Fluency in the Primary Grades: Levels of Fluent Processing

From Fountas & Pinnell’s Teaching for Comprehending & Fluency

In last week’s edition of The Curriculum Corner, we explored the concept of moving from pointing to phrasing, emphasizing that our “trusty dusty finger” should go away as early as Level C.  Our goal in modeling this for our students is to ensure that they begin to process text features in increasingly larger units, moving from letter fluency, to word fluency, to phrase/sentence fluency, and finally to text fluency.  In the text Teaching for Comprehending & Fluency, Fountas & Pinnell refer to this as the Levels of Fluent Processing.

Below you will find a breakdown of reading behaviors associated with each level and the actual chart from the text.  As you read through the behaviors, consider where your current students fall on this fluency continuum and how this can impact daily instruction and skill-based groupings!

  • Fluency at the Letter Level: Readers working at this level are just beginning to access text features and must consciously process directionality, one-one correspondence, blending, and utilize visual aides to cross-check their reading.
  • Fluency at the Word Level: Readers working at this level are now reading through words quickly with automaticity, “chunk” to decode larger words and begin to cue phrasing.  At this level they understand the relationships between words and can “recognize strings of language.”  They also become less dependent on visual cues (which means the popular “picture-walk” should begin to take a back seat).
  • Fluency at the Phrase/Sentence Level: Readers working at this level are now attending to punctuation and syntax, ensuring that what is read orally makes sense.  They are able to “talk like a book”,  conveying the author’s message and/or character feelings/emotions.
  • Fluency at the Text Level: Readers working at this level are able to synthesize narrative episodes to draw conclusions.  They can quickly access their knowledge of text structure to make relevant predictions and connections.

Proficiency with each of these levels is a crucial part of demonstrating comprehension and should be noted during our benchmarking routines.  This will ensure that deficiencies in a particular level of processing will be addressed during literacy instruction.  In the weeks to come, we will examine how fluency behaviors change over time (from emergent reading, or “Reading Reenactment” up through Level I), and Fountas & Pinnell’s Levels of Fluent Processing will provide a valuable lens for addressing fluency instruction during whole group and small group instruction!



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