The Six Essential Skills

Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding the words, they can focus their attention on what the text means. They can make connections among the ideas in the text and their background knowledge. In other words, fluent readers recognize words and comprehend at the same time.

Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on figuring out the words, leaving them little attention for understanding the meaning of text.

To learn more about fluency, browse the articles, parent tips, research briefs, and videos here.


National Reading Panel


Fluent readers can read text with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. Fluency depends upon well developed word recognition skills, but such skills do not inevitably lead to fluency. It is generally acknowledged that fluency is a critical component of skilled reading. Nevertheless, it is often neglected in classroom instruction. That neglect has started to give way as research and theory have reconceptualized this aspect of reading, and empirical studies have examined the efficacy of specific approaches to teaching fluency. Here the National Reading Panel (NRP) will provide a summary of the evidence supporting the effectiveness of various instructional approaches that are intended to foster this essential ingredient in successful reading development.


The purpose of this report of the NRP was to review the changing concepts of fluency as an essential aspect of reading, and to consider the effectiveness of two major instructional approaches to fluency development and the readiness of these approaches for wide use by the schools. The first major approach that was analyzed includes procedures that emphasize repeated oral reading practice or guided repeated oral reading practice. These procedures include repeated reading (Samuels, 1979), neurological impress (Heckelman, 1969), radio reading (Greene, 1979), paired reading (Topping, 1987), and a variety of similar techniques aimed at developing fluent reading habits. The second major approach considered here includes all formal efforts to increase the amounts of independent or recreational reading that children engage in, including sustained silent reading programs (Hunt, 1970), the Accelerated Reader (Advantage Learning Systems, 1986), and various incentive programs (i.e., S. Shanahan, Wojciehowski, & Rubik, 1998).


There were a number of reasons why the NRP selected fluency for review and analysis. One is that there is growing concern that children are not achieving fluency in reading. Recently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress conducted a large study of the status of fluency achievement in American education (Pinnell et al., 1995). That study examined the reading fluency of a nationally representative sample of fourth graders, and found 44% of students to be disfluent even with grade-level stories that the students had read under supportive testing conditions. And furthermore, that study found a close relationship between fluency and reading comprehension. Students who are low in fluency may have difficulty getting the meaning of what they read. Given this, it is not surprising that the National Research Council report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), states “Adequate progress in learning to read English (or, any alphabetic language) beyond the initial level depends on sufficient practice in reading to achieve fluency with different texts” (p. 223), and that it recommended, “Because the ability to obtain meaning from print depends so strongly on the development of word recognition accuracy and reading fluency, both the latter should be regularly assessed in the classroom, permitting timely and effective instructional response when difficulty or delay is apparent” (p. 7).

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