How to Remove Roadblocks to Fluency

Updated: Mar 29

By Shawna Audet


Fluency is the third level of the reading pyramid. It is the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and a natural expression. In her book, Overcoming Dyslexia, Sally Shaywitz describes fluency as forming “the bridge between decoding, that is, reading a word accurately, and comprehension, understanding what you read” (Shaywitz, 252). What she means is that when students are using a great deal of their brain power on decoding, there isn’t always enough left for comprehending what is being read. Imagine that the brain of a struggling reader is like a computer that is getting bogged down because it is running too many programs at once.


Struggling readers who are dyslexic are in a race against time to reach fluency. The reason lies in the fact that dyslexic is a brain-based learning difference and the ability to change the neural connections being used by dyslexics decreases over time. All readers begin reading by using their upper brain circuit. This circuit is slow because the student must sound out each sound in a word and then put the sounds together. By the end of grade two, most students have made the switch to using their lower brain circuit to read. This circuit is much faster, so it is critical if readers are to be able to move on to achieve reading fluency. Struggling readers who are dyslexic have limited access to their lower brain circuit. Instead, they continue to rely on their slow upper circuit and, eventually, on the only slightly faster brain region known as Broca’s Area.


To be able to reach reading fluency, students must have a solid base to their reading pyramid. This means that they are skilled in both phonemic awareness and decoding. Students who struggle with either of the two first reading pyramid building blocks must resolve their deficits in those areas before they can reach a state of reading fluency. The good news it that, by using a proven reading remediation program such as the Dyslexia Training Institute, Wilson or Barton, struggling dyslexic readers can build their neural connections to that they too can make the switch to using their lower brain circuit for reading. Sally Shaywitz conducted studies to prove this fact, by using M.R.I. imaging on non-dyslexics and on struggling dyslexic readers before and after being given a proven reading remediation program. Her results showed it is possible to rewire dyslexic brains so reading. She also proved that early interventions are a key to having success in reading remediation programs because the chances of the student being able to make the switch to using their lower brain circuit for reading decreases over time.


If you would like to learn more about reading fluency and the best teaching strategies to help develop it, then I suggest that you go to the Reading Rockets website. This is a favourite resource of mine because it is chocked full of excellent articles and teaching ideas relating to literacy instruction. Importantly, is it a trustworthy source of information. Reading Rockets offers a free course aimed at teachers and parents who want to deepen their understanding of the reading process. In that program, there is a module on fluency. Here is the link.


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