Fluency in the Primary Grades: The Six Dimensions of Fluency

From Fountas & Pinnell’s When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works

Over the next several weeks we will be exploring the role that fluency plays in developing strong readers and in the development of comprehension skills.  According to Fountas & Pinnell, students who struggle with reading have developed “ingrained habits of reading slowly without expression” – we often call these students our “word callers”.  Fluent readers, on the other hand are better suited to process information rapidly, access prior knowledge and construct meaning.  As we work with students to build fluency skills, we must remember that fluency is much more than the rate of reading, it’s actually reading like a teacher!   When modeling what good readers do and in promoting rereading routines, it is essential that we provide explicit instruction that models pausing, phrasing, intonation/rhythm, stress, rate & integration.  Fountas & Pinnell refer to these six concepts as the “Dimensions of Fluency” and include observable behaviors for each Dimension.   A breakdown of each Dimension is detailed below.

  • Pausing refers to the way the reader’s voice is guided by punctuation (short breath at a comma; full stop with voice going sown at periods and up at question marks; full stop at dashes).
  • Phrasing refers to the way readers put words together in groups to represent the meaningful units of language.  Phrased reading should sound like oral language, although more formal.  Phrasing involves pausing at punctuation as well as at places in the text that do not have punctuation.
  • Stress refers to the emphasis readers place on particular words (louder tone) to reflect the meaning of the text as speakers would do in oral language.
  • Intonation refers to the way the reader varies the voice in tone, pitch, and volume to reflect the meaning of the text–sometimes called “expression.”
  • Rate refers to the pace at which the reader moves through the text.  An appropriate rate moves along rapidly with a few slowdowns or stops and long pauses to solve words.  If a reader has only a few short pauses for word solving and picks up the pace again, look at the overall rate.  The pace is also appropriate to the text and purpose of the reading–not too fast and not too slow.
  • Integration involves the way the reader consistently and evenly orchestrates pausing, phrasing, stress, intonation, and rate.  The reader moves smoothly from one word to another, from one phrase to another, and from one sentence to another, incorporating pauses that are just long enough to perform their function.  There is no space between words except as part of meaningful interpretation.  When all dimensions of fluency–pausing, phrasing, stress, intonation, and rate–are working together, the reader will be using expressions in a way that clearly demonstrates that he understands the text and is even thinking beyond the text.
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