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Fluency Series – Superhero Prosody


Today wraps up our fluency series, so we’re focusing on the third leg of our three-legged fluency stool.  We’ve already talked about accuracy and speed, so now it’s time to talk . . . prosody.  In the spectrum of fluency instruction, prosody should come last.  Fix accuracy first, get the speed up, and then you can really focus on prosody in instruction.  This is not to say that you should never talk about or model prosody at any time, but for a true instructional focus for a student, it should come after accuracy and speed have been achieved.

So . . . what IS prosody?  It’s all of the little things a reader does that makes her sound as if she is talking.  It’s attending to punctuation (pausing at commas, stopping at periods, expression with quotation marks).  It’s chunking words into meaningful phrases rather than reading word.  by.  word.  It’s that certain smoothness that lets words roll of the tongue, with apparently little effort.  And, it’s reading with appropriate expression; a whisper when reading about a sleeping baby, a loud voice when a character is yelling, intonation and emphasis on the most important words when reading nonfiction.  It’s all of those things that let you know that THIS is a person fluent in the language.

To me, prosody is probably the hardest skill to teach.  It’s kind of like trying to teach someone to have rhythm.  You can show them, and you can help them, but it’s really not until they’re ready that they’ll be able to do it naturally.  It’s also not a very qualitative skill.  Sure, there are lots of rubrics out there that can help you assess prosody, but it’s not a firm number like we can get with accuracy or speed.  It’s a little more nebulous.

However, prosody is probably the surest sign you can get from fluency instruction that indicates that a student is comprehending the text.  If I hear a student read with appropriate fluency – accuracy, speed, AND prosody – I have a 99.999% chance that that student is comprehending.  Why?  If they weren’t comprehending, they wouldn’t know what appropriate expression would be!  And, remember, comprehension is your goal!  That is the whole purpose of fluency – to open the way to easy comprehension.

To be quite honest, I have not done an excellent job of teaching prosody, but I wanted to get better – which for me means I need some kind of an organized system.  This summer I was browsing through some back issues of “The Reading Teacher,” published by the International Reading Association, and I came across an article that gave me the idea for a fabulous tool to help with my prosody instruction.

super scooper

It’s . . . Fluency Superheroes!  You can read the full article, Good-bye Robot Reader, for yourself.  Their idea is absolutely perfect for teaching prosody.  To sum it up, two main characters are vying for the kids’ reading skills.  The villain is Robot Reader, and he is trying to get those kids to read like a robot . . . word for word, no expression, etc.  The superhero (for me, anyway) is Super Reader Man, and he wants the kids to read those passages just like they’re talking.  Both Super Reader Man and Robot Reader have “helpers” that assist them in their quests.  Super Reader Man has Super Scooper (he scoops words into phrases) while Robot Reader has Chunky Boy (he reads word by word.)  Super Reader Man has Captain Comprehension (he thinks about what he’s reading), and Robot Reader has Alien Dude (he has no idea what he’s reading).  And, last, we have Expression Man (his job is pretty obvious) and Flat Man (again, kind of obvious).

To prepare, I just Googled pictures of superheroes villains and grabbed one of each to put on a PowerPoint slide.  I labeled them appropriately, and that’s what I’ll use to introduce the characters.  Then I made a card that’s about 4×6 for each “helper,” cut them out, and put them, double-sided, on large craft sticks.  So, Super Scooper is on one side, Chunky Boy on the other, etc., so that each hero helper is paired with his or her nemesis.  If you want a copy of my cards, you can get them in my TpT store here.

The article suggested using repeated reading with poetry for this, which would be FABULOUS for fluency intervention!  I’ll probably use a Silverstein poem to introduce the concept to the whole class, but then I’ll keep the sidekicks with me at my guided reading table and I’ll use them during guided reading.  If I notice the group struggling with a certain aspect of prosody, I’ll give them feedback by showing the appropriate villain or hero.  Also, I can really see me using these when the kids do peer coaching, having the coach give feedback in the same way.

