5 Tips for Developing Reading Fluency in Secondary

Girl reading in libary

Reading is arguably the most important subject taught at school, for two reasons.

First, reading fluency is a foundational skill — a learner simply cannot excel without it. To do well in biology, they need to be able understand words like photosynthesis and phototropic when reading their textbook. In history class, they will confront words like nullification and segregation. If any of those words come up on an exam and they can’t fluently read them, suddenly it doesn’t matter how much they know about that subject. If they can’t comprehend the question, they cannot answer it.

Second, reading fluency is also an essential life skill. Fundamentally, we’re preparing young people for life as an adult, and adult life requires reading fluency. When was the last time (other than right now) that you used your reading skills? Odds are it was at least in the last half hour.

Shockingly though, 21% of U.S. adults possess low English-literacy skills. That’s 43 million American adults who don’t have the reading skills required to “complete tasks that require comparing and contrasting information, paraphrasing, or making low-level inferences.” Out of these 43 million, at least 8.2 million are functionally illiterate.

Whether it’s your latest household bill, the bus schedule you use to get to work, or the story you read to your child before bed, we all rely on reading fluency every single day. So we need to ensure that the children we are responsible for educating develop reading fluency skills well before adulthood.

Reading Fluency at Secondary

The overall skill of fluency is made up of smaller skills like prosody, automaticity, and comprehension. But now we’re going to talk specifically about developing reading fluency in middle school to help students catch up to where they should be.

If a student has made it to secondary without developing adequate reading skills, intervention is vital. The curriculum doesn’t wait — exams don’t either — and their adult life is fast approaching. We have to set struggling readers on the right path to reading fluency, and we’re here to help with proven five tips to develop reading fluency in secondary.

1. Change Your Approach

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That rings true in education. If learners have made it all the way to secondary without becoming fluent readers, it’s time to change the way they’re being taught to read.

Sometime schools (and educators) are resistant to change. But if your current teaching methods aren’t getting secondary learners reading fluently, then it can’t hurt to try something new. Don’t be afraid to take learners out of the classroom for targeted reading intervention.

As we already established, reading skills are required to access the entire curriculum. If a learner can’t read fluently, they’re likely not fully grasping the material in their other classes either. So temporarily removing them from other classes to focus on reading shouldn’t result in any lost learning time.

Some students may need an in-depth intervention, such as Lexonik Advance. Others may just need their interest sparked through gamified learning, like our Odd One In, which is designed to test comprehension of words and affixes.

However, change shouldn’t be made just for the sake of it. It’s important to think about what you’re already doing and consider why it isn’t working. Are the methods engaging enough? Do you have effective resources to improve fluency? Are you and other educators at your school receiving the right training to tackle reading issues at the secondary level?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can make effective changes and start improving reading fluency in your secondary learners.

2. Empathize with Your Learners' Situations

5 tips for reading fluency - empathize with your learners' situations

As an educator, empathy is no doubt an often-used tool in your toolbox, and it’s one that will come in handy when tackling reading fluency at the secondary level. There is a stigma about not being able to read fluently in middle school — and learners know it.

So secondary students can often be sensitive or embarrassed about their reading abilities. Shrinking into their chairs every time a book is pulled from the shelf, pleading silently that the teacher doesn’t call on them to read a chapter. It’s a horrible situation for anyone to be in, let alone a child.

Reading is seen as the domain of elementary institutions, despite the extensive research and studies that highlight the importance of reading fluency development in later grades. While elementary schools have a large role to play in developing reading skills, it’s not solely their responsibility.

But regardless, the stigma still exists. So it’s important to approach any type of reading intervention delicately and empathetically. Learners will not engage with the intervention if they feel judged, publicly embarrassed, or singled out.

Make sure you also use an age-appropriate and unpatronizing intervention. For example, some learners need to brush up on their phonics skills before they can make strides in reading. But it can be tricky to find an intervention that doesn’t feature cartoon animals and extremely simple activities.

