their SATs maths test within the allotted time in order to be considered “fluent” in their speed. In writing, the same.

The chart below is a recent fluency expectation chart from the USA:

Image from: Hasbrouck, J. & Tindal, G. (2017). An update to compiled ORF norms (Technical Report No. 1702). Eugene, OR, Behavioral Research and Teaching, University of Oregon.

Note; Grade 1 is Year 2 in the UK, Grade 2 is Year 3 and so on

TIP: To have a chance at improving speed, you need to provide numerous opportunities for a student to practice a skill at their independent level (97%+ accurate without support). Timed, low-stakes tests on maths operations can help this, as can Repeated Reading strategies for reading. If you’ve attended one of my trainings called “The Bridge to Fluency”, you will be well-versed in Repeated Reading.


This might sound obvious, but there are a good number of us (myself included) who take a bit longer to comprehension passages and spoken language. To develop comprehension takes time and a lot of practice, including making connections with a student's own life to "localise" a text.

TIP: Take notes and review them! Highlight key information in a text, review key vocabulary words beforehand, discuss how they might be used, adapted, and how they might relate to a student’s experience(s). Additionally, a Concept Quadrant can be useful for providing strategic teaching for key terminology (click here to download a copy of a Concept Quadrant)

I look forward to hearing from you. To learn more about any of the ideas above or to book a training for your school, please get in touch!

Next week: Generalisation & Adaptation