As for collecting data, I plan on using the Reach for the Stars Fluency package to let the kids set goals and assess how they’re coming along periodically.  I also always note prosody when I’m conducting reading conferences individually on my Reading Conference Sheet (also available on TpT).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into the world of fluency.  Working with fluency skills is one of my favorite things to do, and I often see big jumps in reading ability when kids begin reading fluently.  And that makes it very, very rewarding.

Fluency Series – Speed


Well, folks, it’s day 2 in our fluency series, and today we’re focusing on the word that many think is synonymous with fluency – speed.  Many times when we talk about fluency, we think “speed” in our minds, and we forget about the other two legs of that three legged stool we call fluency.

However, speed IS a very important aspect of fluency.  I took two years of Spanish in high school and another two in college.  Can I understand it?  If I have subtitles.  Can I speak it?  Enough to order a chalupa.  But whether I’m reading or speaking Spanish, I’m slooooowwwww.  I have zero speed, and anyone who heard me would realize that I am not a fluent speaker of the language.

So, how do you help a student who struggles with speed?  Assuming that you’ve already checked her accuracy, and she’s good there, what do you do when a child doesn’t read fast enough?  Or too fast?

Well, first we need to know what IS appropriate speed for our student?  Here’s where Hasbrouck and Tindal’s fluency guidelines come in handy.  (Sorry it’s so blurry . . . get your own copy here.)



So, Sally is in the third grade, and it’s September.  She reads really slowly, seems to be working a little too hard at it, and isn’t comprehending all that well.  You gave it a few weeks to see if it was “summer slide,” but she’s not improving.  You listen to her read, and her accuracy is fine, but she’s reading around 40 wcpm.  Looking at the fluency guidelines, for fall of third grade, that puts her between the 25th and 10th percentiles.  I’d prefer that my readers read at around at least the 50th percentile, but preferably 75th.  So, obviously, work needs to be done.  My goal is to move her to the 50th percentile by spring, so by that time I can see that at the 50th percentile in spring she’d need to be reading around 127 wcpm.  A huge goal!

The first thing I would do is sit down with Sally and talk about fluency, why it’s important, and what exactly we’re working on.  I’d let HER track her OWN DATA.  That data is hers.  She needs to own it, reflect on it, celebrate it.  I’ll share some data tracking resources in a minute.

But for now, where do you start?  You get some good, grade-level text, and she reads it.  And reads it.  And reads it again.  Until she gets that speed up about 5 wcpm, to 45 wcpm.  Then you get another one and do the same thing, making baby steps on her fluency every single time.  You celebrate victory, and you provide very specific feedback when she doesn’t make it, and you do it every single day.  Five to ten minutes, tops.  You can even let a well-trained interventionist or parapro work with her.  And you send that passage home for homework every single night.  “Speed work” needs to happen in little chunks, often, for an extended period of time (or until the goal is reached).

So, while you’re reading, here are some different strategies you can use to help her pick up that speed.

  • Chunk words – Model and have him echo chunking words together rather than reading word by word by word.  You could even draw “scoops” under chunks of words that go together right on the passage to help.
  • Neurological Impresse – This is a good one to share with mom or dad so that they can help at home.  Ideally, you sit side by side with the student, with you on the student’s left hand side.  You hold the text between the two of you, and you put your finger under the text.  The child places her finger on top of yours.  Then, you chorally read the text, but what you do is you read the text into her left ear, at a pace just a little faster than she’s comfortable with, tracking the text together as you go.  With mom or dad, they could curl up in bed or have the child seated on their laps when they do this.  The whole idea is to guide the student to read just a bit faster than they usually do, while they track the text a little faster, too.
  • Choral Reading – This is great for guided reading or individual work.  You read and the students read at the same time.  Focus on being a good, fluent model, attending to punctuation and smoothly moving from one line of text to another.
  • Echo Reading – This gets monotonous with a large amount of text, but it’s great for poems.  You read fluently first, and then the students echo while they read.

