New Thoughts on Reading and Fluency

New Thoughts on Reading and Fluency – It Is Not What You Think!

A conversation with Dr. Ryan Pollard

Reading interventionists work with fluency difficulties everyday, and by fluency I mean oral reading fluency. Oral reading fluency refers to the rate an individual can accurately read a given text. Oral reading fluency is thought of as a highly reliable and valid reading measure, meaning that it tends to be relatively consistent and measures what is says it measures.

Fluency difficulties for others refers to one’s ability to produce fluent speech, otherwise known as stuttering. These are two very different types of fluency, and as a speech language pathologist, I work with both. Difficulties in oral reading fluency requires frequent repetition of the skill in a timed situation. Difficulties with speech fluency, or stuttering, can be inflamed by high-repetition drills and timed situations.This begs the question what happens when fluency difficulties meet fluency difficulties? I sat down with stuttering expert, Dr. Ryan Pollard in Boulder, Colorado to get this thoughts on how to best work with oral reading fluency and speech fluency.

As Dr. Pollard explained, reading difficulties appear in the stuttering population at the same rate as the typical population. By that logic, oral reading fluency issues should not appear more frequently for individuals who stutter. Although in today’s world of progress monitoring, children who stutter often face reading fluency tasks, on which they typically fail. This has led to a series of questions that Dr. Pollard was kind enough to discuss with me.

Should a child who stutters receive oral reading fluency assessments?

Dr. Pollard explained that the task of reading out loud is pretty daunting for a child who stutters. The task itself can increase stress which can lead to an increase in stuttering. There are other methods to assess reading skills that do not involve undue psychological stress for children who stutter. Beyond these affective issues, there is also great question as to whether an oral reading fluency measurement may be considered valid for a child who stutters.

What are some other methods to measure a child’s reading fluency skills that do not require them to read out loud?

One strategy is to have the child read the text silently. They can still be timed to include the rate measurement. The child can use their finger to follow the words, which can give another layer of verification that the child is reading each word. At the end of the minute, the child can then retell the passage. Of course, the retell greatly complicates matters as the task now includes reading comprehension and expressive language skills; however, this approach may still be a more valid reading measurement than having a child who stutters read out loud under a timed restraint.

Another approach is a slashing task, most commonly used in the form of the Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency-2 or the Test of Silent Contextual Reading Fluency. These tests require the individual to place a slash between words or phrases under a timed situation. These measurements completely take out the speech fluency element and can exclusively measure reading fluency. While these standardized tests are most likely not a replacement for weekly oral reading fluency measurements, they are a helpful alternative if a child who stutters is believed to have a reading fluency issue.

How can difficulties with segmenting and blending be effectively targeted for a child who stutters?

For blending, the instructor can provide the sounds in single words with corresponding pictures. If the child is able to accurately blend the sounds into a single word, they should be able to identify the correct picture. For example, the instructor can say, “/s/ /u/ /n/.” It would then be the responsibility of the child to find the picture of the sun. There is inevitably a vocabulary element that comes into play for this activity, but this can be supported by making sure the child knows the meanings of the pictures before you begin. Having foil pictures that are phonetically close to the correct answers can also be helpful in increasing the validity of the task.

Segmenting words can be targeted by the instructor delivering the word and asking the student to provide the number of sounds instead of actually producing the sounds of the word in isolation. While this method will not assess the child’s actual sound productions, such as saying /er/ for /r/ or inserting schwa sounds after stops, it still allows the child to participate in a segmenting activity.

While all of the above strategies are imperfect from a reading intervention perspective, they can be effective accommodations for those children who both stutter and have difficulties in reading. They are also important accommodations to consider when conducting universal screenings for students who stutter.