The Forgotten Reading Skill–Silent Fluency

Reading is comprised of many processes and components in the brain that must be mastered to be proficient for a MASTER reader.  Rosenblatt (2004), states, “It is a process of constructing meaning from a written text as a result of thinking with the guidance of the existing text.”  Reading components include phonemic awareness, phonics, oral fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Reading 3D helps us to pinpoint these skills to intervene and “fix” instruction for our students.  As a student gets older, it is harder for us to determine where our students need help because they are reading for longer periods of time silently and independently.


Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) is one integral part of the reading process. When a person is a fluent reader, they decode and recognize words quickly and efficiently which allows the brain to focus on the meaning rather than deciphering words.  Think of the acronym PA.R.E., which stands for punctuation, accuracy, rate and expression. The rate is the speed in which the child decodes words and the accuracy measures the correctness.  Punctuation and expression (prosody) make up the final component, which is the child’s ability to understand the syntax (the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language), phrasing and intonation of a text.


In my experience, there is one missing skill to ensure proficiency in a reader–Silent Fluency.  Beginning in second grade, students begin to transition to reading silently and are expected to be proficient at it by third grade for standardized testing.  However, how much ACTUAL instruction do we do to ensure students can transition from fluent oral readers to fluent silent readers?


When reading silently, students learn to accommodate for their weaknesses and apply strategies in different ways than when reading aloud. When you read silently, you no longer have to pronounce everything correctly; you can skip unknown words, skim descriptions and simply make individual changes in your reading patterns.  In a study by Dr. Kasim Yildirim, the findings were that silent reading fluency was a stronger predictor of comprehension than oral fluency especially in older students.  This makes sense because when our students are not proficient and reading silently, they often become “Fake Readers” who skim text rather than read. Others are able to get the “gist” out of the text but are missing the subtle inferences, clues and hints of mood changes, tone and character personalities that the author hides in figurative descriptions.


As an upper grade teacher, I was all about the comprehension and spent the majority of my time teaching students how to dive deep into text.  However, I also knew that many of my students were not able to apply skills from class into independent reading. What I did not fully understand was the reason for their struggle. Reading in the upper grades takes a MAJOR TURN because the students are in control of their reading and the teachers know very little about what strategies they are using or how they are learning to compensate for missing skills.  Teachers no longer see patterns of missed words or hear mispronunciations.   They are unaware of the breakdown in decoding or comprehension.


When I taught AIG, I realized how effective my students were at reading the “gist” of a selection but were not reading deeply enough.  I experimented with my instruction, by giving students a text that I knew they would not be familiar with the vocabulary.  One I enjoyed using was “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll.  Here is an excerpt:


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”


I would ask them to read this silently and share with their neighbors their findings.  As I watched, I noticed that some students were looking around to see what others were doing; some were drawing or writing on their papers (strategies?), and some were intently reading but most likely FAKE READING.  I pointed the word OUTGRABE and asked someone to read the word.  They struggled to decode it and I asked—did anyone circle the word to show they did not know it?  Did anyone chunk this word and try to sound it out?  We discussed strategies and how to properly decode an unknown word.  What I found was students were not remembering rules of phonics such as the magic e or sounds of blends or a diphthong.  Some were able to give me the “gist” of the excerpt because they were able to apply context clues to their thinking but for the most part—they skipped most of it.  If our students are reading in this manner—they will not pick up on the subtleties of an author’s craft or deeper meaning of figurative language that may be nestled within the words.


I encourage you to begin investigating your students’ silent fluency.  The following steps can be completed in whole group to get a more in depth picture you will need to do one on one.

  • Time students for a minute, as they read silently, and have them circle the last word when you call time.
  • Repeat this process three times. Have students record these numbers on a chart to get an average WPM.
  • After the third reading, have student write a short summary on the back without looking at the text.
  • Finally, have students finish reading the text silently and answer basic comprehension questions without looking back.