On the other end of the spectrum, what do you do when students read too fast?  If a third grade student is reading around 250 wcpm, but they can’t answer literal questions about the text or do a simple retell, they need to slow down.  They’ve gotten caught in the trap of thinking that fluent equals fast and forgotten that fluency is the superhighway to comprehension.  Here are some tips for those kids:

  • Set a Goal – Look at the fluency guidelines and set a goal based on maybe the 90th percentile.  They want to stay around that goal – not too much faster.
  • Model, model, model – Be a good fluency model!
  • Attend to Prosody – Watch that punctuation!  Pause at commas, take a breath at periods, pay attention to characters’ voices at quotation marks.
  • Retell – Make their success dependent on a good retell.  No retell, no pass.
  • Brian Williams – Give them a good (child appropriate) newsletter article and have them pretend to be reporting the news.
  • Audio Books – Let them listen to some short audio books and talk about the speed of the narrator.  They could then narrate some books, recording the narration for younger listeners.  It’s super easy to upload the audio, link it to a QR code, and tape it in the book so that other younger kids can listen.

I have two excellent resources for helping kids with accuracy and speed that I LOVE.

  • HELPS – – Fantastic and FREE!  They have all of the materials you need, complete with passages and training videos, to launch good fluency practice in your classroom.
  • Reach for the Stars Fluency – This is a really affordable resource on TpT for fluency practice.  I love the cold/hot read instructions for teachers and kids, the data tracking for kids, the goal setting, and the home-school connection.

My plan this year is to do a hybrid of HELPS and Read for the Stars to help my kids.  I’ll use the passages and teacher data tracking from HELPS with all of the other extras from Read for the Stars.

Speed is actually my favorite part of fluency to work with, because the kids are SO motivated to “beat” their last time.  Always remind them, though, that speed is just a leg on the stool.  Once they can use that entire fluency stool, they’ll be able to reach comprehension that much easier!


Fluency Series – Accuracy

bullseyeToday’s post is all about accuracy, one of the legs of our fluency stool.  (Check yesterday’s post if that sounds like Greek to you.)

Accuracy in reading means that the student is correctly reading the word that is printed on the page.  Inaccurate reading can be a child missing a word entirely, substituting a totally different word, leaving off a part of a word, or even just leaving off the ending.  If you have a student who is not reading fluency, accuracy is the very first thing you want to check.  If they are reading at a good speed but they’re not reading the words that are on the page, they are obviously not going to comprehend what the author is trying to say.  So, accuracy first!

So, let’s say that you have a student who isn’t reading fluently.  You sit down and listen to him read, and he is missing a lot of words.  Your very first step is to conduct a running record.  You can read more about running records from my previous blog post about them.  Once you’ve got that, sit down and analyze the student’s miscues.  This will let you know where you need to start working on building their accuracy.

-Phonics:  If you see the student struggling to sound out and blend words, and they’re often wrong when they do so, you likely have a phonics issue.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest and dearest kindergarten or first grade teacher and share your findings.  They will likely be able to help you get a plan going and loan you the materials you need.

-Syllabication:  If you see the student struggling with multisyllabic words, really working hard to get the syllables right and then blend them but they’re making lots of mistakes with it, check out the resources at the Florida Center for Reading Research.  Look at their advanced phonics materials and early fluency stuff.  It’s fantastic.

-Sight Words:  If you see the student missing words that should be familiar, break out your district’s sight word list, beginning in kindergarten, and assess that kiddo!  Fix any and all missing sight words as you go.  Don’t forget the phrases, too.  If you don’t have a district-approved list, the Fry words are my personal favorite.  Google or search on Teachers pay Teachers, and you’ll have more than you know what to do with.

Now, let’s say that this same student has the above skills down, but they’re still missing words.  When you begin working with them, as they are reading, resist the urge to correct them as soon as they’ve made a mistake!  Whether or not they self-correct will speak volumes about whether they’re attending to meaning.  Too, when you jump in as soon as they’ve made a mistake, they become overly reliant on someone else to catch their mistakes, and they are less likely to become adept at self-correcting.

One trick I learned from a college professor is to hold a retractable ballpoint pen in my hand as the student reads; if they make a mistake, I click the pen when they get to the end of the sentence in which they made the mistake.  They quickly learn that’s their cue to go back and find what they did.  You can also pair those kids up in peer coaching and give the coach a pen to do the same thing.  I use that trick in guided reading a lot; one student will read and another will be the coach while the others follow along.

