Fluency in the Primary Grades: From Pointing to Phrasing

From Fountas & Pinnell’s When Readers Struggle: Finding out What Works

During literacy instruction we often cue students to recognize words that are printed in bold, underlined, or in italics, and often hear students model this themselves as they retell stories orally (either self-generated or via pictures).  However, once students begin to engage with print, they slow down considerably and pay little attention to phrasing, intonation or stress.  Encouraging students to point with their “trusty dusty finger” while reading Level A/B texts is essential as they begin to match voice to print and establish directionality, but Fountas & Pinnell remind us that this practice should not continue past Level C.

Once students begin to build sight-word vocabulary and can recognize phrases/sentences, we may utilize scaffolds such as sliding the finger (like a car!) or by moving a thumb down the side of the page to track the lines of print.  This too, should be quickly discontinued as the practice of habitual finger pointing will “slow reading down, undermine [expression] and (most importantly) increase dependency.”  At this point, begin asking students to “make the book sound like it is talking” or to “read like the teacher”.  In doing this, we will support students as they begin to convey their understanding of a text through the “Six Dimensions” and not solely through teacher directed questioning.

Depicted below is Fountas & Pinnell’s Important Transitions chart that outlines a progression for fluency.  As you reflect on your students, remember that text level, interest, genre and exposure (i.e. rereads) can impact the degree of fluency…and help reinforce it!

Important Transitions Fluency copy

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