Reading to Learn – Not Learning to Read
Becoming a good reader in the primary grades is an important goal for primary students. When students get past the primary grades, they are expected to use reading as a tool for learning. There is little time to spend on mastering the skills of reading. Yet, many students still struggle with fluency and comprehension after third grade.
The two most significant needs of students in grades 4-8 are building fluency skills, strengthening and expanding their vocabulary, and strengthening meaning and comprehension of what is being read.
Becoming a Proficient Reader Takes Practice
Reading is a participation sport. Just like a golfer has to practice hitting the golf ball on the golf course or a tennis player has to practice playing against a worthy opponent to improve their skills, students need to practice their reading to become more fluent and powerful readers.
Practices like “Drop Everything and Read” time (DEAR time) or other sustained independent reading times are helpful ways to encourage more reading. Allowing students to choose books and participate in book clubs or book circles is another way to encourage sustained reading.
Students must actively READ – not talk about reading or complete skill-drill worksheets about discrete reading skills. Students must practice their reading skills by reading authentic text. The more time children spend actually reading, the better readers they become.
When reading is effortless and enjoyable, children can truly lose themselves in the characters’ plight or in learning about content in which they have an intense interest. Good readers often report “getting lost” in a fascinating novel. Or, they might lose track of time while reading about topics they they find interesting. This is when reading takes on a special significance for students. They are now reading to learn important content rather than learning to read.
Building Fluency in Readers
A way to build students’ fluency skills is by re-reading a specific text to practice and refine it. Readers can use audiobooks while following along in a print version of the text. After reviewing the text a few times, they can read it to a peer or teacher to show their proficiency. Kids love it, and fluency soars!
Another fun way to encourage children to practice re-reading and building fluent reading is by using plays and Reader’s Theater in the classroom. A quick internet search will provide many Reader’s Theater scripts for classroom use. Children can also write their own Reader’s Theater scripts and create podcasts of the material for others to enjoy.
Helping Students Increase Reading Speed
Once children can read with good phrasing, expression, and intonation, the next step is helping them increase their reading speed. Research tells us that slow readers often lose interest in reading because it is an uphill struggle that reduces their stamina. Readers who can read fluently have more cognitive energy to devote to making meaning out of the words they read.
Timed reading passages where children practice fluency can increase reading speed and practice with the material at an independent reading level. Practice with appropriate material increases reading speed as children become more comfortable readers. Again, as fluency increases and effort decreases, the brain has more time to process the meaning of the text. This makes reading more enjoyable.
Helping students become proficient readers is the key to helping students experience success in the classroom and enjoy learning. By helping students improve their fluency and expand the number of words they can access quickly and easily, teachers can help students become more proficient readers who can use reading to learn and grow their background knowledge.
If you liked this article, you may like: Helping Struggling Students Meet Reading Standards
Learn more in my book: Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading