Monday, March 28, 2016 - 13:29
In order for us to answer that question, it is important to understand all of the aspects that go into reading. Unfortunately most of the assessments that our children take in school are based on speed, and sometimes speed alone. But fluency (the rate in which we read) is the last skill to come along in the whole reading process. The brain must first acquire foundational skills prior to rapidly being able to recall words and then group them together while reading. Students must also have the ability to comprehend what they read.
This is our awareness of sounds. Can we rhyme? Do we know the difference between the beginning sound and the ending sound in a word? Can we differentiate similar sounds such as the "e" in met and the "i" in mit? For children who struggle with this, learning phonics is very difficult. When we ask a child who hasn't mastered this skill to "sound out" a word, it is almost impossible. Students who struggle with this will find other coping mechanisms to read such as guessing, looking at the pictures, or memorizing the text.
Phonics is the very next skill that we learn once phonemic awareness is mastered. Once we understand how to differentiate sounds, we can now put symbols to them. It is where we learn that the letter m has the "mmmm" sound. We learn that vowels have two sounds and that there are many ways to spell their sounds. If your child does struggle with phonics (sounding out words), you may want to ask to have his/her phonemic awareness skills assessed. You will also want to make sure that your child has very systematic phonics instruction. Some students can only learn phonics with a multi-sensory approach. (In other words, worksheets don't work for everyone.)
Reading accuracy is possible once students have some tools in their tool kit to work with. Phonemic awareness, phonics, sight words, vocabulary and comprehension all have a role in reading accuracy. If students don't have the necessary skills in place, reading accuracy will be tedious and difficult and no amount of "just reading" will make this better. In fact, when we tell students to "just read" without giving them the tools, it is much like telling a small child to go ride a bike without instruction. After the child falls several times, he will decide that he hates riding a bike. Children who haven't been given the necessary instruction on how to read will also tire of trying and failing.
Reading fluency involves many many skills which is why it is the last skill to come along. Students must master many aspects of reading before they can begin reading at the same speed that they speak. It must be automatic and this takes time. Fluency is important, but before we worry about this, we must make sure that the other elements of the pyramid are taught and developed.