Incorporating Oral Reading Fluency into the Foreign Language Literacy Framework


Ms. Malavika Mohapatra, Dr. Swayamprabha Satpathy

Department of HSS, ITER, SOA University, Jagamara, Khandagiri, Bhubaneswar, Odisha 751030



Oral Reading fluency has been the topic of enough discussion in English L1 settings, as part of reading education and research. However ORF hasn’t been able to gain much attention in FL and L2 settings, except certain preliminary studies on the importance of ORF for second language (L2/FL) learners, done by educators and researchers. Implementing ORF into the FL literacy framework can largely facilitate reading comprehension for students. Therefore, incorporating oral reading fluency in L2 reading should be beneficial as L2 learners need not only read text quickly and smoothly but also comprehend and process information. The current paper is thus an attempt towards a more comprehensive analysis on how oral reading fluency may be incorporated in the FL literacy framework for successful reading comprehension.


KEY WORDS: Oral Reading Fluency, Reading, Second language learning, Fluency.



The oral reading fluency in the target language is an indicator of one’s ability to absorb and process information. Fluency in reading, points to the fact that when one reads faster they get more time to comprehend the text or to take in more messages at a time. Lack of appropriate level of reading fluency would affect students’ ability to read and retain volumes of material, as current modern education requires. They may even be unable to make sense of the material fast enough from the computer screens. Therefore, understanding oral reading fluency in L2 reading is significant as L2 learners make an effort not only to read text quickly and smoothly but also to comprehend texts.


A fluent reader focuses on the content in the text, rather than the meaning of an individual word. In due course students are able to make sense of text on a higher level as they become fluent readers. However, non-fluent readers often struggle with word interpretation which leads to missed meaning and an ambiguous understanding of the text, hindering their overall success with reading.  Therefore incorporating ORF strategies into the L2 literacy framework can assist overall reading comprehension for students.


Reading is a complex task which instant implementation of constituent skills along with synchronized and concurrent organization across tasks. As performance is speeded without much conscious effort or awareness, reading fluency is achieved through instant execution, (Logan, 1997). 

Oral reading fluency is an important and practical means of developing reading ability in, second and foreign language. In current years the importance of ORF has increased, predominantly in foreign language settings. Successful reading is also dependent on reading fluency; fluent readers are able to recognize words, quickly and accurately. They use their sharp syntactic and prosodic knowledge to comprehend text. However, teachers and learners in L2/FL settings are still quite unconvinced or unaware of the importance of ORF in reading comprehension, hence devoting class or considerable time to any reading fluency activity is not considered. How fluency and comprehension interact with each other will help ascertain, whether the readers’ comprehension, reading rate, and reading fluency work simultaneously or there is variation.


Second language readers often consider reading as tedious and slow process thus general reading proficiency is normally ignored in the classroom.  According to Segalowitz et al., (1991) “reading rates of highly bilingual readers are 30% or more slow than L1 reading rates.” Jensen (1986) points out that "at the end of a reading course, even advanced ESL students may read only 100 words per minute or less." Weber (1991) supports by saying that “highly skilled bilinguals typically have a slower reading rate in a second language.” Perkins & Pharis (1980) are of the opinion that the average second language readers’ reading ability are quite below average native English speakers.


Reading Fluency and Comprehension:

Reading comprehension involves reading a text, processing it and finally understanding its meaning. Whereas Reading Fluency is the ability to read a text quickly, with proper expression and accuracy in order to comprehend what they read. Fluent readers gain meaning from what they read by recognizing words automatically by grouping words quickly. Thus fluency is essential as it provides a link between word recognition and comprehension. 


According to Mercell (2011), “The term reading fluency is often misunderstood as speed reading by many teachers and students, which affects both the learning and teaching of reading. It is very important for educators to understand that reading fluency is a medium for reading comprehension and the ultimate goal of reading is to make sense and comprehend what was read, not how fast it was read.” Students should receive correct fluency instruction through a variety of strategies to make them better readers. Teachers must understand that fluency bridges the gap between word recognition and comprehension by facilitating the reader to read a text fast, accurately, and with expression. Fluent readers master word grouping quickly and they read aloud effortlessly with expression. They construct meaning from what they read, while recognizing and comprehending words automatically. They are also efficient silent readers as they can make synchronized connections among their background knowledge and the ideas in the text.  On the contrary, readers who are yet to develop fluency, read word by word slowly and concentrate on decoding the words, they are unable to focus on text meaning simultaneously.


