Last month’s post focussed on the expressive aspect of reading fluency, drawing a comparison between the varying trajectories of a ball in a tennis match with the varying contours of sentences in a passage of text. The analogy served (npi) to emphasise the high degree of flexibility and poise required for fluent reading. However, in this post I want to stress the importance of the link between reading fluency and reading comprehension: skilled readers who are able to read with fluency and understanding are swept up into a virtuous spiral, which contributes to a lifelong-love of reading and learning.
There is little point in being able to read quickly, accurately or fluently, if readers cannot process the meaning of a passage. Without the automatic integration of decoding and semantic processing that skilled readers enjoy, weaker readers cannot experience the intrinsically rewarding aspects of reading and benefit from the same virtuous spiral. A wide range of cultural factors such as maternal education, gender, SES and changes in digital technology may disadvantage some children, but it is important to maintain the high expectation that every child can become a skilled reader. Training weak readers to identify in a text the visual match to the key words in a comprehension question and then retrieve the whole sentence without necessarily understanding the text for example, can only serve to degrade their experience of reading and learning.
Readers with poor comprehension skills are limited by their recognition of printed words as ‘signs of language’ that convey sound (phonological processing). Skilled readers on the other hand, recognise words and phrases as ‘signs of real or imagined life’ that convey meaning (phonological and semantic processing, as well as detecting grammatical structure).
Interestingly, the integration of decoding with semantic processing occurs without deliberate effort on the part of skilled readers. Weak readers, however need help with integrating decoding, syntactic and semantic processing. This can be achieved by improving their sensitivity to rhythm in a matter of weeks. Rhythmic awareness is integral to the way we breath, eat, laugh, speak and move and can be extended to reading too. Read more here.