This last week was filled with beginning of the year benchmark testing for my students. Something that has always gnawed at me is use using the number of words a student reads in a minute as a way to gauge reading ability. We have this belief, that if students can read a certain number of words at a certain grade level, they are competent readers. However, as I reread the research, it becomes clear that the piece we are leaving out is prosody.
Prosody is key to comprehension. Being able to read with expression, to put pauses at the end of a sentence, to have the voice slightly raise at the end of the question are the things that breathe life into reading. If we lose this while working with fluency, aren’t we slowly taking the emphasis away from comprehension and putting it on word recognition as the main goal of reading? Aren’t we disengaging the part of the brain which connects meaning to those words and just emphasizing the part that recognizes how to say the word?
This year I am making it one of my goals to give students a daily time to read orally and practice prosody. Not so they can read more words in a minute, but so they can increase comprehension. I am going to try to put the emphasis back where it belongs. I want to lead my students on a journey to what, I hope, will be back to understanding and comprehending and away from reading fast for the sake of reading fast. I want them to be fluent, prosodic readers.
I had students, who are middle school age, ask me why they are still in reading support. They told me how many words a minute they could read and told me their Dibels tests, so why do they remain in reading support? I asked them how they did when it came time to read for classes? How well are they able to answer questions about what they have read? I got blank stares. I looked right at them and said, until you are able to not only read but also understand as well as connect to the text, we still have work to do. I am not sure they totally understood this, but I hope to show them in the next couple of weeks how we can accomplish this.
As stated in the beginning, I do believe there is a correlation between fluency and comprehension, but when we deviate from an emphasis on prosody, we are weakening that link. I am going to share more later this week. I am getting some plans together as well as materials. I am hopeful this will be an easily implemented system for any level. To be continued…