Accuracy, Reading rate and Prosody are three main elements of fluent reading. Reading Accuracy is the accurate conversational reading rate of connected text, with appropriate prosody (Mercer, Lane and Hudson, 2000). A fluent reader can generalize across texts and maintain reading fluency for a longer period even without scanty practice. The ability to merge sounds along with a strong understanding of the alphabetic principle, (Ehri and McCormick, 1998) and knowledge of a large collection of high frequency words with the skill to use cues for word identity in text is essential for word reading accuracy. (Chapman andTunmer, 1995)


Reading rate is identified as using fluidity and speed by a reader to progress through connected text and the fluent identification of individual words. Educators define reading rate as reading speed, in terms of the number of words read correctly per minute or the duration required by a reader to complete a given passage. While students practice reading, they tend to identify greater numbers of words “by sight” without the need to read aloud or guess meaning from related clues (Share and Stanovich, 1995). Kuhn and Stahl, 2000, LaBerge and Samuels, 1974 are of the opinion that word recognition occurs very rapidly, and with modest cognitive effort when frequently read words are recognized automatically. According to Schwanenflugel, Hamilton, Kuhn, Wisenbaker, and Stahl, 2004, excessive cognitive effort and attention involved in guessing words diverts the reader’s attention from constructing a coherent representation of text meaning.


According to Allington, Dowhower, and Schreiber, “Prosody is a linguistic term to describe the rhythmic and tonal aspects of oral language. Duration (length of time), variations in pitch (intonation) and stress patterns (syllable prominence), are Prosodic features that contribute to expressive reading of a text. These elements signal surprise, exclamation and question, other meanings beyond the semantics of the words being spoken. The reader is said to be reading with expression when these features are present and appropriate in oral reading. On the other hand non fluent readers are often found reading in inappropriate phrasing or in a monotonous expression.” Empirical research studies have established that an effective literacy program should include instructions in fluency as an important component of learning to read. (Kuhn et al., 2000)


Reading instruction programs that have been effectively used in L2/FL settings to effectively develop reading fluency and comprehension are extensive reading (ER) and repeated reading (RR)


The extensive reading approach involves reading from a selection of texts which have basic grammatical structures simple and vocabulary range. The aim is to arrive at a specified target of sustained silent reading (Hill, 1997; Donnes, 1999). ER is said to augment L2 learners' fluency and comprehension by increasing their ability to automatically recognize a number of words and phrases, thus increasing of L2 texts (Grabe, 1991; Paran, 1996; Perfettit et al., 2001)


In the L2/ FL contexts, repeated reading (RR), is a fresh instructional approach. Learners are made to repetitively read specific passages from graded readers, to enhance their “sight recognition” of words and phrases, ensuing in improved fluency and comprehension (Blum et al., 1995; Taguchi, 1997; Dlugosz et al., 2002).Anderson and Grabe suggest that the above methods show great potential in helping to build up fluency and improve comprehension of L2 or FL readers'.


Literature review:

Reading pedagogy and research has over a period of time dealt with Reading fluency but it is only recently that the concept has become a burning topic in literacy education (Samuels and Farstrup, 2006a).Over the years social and educational needs or influential theories have associated various meanings to reading fluency. In addition to this researchers may have taken different situations in their investigation resulting in the complexity of reaching consensus with reference to the concept (Breznitz, 2006).


Along with teacher education, alphabetics, comprehension, and computer technology it is highly essentials to consider Reading fluency as part of reading instruction. (Samuels, 2002; Kuhn and Stahl, 2004; Kuhn and Schwanenflugel, 2002; Breznitz, 2006; Samuels and Farstrup, 2006b; International Reading Association, 2008).


