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 P.A.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 which is 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.
Skipping words is often taught as an “effective reading strategy” and though it can be—think of the habits we are creating. What happens when “YOU are no longer in control” of the number of times this is applied and used as a strategy? Skipping words is only effective when using it paired with context clues application. Skipping the word and looking to find meaning is much different than simply skipping the word.
Our silent readers are learning to compensate for missing skills and BECAUSE we are no longer in control—they can apply and pick and choose strategies as they want. This is a bit scary considering many of these silent readers are not yet proficient readers. As teachers, we are not seeing or hearing the breakdown in decoding, mispronunciations and patterns of mistakes.
I challenge you to ask students to read something difficult. Walk around, ask questions and most of all—just observe. What you will notice is that some students will “pretend to take notes” but ask them what they are writing and why. You will most likely see LOTS of fake reading. Stop them and ask questions such as:
- How did you pronounce this word?
- What is the meaning of this word? How do you know?
- What did the author mean by ___________?
- What happened when you did not understand ___________?
- What did you do when you could not pronounce ______________?
Find out what strategies they are using and begin to model and reinforce the ones that the students are NOT using. If you have time, conference with students which produces even more 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?
It is important we find out what our students are doing as they silently read. It is even more important to give them the strategies they should be using AND holding them accountable for applying these strategies.
Make students SHOW you what they are thinking and take time to ask them what they meant by that or why they underlined something. If you do not pair silent reading with questioning—they will become fake readers who take fake notes.
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.
However, hold them accountable to what they are doing by partnering them with a student who asks:
- What notes did you take for this chunk of text? Why?
- What was the main idea of this paragraph?
- How did you pronounce _____________? How many syllables does it have?
When silent reading happens—don’t let the students become a mystery. Hold them to the same standards you would when they read aloud. Do we do that? My challenge is for you to begin setting that tone with your students and opening conversations and questioning that not only makes them aware of what they are doing but thinking about what strategies they are applying and which ones are working or not.