* Some people like to have student underline the word as they read to ensure that they actually read it but if you let students know this is to help them—you will find for the most part—it will be accurate.


The timing of students will help you calculate the rate your students are reading and the automaticity of their decoding.  You will be unable to determine how accurate it is without questioning. You will find some students who have a high WPM but have no understanding of the text and some students who are reading slowly that have a deeper understanding. The summary and questions will help you to figure out if your students have basic understanding of what they read.  Conferencing with a student is a gold mine of information.

  • Ask them about specific words—Can they decode?
  • Ask them questions that require inferences or interpreting figurative language—Did they read deeply enough?
  • Are they making sense of what they read?
  • Are they making connections?
  • Do they understand text structure and use it to navigate as they read?
  • Do they know how to chunk a word into syllables and apply understanding of phonetic knowledge?


Explicitly teach students how to think when they read. Have them read short excerpts and discuss—have them reread and dig for information. Have them reflect as they read. Where did you stop understanding?  Encourage your students to annotate their thinking but most importantly question them about what they wrote. Students will write anything if they think it is what you want. You must show them that the annotation is for THEM to understand.


TREASURE is a simple way to encourage students to begin thinking about their reading.  Nevertheless, do not forget that to get to the comprehension—we must ensure our students are really reading silently and able to decode fluently the text that we are giving them. As upper grade teachers, we often think that only comprehension matters but if a child does not have silent fluency—they are not able to fully read and apply the strategies you have taught to be able to comprehend the text in the depth and manner in which standardized tests will require.



There is actually a standardized measure for this called TOSREC (Test of Silent Reading Efficiency and Comprehension) which I am looking into for TES for our upper grades.



Optimal Reading Rates




What is a Champion?

Champion. A personal note to my school.


Two years ago, my county was challenged to be “champions for students.” At the time, it was a motivational, beginning of the year, rev you up speech which made people feel good inside. Over the last two years, this term has been used in many conversations and different contexts but lately has come to lie on my heart.


What is a champion? 


I re-watched the video of Rita Pierson which I highly recommend. (Available on Ted Talks:  I thought back to champions in my own life and (of course) looked the word up to dissect the meaning.  As you would expect, among the definition and synonyms, I found the term winner, superstar, first place, etc.  But, I also found words such as support and advocate.  As all these thoughts swirled in my mind, some words a colleague shared with me this week began to take form in my mind, dutiful and compliant.


Think about all these words together…


Is a champion being simply good or the best at something?  Does it mean having the highest test scores or making the most growth?  Does it mean being the top ranked school in the county?  Maybe.  Could it also mean—having a great relationship with colleagues and children?  Could it mean being respected and trusted by others?  Could it mean doing your job to the best of your ability and being the BEST person and educator YOU can be?


As a history buff, I have read about many champions in our history including Galileo, Socrates, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and any of our founding fathers.  Everyday people are champions such as Rosa Parks or Todd Beamer and the people on Flight 93 who stood up to terrorists to save others. But does it have to be that EXTREME?


At my school, I watch champions every day.  Here is what the term CHAMPION means to me and the everyday acts that help to define the term.


A CHAMPION is a person who …

  • dutifully gives assessments to students with a smile and kind heart. They tirelessly repeat the same directions in a positive manner to make each student feel like they are attaining something that no other student has for their teacher.
  • greets each student with their name, a smile, a hug each day (even when they are dealing with struggles of their own). These small acts create positive relationships that endure.
  • gives a student structure and discipline paired with compassion and love.
  • makes sacrifices for their students or colleagues without question and without complaint, even something small such as switching schedules or assistants. Even bigger sacrifices such as providing for a child’s needs (fieldtrips, glasses, lunches, etc.) or attending outside events such as ballgames, birthday parties, etc.
  • has a flexible mind set and is willing to go the extra mile to get the job done no matter what it is such as covering for testing, doing without help so another class or teacher can be covered or simply having to clean up or do something that is not your job.
  • gives support to their colleagues and respond to their needs such as a meal, a treat, a hug, a smile and most of all a confidential place to talk.
  • advocates and speaks for those who need a voice.
  • provides after school tutoring or sometimes “intervention” both of which have an important place


Everyday champions are in our midst and the reason this is important is within this quote:


It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.