Nonetheless, a general view regarding the ultimate goal of fluency, seemingly refers to both speed and accuracy factors (Wolf and Katzir-Cohen, 2001). While researchers are of the view that there are varying elements and enabling skills to achieve fluency in reading, what kinds, and how many components are yet to be ascertained. Stahl and Kuhn (2004) opine that “the primary components which have achieved a certain consensus are (a) accuracy in decoding, (b) automaticity in word recognition, and (c) the appropriate use of prosodic features such as stress, pitch, and appropriate text phrasing.” Wolf and Katzir-Cohen say that “The ultimate objective of fluent reading (superior text comprehension at an appropriate rate) is affected by the skills readers possess in each component. Moreover, according to the developmental stage of readers, influential components for reading fluency differ.”


Notwithstanding researchers’ understanding of the importance ORF in L2 pedagogy (Grabe,et al; 2004, 2006), oral reading fluency is yet to receive as much consideration as compared to (L1) reading. This tendency to focus more on comprehension rather than reading rate and fluency on the part of L2 educators and researchers is probably due to the notion of greater difficulty in L2 reading comprehension than in L1. 


Incorporating Oral Reading Fluency within Reading Assessment:

Teachers should be provided Textbooks on Oral Reading Fluency and Reading Assessment along with training programs providing information on how to incorporate reading fluency into classroom assessment. This will further facilitate formulation of better educational decisions like preparing appropriate text for reading, monitoring the learners’ response to reading instructions, developing effective standards for measuring fluency, identifying those children who require special intervention. It is also necessary to continue research and on how to incorporate reading fluency strategies in order to measure the effects of reading treatments and better reading development should also be carried on.

Reading comprehension comprises a range of complex skills like knowledge of vocabulary, knowledge of syntax, and background knowledge of the subject which are not directly associated to word reading. Therefore teachers must bear in mind that while reading, many English language learners can be deceivingly quick and accurate without fully comprehending text meaning while they are reading, inspite of the fluency instructions.


Fluent readers can understand text meaning at an appropriate reading rate, while simultaneously comprehending text meaning easily and effortlessly. However even though the reader may achieve high levels of comprehension, reading slowly with a number of pauses and repetitions does not signify fluent reading. Therefore, fluency instruction should be paired with good instruction in comprehension.


Discussion and Analysis:

Successful fluency assessment must measure all three components: automaticity, reading accuracy and prosody. We must remember that languages that use the identical alphabets can characteristically differ in syntactical complexity, average word length and phonetic regularity, all of which can affect reading rate. Therefore to find out appropriate accuracy and rate ranges for other languages additional research is needed


Assessing reading accuracy:

To measure Accuracy level students are given transcripts at a difficulty level appropriate for each, in order to improve their reading. Accuracy is measured by calculating the percentage of correctly read words in a given text. The texts chosen for students should allow them to practice using the reading strategies they are learning, without overwhelming them.


With reference to The Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment Systems(BAS) Teachers may refer to the following three levels of functional reading, which correspond to the amount of difficulty that a student faces at a particular text level:

·        With no support from the teacher at this level a student can read independently with 98-100% accuracy. Out of every 100 words of text, the student misses no more than two words.

·        At this level the student requires some assistance from the teacher and can read and comprehend, with an accuracy range of 90-97% for instructional-level text and above and 85-97% for Pre-primary-level text.

·        At the frustrational reading level the student can read with less than 90% accuracy even with the support of the teacher. He/she finds it difficult to read and comprehend text.


Independent-level text can be used effectively for practice in reading speed and prosody. Whereas, when the teacher is doing the reading for comprehension instruction, frustration-level is found to be very effective. For classroom reading instructions, teachers should aim at student's instructional reading level and should not allow text reading that is at their frustration level. Given that the text is not so difficult for students, reading with 90-97% accuracy, necessitates the practice of strategies they are learning.


The process:

·        Step1- Students are asked to read aloud a short reading passage.

·        Step2- Then teacher notes errors like: substituting a wrong word for another in the text, reversing word order in the text or omission of a word. However, after making a mistake if students self-correct, the word is counted correct.

·        Step3- Finally divide the number of correctly read words by the total number of words in the passage. The end result shall be a percentage within the student’s instructional reading range.


Assessing automaticity:

Reading Automaticity is generally refers to, the number of words reads per minute (WPM) by the student Teachers will need a stopwatch to measure rate simultaneously while student's reading accuracy is assessed.


