A tool for improving fluency (and thus comprehension) is tape-assisted reading. We sometimes call this reading-while-listening. The term is fairly self-explanatory but it is essentially when a student listens to a fluent rendering of a passage or book from a tape, CD or other audio recorded media while reading that same passage or book themselves.
This has been shown to be particularly effective for students having difficulty with reading and with ELL students. Not only does tape-assisted reading have a place in elementary school but also in the middle school environment. Research also supports a variety of implementations from in-class to pull-out sessions during the school day to tape-assisted reading programs at home.
During the summer school session of 2003, twenty-three teachers in twelve middle and high schools in the Boston Public Schools and the San Diego Public Schools participated in projects involving the use of audio books to improve student learning. A survey of response journals of Boston Public School students strongly suggests that students who read with audio book support made more entries and longer entries than students who read with print only. Such a finding reflects the comprehension improvements that seen in the study, suggesting that struggling readers using recorded books better understand what they are reading and so have more to say when asked to write about what they have read. In addition, many teachers observed positive changes in their students’ attitudes toward reading in the groups with recorded books support.
Of course, tapes or CDs of books are available through many commercial resources but many public and school libraries have good collections to borrow as well.
By using these two instructional concepts, the fluency, and thus the comprehension, of students can be improved.
In closing this discussion on comprehension with a focus on fluency, I offer one caveat: Much has been made of assessing speed as a single method for quantifying a student’s fluency. Because improvements in how automatic a child is at decoding are often determined by gains in reading rate, it is not difficult to see why students (and teachers) begin to focus almost exclusively on improving reading rate as the goal of fluency instruction. Indeed the primary aim of many instructional programs is to increase reading rate through repeated reading of nonfiction materials. It is not unreasonable, then, to suspect that students in such programs would focus on reading faster for the sake of reading faster, without giving equal attention to comprehension. The result of such a focus, however, is faster reading with little improvement in comprehension, which is the ultimate goal of reading and reading instruction.
Those comments take us back full circle to the definition we began with: Fluency Is the ability to read accurately, expressively, quickly with good phrasing and comprehension. Focus on using fluency instruction as a tool, a bridge, instead of an end in itself, and students will be well-served.