——-Frederick Douglass
In our lives we are faced with storms and how we respond to these storms are different. Some people choose to stay dutiful and stay the course while others try to change the course of the winds.  All of us, no matter how we choose to battle the storm, want to weather the storm in the end.  Champions can be the wild winds that veer the course of the storm but can also be those calm winds that settle in between.


When we as a school must deal with a  storm, may we remember that we will all deal with this storm differently but we all want the best outcome.  Do not allow our differences to divide us but to bring us together and remember that together —-WE ARE collective CHAMPIONS.








Infuse Real World Concepts with the NEWS

Problem solvers and decision makers are the top two skills employers are looking for in new hires.  According to Forbes (, being able to communicate verbally is the next important skill. The rest of the top ten include skills such as:  being able to organize, analyze data, proficient with computers, and possess technical or content knowledge necessary for the job and to write and speak proficiently.


We as teachers do a great job of teaching our standards but do we infuse enough “real world” into our classrooms?  One easy way to increase problem solving and decision making in our classrooms while increasing non-fiction reading—NEWSPAPERS!


The use of newspapers can deepen learning while building language, vocabulary and reading comprehension.  Learning about the world and exploring real world topics helps to develop synthesis of information and helps children make connections and cause and effect relationships. This helps students be more aware of their place in the world and how their behavior and skills can make an impact as they become adults.


Reading this list—are you thinking?  My students are doing these things!! Using newspapers will increase our speaking, listening, reading and writing standards are a great foundation for building these skills.


3 Quick Ideas for Encouraging the Use of Current Events and Newspapers


  1.   Watch and discuss the news  CNN has a student news report daily. These are short and span a wide variety of current events across the globe.  For younger students you could use National Geographic News:
  • Pair students with a partner and have them share the most interesting fact or topic that they learned and why.
  • Have students compose a summary of one news topic to share with their parent. Let them staple these in their planner and for homework have students share their learning.
  • Use as a morning meeting discussion. What surprises you? What would you like to learn more about? What character traits did ________exhibit? Explain.

2.  Project, Explore and Discuss the following site called Unfiltered News:  Click explore Visualization.  This will create bubbles that contain the news headline topics that are trending across the world.  On the left you will see a list of less reported topics will appear.

  • Whole group discussion on the trending topics. Compare topics across regions or hemispheres for commonalities or differences.
  • You can click a topic in a country and the actual news headlines will appear on the left. You can view the article in English or the native language of the country. (Take time to look at China—very cool) Divide students into 5 groups. Choose one topic and have each group read an article from different countries.  After about 15 minutes, reorganize students so you have one person from each of the five groups in one group. (This is a jigsaw activity) One person will begin giving a summary of their article and then continue around to each person while they share how their article was similar or different.  They should discuss:  Were any facts different? Why might that happen? Was the tone different or the same?

3.  One Question Interviews:  Students can read any news article using any of the following sites:


  • Use the following document. (One Question Discussion) Choose a news article and from the headline, have students create a question that they will answer from the article. You may have students consider perspective questions such as: Do you agree with ___________________? Who had the best solution to __________________?  How would you solve ___________________?
  • After students read the article. Each student interviews the others regarding their question and record their results.
  • Student then will begin to look at the data or information they gathered and draw conclusions.



Learning what is happening in the world will help develop students as problem solvers and critical thinkers. When you need interesting non-fiction text, consider the news and bring in real world articles and topics with your students. When you need a distraction from test prep—try out one of these ideas!  Next year, try to incorporate news into your classroom weekly!




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