Reading Fast vs Reading Well

How many of you have experienced the groans and moans of students when asked to read aloud? I know I have. I’ve had students refuse to completely. Some teachers, I know, veer away from reading aloud since they believe it is an archaic method. I believe wholeheartedly in in for a variety of reasons.

  • It improves fluency. The best way a student learns to read is to READ. They must have practice and familiarity increases fluency. This is one reason Dolch word lists are popular. Students are able to memorize familiar words.
  • It gives students practice with oral presentations. For students that are fluent readers, it gives them a chance to prepare for speaking in front of crowds. If you make it a regular occurrence in your classroom, they become comfortable with it. Confident. Confidence breeds success.
  • It ensures accountability. You may assign silent reading. How can you ensure the student is actually reading though? This can be especially detrimental to students that struggle with fluency since you have basically handed them an impossible task.

Now, I want to clarify how reading aloud should work. I have this conversation with each group of my students at the very beginning of the year. Then, I demonstrate it.  The conversation goes like this:

“I know most of you have been asked to read aloud in your careers as students. There is a purpose behind it. Teachers may ask you to read aloud to assess your fluency level, increase your content knowledge, or prepare you to become familiar with addressing crowds. I want to clarify about reading fluency. Fluency is how fast you read. It is how many words you are familiar with and say in a determined amount of time. To some people, it comes naturally while others struggle. It takes practice, but not talent. I want you to be able to read fluently so that you become productive members of society. But, I want you to be able to read well. Reading well means pausing at appropriate times, using inflection and emphasis in your tone, and engaging your audience. Let me show you the difference.”

At this point, I will read one paragraph to the students. The first example is reading “fast.” I read very quickly to the point the words can run together. I do not pause for commas or periods. I do not make eye contact. I use a monotone. As I finish, the students gasp and have horrified looks on their faces. Every time. The second example uses the same paragraph. I read “well.” I read fluently, but pause appropriately for commas and periods. I may stop and make brief eye contact before continuing to read. I also use emphasis and inflection to highlight the vocab or the message of the paragraph. At the end of the demonstration, I ask students to share their thoughts on their perceptions of the two styles. We discuss the ramifications of reading “fast” vs reading “well.”

For the rest of the school year, we practice reading aloud at varying times. I may have to slow some students down that in a hurry to complete their work by reminding them of the “reading well vs reading fast” demonstration. By mid-year, most students are completing the exercise appropriately. They will even redirect their peers. One of my most prized moments was a fellow teacher coming to me to discuss how the students demonstrated the difference in “reading fast vs reading well” in her classroom.

How do you handle reading aloud in your classroom? Do you consider it a valuable tool or a waste of time?


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