With school back in session, many parents are being told that they need to time their children's reading to increase their child's fluency. Reading faster is not true fluency. Teaching children to rush, or try to read faster, also reduces comprehension. Fluency means that children can read a phrase or sentence smoothly and understand what they are reading. Trying to force children to read faster merely complicates learning problems. Work for smoothness. Use commas and periods to help children read fluently. I tell children that a comma is like a Yield sign on the road; it tells you to slow down--pause. A period is like a Stop sign. You need to come to a complete stop before going on to the next sentence.
Preschoolers and first graders need to learn letter sounds before you try to teach them to read. Whole language techniques have been proven not to work, so merely handing a child a list of words to learn for the week will not teach the child to read. Children must be taught to take words apart letter by letter, sound by sound, and then put those sounds back together to pronounce the word. Once we teach children phonemes or letter sounds, then we can teach children to read.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine is a program designer with many years of experience helping at-risk children learn to read. She earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.