The process:

·        The process starts by asking the student to read aloud from the passage. The stopwatch starts as the student reads the first word and stop with the last read word. (Discourage silent reading and let the student know that the watch starts as soon as he/she looks down at the passage, and stops at the end when they look up.)

·        The next step is to add the total reading time (minutes) of the student, then multiply it by 60 and lastly add the number of additional seconds, to convert the time on the stopwatch to seconds.

·        Finally the total word count of the passage is to be multiplied by sixty and then divided by the student's total reading time converted to seconds.


The scale developed at Appalachian State University by Dr. Darrell Morris, is an extremely useful guideline to determine reading levels at various stages of the learners’ reading development.


Assessing Prosody:

After analysing various scales for measuring prosody, I found that Oral Reading Fluency Rubric Scale (created by the National Assessment of Educational Progress), can be effectively used by educators to assess students on the basis of appropriate intonation, pitch variation, expression and phrasing. Based on the descriptions below, a score of 1-4 is assigned to students.


Non fluent readers are categorized under level 1 and 2. Fluent readers come under level 3 and 4.


Level 1 is assigned to the reader who largely reads word-by-word. These readers may occasionally read short dual word phrases without applying meaningful syntax, but this pattern is infrequent.


At Level 2 a struggling fluent reader may read combined phrases, while some may venture to read with few three or four word groupings, word-by-word reading may also be done by some However these groupings are often unrelated to the sentence and out of context with reference to the passage.


The reader can be considered almost fluent at Level 3. The reading pattern includes small groupings mainly in phrase groups of three- or four-words. Word syntax as intended by the author is maintained along with appropriate phrasing. However, the reader uses very modest or almost no expressive interpretation.


A fluent reader at Level 4 makes use of larger, phrase groups with meaningful and expressive interpretation. The author’s syntax is consistently preserved. However the text may be presented with some repetitions and deviations but these do not divert attention from the overall composition of the story.



According to Biemiller, L. S. Fuchs and Deno, “Oral reading fluency develops gradually over the elementary school years.” According to Fuchs and Fuchs, “Oral reading fluency can be calculated as words read correctly per minute and the results reflect, roughly equal interval units showing incremental differences or change. This allows researchers and educators to use ORF in two ways. It can be used to compare performance levels between individuals, within a normative framework. Secondly, development of reading competence within an individual can be tracked through performance slopes.” According to Marston, Fuchs, and Deno “These strategies for characterizing reading competence and improvement have been shown to be more sensitive to inter- and intra individual differences than those offered by other well-accepted, more broadly conceptualized reading tasks.”  Frederiksen (1981) had demonstrated; that there is no distinction between fluent and non fluent readers or the chronological processing aspect of finding context based reading errors in oral reading rate, which is a trustworthy source for distinguishing reading expertise levels.


Thus a pattern has been frequently found in literature, that in comparison to older individuals, a stronger co-relation between oral reading fluency and comprehension exists in elementary and junior high grades (e.g., Gray, 1925; Sassenrath, 1972; Jenkins and Jewell, 1993). There are also conflicting opinions regarding ORF which is said to enhance basic reading competence rather than a learner’s ability to process new information or analyze literature from complex text. Further research into related aspects of oral reading fluency can help to uncover many useful and related issues.



Adams (1990) reasserted “that oral reading fluency is one of the key attributes of skilful reading.” Supporting Adams’ claim on the improvement and development of reading competence are a number of empirical databases and theoretical perspectives, yet there appears to be inadequate research on the use of ORF by academicians and researchers. Future research may explore the field of ORF for further knowledge about fluency assessment, along with measureable and more effective ways of using oral reading fluency by teachers for L2 learners. However we cannot deny that, valid, efficient and reliable, literature and processes already exist for measuring oral reading fluency, it now remains to be systematically incorporated to comprehend and determine the connection between reading comprehension and fluency, through sound instructional decisions to understand reading developments.




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Received on 29.04.2017

Modified on 22.05.2017

Accepted on 10.06.2017

© A&V Publications all right reserved

Research J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 8(3): July- September, 2017,316-322.

DOI:  10.5958/2321-5828.2017.00047.X