Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fluency Strugglers

I want to take a few days to focus on some specific reading struggles and how to find books to match. Keep in mind each child is so complex and that each "struggle" can have many different facets. I will generalize a bit, but feel free to email me or comment with specifics on your child and I can try to help.

Kids who struggle with fluency (how smoothly, fluidly the read) may be stopping word to word, every few words, or they may add a filler (um..er...sound) to give themselves a chance to process the next word. There has been a ton of focus on fluency in the past 10-15 years and how kids need it in order to comprehend. Again, there may be limits in their phonics (letter/sound) or phonemic awareness (the combination of letter sounds) or they simply haven't engaged the feeling that what they are reading is what people are saying and doing. Reading is simply saying words to them.

For fluency kids, you hear teachers say to "take a step back." Careful. This doesn't mean that they need to read repetitive, vocabulary controlled books. They still need that quality (like I said yesterday).

What you need to look for may be an easier level, but they have a certain something that gets kids to want to read it out loud, and to say it like the characters do.

Graphic novels like Big Nate, Baby Mouse and even comics are good for this. They can practice talking like the character. They can inflect feelings and add tension by modulating their voices.

My ABSOLUTE favorite for fluency is Mo Willems. From the very youngest of age, his Cat is Cat, Piggie and Gerald series, Pigeon/Puppy Series, and Knuffle Bunny will ring a bell with your kids. And I use it with 3rd graders. They are not too old! They laugh and really get into character. I swear Mo is a MASTER at crafting books that lend themselves to so many wonderful pathways to teaching fluency.

He uses speech bubbles, lots of punctuation, varied fonts and font sizes...perfect for trying out fluent talking. Ask your child why they think he uses those techniques, and then relate it to how the character is feeling. For example, if Piggie is shouting, the font is usually huge, bold, and there are exclamation marks in the bubble. Compare that to when Piggie is sad or shy - the font is tiny, thin, and there are periods.  Kids need to understand that the author does EVERYTHING ON PURPOSE - including those funny punctuation marks. They need to pay attention to them so they know how to make their voice sound.

You may think in looking at the books that I am crazy...kids will think it's too babyish...NO WAY. You read it first -- you'll laugh! Trust me.

But here's the thing to remember: if they aren't varying their voice, they probably aren't understanding what the character is trying to get across. Take the time to read it together, you can model, they can repeat. Or you can read it where each of you take the role of different characters and act it out.

Once they have those mastered, move to new books. Look for ones with lots of dialogue first. Kids with fluency issues seem to do better when they are reading what characters are saying. Then move on to less and less dialogue.

Will their fluency change to perfect just like that? Well, sometimes it takes longer than you think...stick with it. Don't give up, and don't let them give up. Just enjoy the point they are - enjoy the books. Stay with the focus that reading is fun...they will give up if they are just "getting through the books to read better."

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