So, you’ve got your student, they’ve made a mistake, and they didn’t self-correct.  What now?  Most mistakes fall into a few broad categories, and here are some ways you can work on each one.

-They read a different word but it makes no sense in the context.  This is a semantics problem, and this student is not attending to meaning at all.  I would say, “Whoa.  Something there didn’t make sense.  You said ____________.  Read it again and see if you can hear your mistake.”  If they don’t, you read it and see if they hear it then.  Make this quick, though – don’t labor over it.  It’ll make their hard work seem all that harder if every mistake turns into a full-blown conversation.

-They read a different word but it does make sense in the context.  They probably understand what they’re reading – in fact, many proficient readers do this, because their eyes are already skimming ahead and they have the gist of what they’re reading.  A substitution that makes sense means they are understanding.  Usually, I’ll let those go until the end of the paragraph and then point out the problem.  Other times, I’ll correct by saying, “Hmmmm, something here didn’t look right.  You read _____.  What is it?”

-They read only a part of the word.  If this is the problem, you’ll likely see them getting the beginning right, but they may make a mistake in the middle or leave off the end of the word.  These kids may be trying too hard to go fast, and so they are skimming faster than their brains can process the print.  I’ll help by saying, “Whoa.  Does that sound right?  You read ____________.”  If you have kids who do this a lot, you may want to get some kind of reading aid, like a transparent highlighted tool that they can move down as they read.  Also encourage them to slow down – not reading word by word, but give their eyes enough time to transfer every part of the word to their brains before their eyes keep moving.

As with any aspect of fluency, repeated readings always help.  You can also help the students set error goals.  For example, “Our goal today is how many errors in this chapter?  No more than 5?  Great!”  Let them track that data, too, and they will be excited when they see their error trend declining!

If you want to learn more, one of my favorite resources is Reading Rockets.  Just search for fluency and accuracy, and you’ll find lots of help.

What Is Fluency? Really?

Today, I’m beginning a week-long series on fluency.  I’m a firm believer in fluency.  I’ve read about it, I’ve researched it, and I’ve seen it improve students’ reading ability before my very eyes.  Fluency is the vital link that connects decoding with comprehension, and when I say vital, I mean VITAL!  If I have a student who isn’t comprehending, the very first thing I do is assess fluency – and I usually find that some aspect of his or her fluency is lacking.  The vast majority of the time, when we fix their fluency issues, the comprehension happens naturally.  In other words, students seldom comprehend what they’re reading if they’re not reading it fluently.  And when students don’t read fluently, particularly by the third grade, the results can be disastrous.  Be sure to read this article from Time that was published just a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately, fluency is widely misunderstood.  Most people hear fluency and equate it with speed; thus, a student who reads fast is fluent.  However, that is not the case, as anyone who’s had a student read 250 wcpm yet not be able to recall anything that they read will know.  Think of car commercials, and the part at the end where the voiceover reads the terms and conditions so quickly that you can’t even hear half of it.  That is not fluent reading.

Instead, fluency is more of a three legged stool.



The first element of fluency is accuracy.  After all, does it matter how fast or how expressively a student reads if he’s not reading the words that are actually printed on the page?  There’s no way he can understand what the author is trying to say.  I liken it to my typing teacher in high school; she taught us to type accurately first, promising that the speed would come with time and practice.  And she was right!  Tomorrow, I’ll share some ways that you can help reinforce your students’ accuracy as they read.

The second element is speed, which is probably very familiar to most people.  On Wednesday, I’ll share some tools for working with students’ speed, but I want to emphasize that there is such as thing as “appropriate” speed.  A student reading 360 wcpm is not necessarily reading with appropriate speed; that’s likely way too fast for comprehension.  On the other end of the spectrum, a student reading 25 wcpm is working so hard to decode the words that little brain bandwidth is left for comprehension.  I’ll also share some fluency guidelines on Wednesday that will help you know what speed is appropriate at each stage of reading development.