That’s why we kept older learners in mind when we designed our phonics intervention program Lexonik Leap. In fact, all of our programs feature age-appropriate resources, as well as academic vocabulary and affixes with applications across the curriculum. We strive to empower middle school learners, not embarrass or infantilize them.

Removing learners from the classroom can also be a minefield. Not only will they feel singled out, but they may also experience bullying from their peers. That’s why when an institution invests in one of our intervention programs, we recommend they start using it with their best readers first.

This approach makes the intervention feel exclusive — rather than exclusionary — which keeps secondary students motivated, engaged, and most importantly, confident to keep moving forward.

3. Deliver A Fast-Acting Literacy Intervention

We’ve established that a learner who lacks reading fluency can’t access the rest of the curriculum, and some reading interventions may involve their removal from the classroom. So time is of the essence with your chosen intervention.

It’s important that they improve their reading and get back to their regular studies as quickly as possible. So the best interventions should be “in case of emergency” approaches — flexible enough to meet the learner at their point of need, but not part of the standard curriculum.

If an intervention goes on for months and months of the academic year, it’s no longer an intervention — it’s part of the curriculum. An intervention must have a reasonable schedule. No two learners are the same, so not everyone will make progress at the same rate. But there at least needs to be a rough idea of how long progress should take, depending on the needs of the learner. Ratio gains are a good metric for this.

To work out ratio gains, you take the number of reading age months gained in an intervention and divide by the number of months the intervention would take. For example, if you have an intervention that delivers 14-month reading age gains over a year, you’ll divide 14 by 12 to get a ratio gain of 1.2.

Here's a helpful guide to illustrate what these numbers actually mean:

  • 1-2 — modest
  • 2-3 — useful
  • 3-4 — substantial
  • 4+ — remarkable

That’s why we devised our interventions with speed in mind.

Lexonik Advance delivers an average reading age gain of 27 months in just 6 weeks.

Lexonik Leap is designed for flexibility, and it can be delivered in frequent, short bursts, with sessions as short as 15 minutes — making it perfect for tutor time. Or you can use longer sessions to achieve faster results, depending on your students’ needs. Which brings us to the next tip . . .

4. Assess Your Learners’ Needs

When it comes to reading fluency, time is of the essence — not just for learners, but for educators as well.

With your grueling schedule, it can be hard to find the time to put an emphasis on reading fluency when there are so many other things to cover in the school year. That’s why any intervention has to work for educators as much as it does for students.

In addition, a good reading intervention should give educators all of the tools and materials they need to actively identify the deficits a learner might have and overcome them. We believe interventions should be comprehensive solutions that can spot and solve problems at the same time.

After all, if you don’t know a student is struggling, you won’t know how to help them. That’s why Lexonik Advance comes with Wide Range Achievement Test assessments and Lexonik Leap comes with a six-step diagnostic test.

Before the intervention even begins, the educator can see exactly what the student needs to work on in their sessions, streamlining the process of assessment, identification, and solution.

5. Invest In Teacher Training and Professional Development

As an educator, you’re under no illusion that problems like reading deficiencies are rare. The benchmarks learners are expected to hit can be arbitrary, and there will always be students who advance to middle school still struggling with reading. Therefore, any intervention you implement needs to be useful well into the future.

At Lexonik, we prioritize training educators to effectively deliver our interventions, so they can use the skills and resources they gain for years to come, impacting generations of learners.

That should be the ultimate goal for an intervention. To enact long-lasting and systemic change across an institution, benefitting not just a single group of learners, but every student who walks through the door for generations to come.

We hope you’ve found these tips for developing reading fluency in secondary valuable and can put them to good use for your students. Reading is a vital lifelong skill, and we believe that every student should have the opportunity and resources they need to succeed.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive reading intervention program designed to work for schools, educators, and all students, you can learn more about our programs here. If you have any questions or want to set up a demonstration, we would love to hear from you.