Parents may shake their heads when they open us their child’s at-home book bag from the school only to see the same books the child has been bringing home all week. Why would the teacher send home a book you’ve already read 2 or more times?
The answer to that question is simple: fluency. Fluency is a little word that has a big impact on reading. Fluency isn’t just about how “fast” a child can read, but is also about how accurate the reading is, how expressive, and how well the child attends to punctuation. It speaks to how quickly a child can dip down into the text to problem solve, and then come back up and read the rest. Without fluency, it’s hard to understand what you’re reading and the purpose for reading disappears.
Consider this. Imagine the first time you drove to a new friend’s house in a city you were unfamiliar with at night. You probably had to do some preparation (looking up directions) and you may have needed some coaching (Tom Tom). Your speed as you drove past new streets was most likely slower than usual, and (if you’re like me) you may have passed a few streets and had to backtrack. You may have even started to feel frustrated or anxious if you didn’t get to your destination clearly the first time. Once you arrived, all was well, but the initial journey might have been slow, halting and less than perfect.
Now imagine that you make that trip once a week. Eventually, you don’t need as much direction and you start to anticipate when the street you need to take is coming up. You feel more relaxed and start to return to a normal pace. You may even feel confident enough to put on some music. Eventually, you can get there without thinking twice and the ride is smooth and easy.
It works the same way when kids read new books. That first trip might require some preparation (new vocabulary, a picture walk) and coaching (an expert reader sitting beside and giving feedback). As kids read, their speed may be slower than usual and they may have to backtrack more than once to “get it right”. They may feel frustrated or anxious as they encounter difficulties, and consequently, they may not understand the story as well as they will later.
Now we ask the child to read the book again. And again. With each read, the child becomes more comfortable and more at ease with the language. The events of the story are easy to anticipate so the rate of reading increases. Because there is less reading “work” to do, that child might feel comfortable adding some expression and phrasing. The story becomes easier to understand because now the child is free to think about the meaning, rather than about all the new words on the page. With each read, the child becomes more capable and confident and the reading sounds good, which makes it fun.
Just like you’re driving route, reading books over and over again can help the trip be smoother (fluent), more relaxed, and more “expert”. We want our kids to feel that way when they read. So as your child opens his or her book bag (this one again?) make the goal not just to read the book, but to read the book “like an expert”. It really should sound like a new and better read every time.