The last element, and the one most often neglected, is prosody.  Prosody means that  a student is reading expressively, her voice is not a monotone but rises and falls as appropriate, words are scooped into phrases rather than being read word by word, and she is attending to punctuation appropriately as she reads.  Basically, prosodic reading means that the reader is reading the text in a natural voice, as if she was talking.  I’ll share a fantastic way to teach and reinforce prosody on Thursday.

Here’s the wonderful, fantastic news about fluency.  If a student is reading fluently – accurately, at an appropriate speed, and with prosody – 99.999% of the time, he is comprehending what he is reading.  Why?  If he weren’t comprehending, he wouldn’t know what expression would be appropriate.  For example, if I hear a student read, “Then the mouse crept stealthily across the floor,” in a quiet voice, slowing down on the word “stealthily,” I know that they know what is happening in the story.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have known to read the sentence with that type of expression.

Want more good news?  Fluency can be taught and reinforced fairly easily without a lot of time commitment.  However, fluency instruction and practice is ongoing – you’ll need to find pockets of time for it all year long.  While I do emphasize fluency during guided reading, I’ll also have interventionists work with students individually, I’ll pull a student quickly in the morning or afternoon for a little practice, and I work with parents to make sure they understand how to help students at home.

I want to leave you with one very important thought.  Fluency is not the end goal!  I repeat:  Fluency is NOT the end goal.  Your job is not finished when you have a student reading fluently, because fluency is the gateway to comprehension.  THAT is our goal:  comprehension.  Fluency is just the superhighway that can take you there.  Can you have a student read fluently but not comprehend?  Sometimes, but not often.  But, can you have a student who doesn’t read fluently comprehend what he’s reading?  Likely not.

Tune in all week for strategies, tips, and tools to help you amp up your fluency instruction this year.  In the meantime, if you want to learn more, visit Dr. Tim Rasinski’s website.  He’s what I call the “guru” of fluency.  Click on his Resources tab to read more articles about the importance of fluency and how you can make it work for you in your classroom.

My Favorite iPad Case

I’ve been through a few iPad cases, and I’ve had one cracked screen because my case wasn’t durable enough for third grade hands.  This case is, hands down, my favorite iPad case.
Big_Grips_Frame_Black_White__94931_1377107691_220_290It’s the Big Grips case.  I ordered mine directly from their site,  It is a sturdy yet flexible case that totally encloses all sides of the iPad, including corners.  It is super lightweight, and when you pick it up the material feels like a cross between foam and soft plastic.  It’s pretty big – it makes the iPad really bulky – but I, personally, like that.  My iPads have been dropped a few times, on hard tile floors, with this case, and there’s not a scratch or crack on them.
I also love that there’s an accompanying stand that you can purchase with the case for a discounted price.
Big_Grips_Stand_Black__34142_1377040092_220_290The Big Grips case fits right into the groove on the stand, either in portrait or landscape orientation.  At school, my kids will grab the iPad and the stand and take them to their desks, but they can just as easily get the iPad and leave the stand.  I keep my iPads in the stands when they’re not being used or when I’m playing some Pandora in the classroom.
The only negatives to these cases are that the price is a little high (around $45 or so for the case and the stand) and that the case is so bulky that getting the charging cord into the charging slot on the iPad can be a little tricky.  It’s not really difficult once you get the hang of it, but it was hard at first to get the charger plugged in.
Also, if you have a class set of iPads and a charging cart, these cases are too big to fit onto the charging cart, but Big Grips does offer a slimmer version of the case that allows them to slip easily into a charging cart.  If you’re looking at buying a fairly large number of cases, say for a classroom set or for your school, contact Big Grips before you purchase, since they offer an educator’s discount on bulk purchases!
Big Grips has models the fit all versions of the iPad, iPad mini, and iPod touch.
I highly recommend this iPad case.  I have two classroom iPads, and the first case I went with was less expensive.  It got dropped once and the screen cracked.  So, when I got my second iPad, I did more research and bought the Big Grips, and I loved it so much that I replaced my other case with a second Big Grips.  I love not only the protection, but also how it looks and how easy it is for the kids to use; the case seems molded perfectly for smaller hands.
If you decide to get a Big Grips case, be sure to comment and let us know how you like it!